Carving Connections: The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole, a presentation by carver Jaalen Edenshaw, presented by Parks Canada's Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and the Haida Nation, Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m. at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. Info: westvanlibrary.ca.
A central design feature in the 42-foot monumental pole currently being carved by Haida artist Jaalen Edenshaw are five figures representing those who protested at Athlii Gwaii (Lyell Island) in 1985.
While he was too young to participate in the historic anti-logging blockade, the event is deeply imbedded in his memory.
"I must have been five years old or so and was too young to go down, but I definitely heard about it and it's always been part of our story," says Edenshaw, 32.
The action paved the way for a successful partnership between the Haida Nation and the federal government, seeing the two groups come together 20 years ago to sign the Gwaii Haanas Agreement to co-operatively protect the area. The agreement established the Archipelago Management Board, which governs the planning and operations for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and has equal representation from both groups.
When putting together his design for a pole to celebrate the milestone and the relationship between the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada, Edenshaw wanted to honour those who paved the way to the future.
"It's neat to be able to incorporate that and pay homage to those who stood on the line for us," he says.
"Over the years, we've gotten more and more control over our land and it's good to have my work representing the beginning of that movement and knowing it will be up long after I'm dead," he adds.
The Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole will be the first raised in Gwaii Haanas in more than 130 years. Edenshaw has been hard at work on the project since September 2012 and expects the pole to be completed in July in advance of the
August 15 raising at Hlk'yah GawGa (Windy Bay) on Lyell Island, followed by a community celebration Aug. 17.
Next week, however, he's scheduled to take a break from carving to pay a visit to the Lower Mainland to share the story at a number of sites, including the West Vancouver Memorial Library, Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m.
Edenshaw, an experienced carver and member of the Ts'aahl - Eagle Clan of the Haida Nation, was born in Masset. He was exposed to the art at a young age, following in the footsteps of his father and other extended family members.
"It was happening around me and it was sort of a natural thing for me to start helping out when I was younger and I got into it that way," he says.
Providing further inspiration was a pole housed inside an old boat shed he lived in while growing up for a number of years. Now a married father of three, he's glad his own children can likewise grow up with the art in their midst and as they get older, he increasingly encourages them to lend a hand on his projects.
Keeping Haida traditions alive is important to Edenshaw and apart from his work on the legacy pole, he's also currently working on animated Haida language videos for children, hoping the use of the modern medium will help preserve the language for future generations.
"I've been trying to learn Haida all my life also and it's pretty close to just a few speakers left really," he says. "Once I had kids I wanted to have them interested and teach them as much as I can and it seemed like a good way, watching them watch Dora (the Explorer) and counting in Spanish, I figured we could do a little better than that."
While carving poles has long been a cultural practice within the nation, Edenshaw doesn't view it solely as a traditional art.
"It is contemporary as much as it is traditional because it is around and the stories that I'm telling through this pole in particular are sort of a mix between new and old stories. The art form does go back quite a ways into our history, but it still has contemporary meaning to us."
For the legacy pole, Edenshaw sourced a more than 500-year old red cedar he found on Graham Island. It's currently housed at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay in Skidegate.
"One of the really nice things about carving at the museum is that there's some old poles inside that we can go and study as we're carving," he says.
In addition, the site is accessible to community members who often stop in to see how things are coming along.
Helping him with the project is his older brother Gwaai, a talented carver in his own right, and his nephew, Tyler York, 23.
"He's really gifted as an artist at figuring things out and you can put him on a job and he can do it without too much supervision," says Edenshaw.
In addition to the protesters, other design elements on the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole include a grizzly bear holding a sculpin. Edenshaw has long heard Haida stories of grizzly bears formerly living in the area. In the last several years, archaeologists in Gwaii Haanas, the result of the federal government's presence in the area, found grizzly bear remains dating back 13,000 years.
"There's no grizzlies here now, so it shows that our stories go back at least that far," he says.
"The science is catching up with our stories," he adds.
A recent addition to his design was the result of the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that occurred in Haida Gwaii in late October 2012 and caused residents to fear a subsequent tsunami.
"It shook everyone up pretty good and everyone was pretty happy that there was no injuries or anything, but then we found out the hot springs in Gwaii Haanas dried up so we wanted to bring that story into it," says Edenshaw.
There was one figure that he hadn't fully developed on the pole yet, so following the quake, he turned it into "Sacred-One-Standing-And-Moving," the supernatural being responsible for earthquakes on Haida Gwaii.
"When he moves, that's when the earthquakes happen," says Edenshaw.
Other figures include a raven and eagle, representing the two Haida clans, and Three Watchmen, representing those who do their part to protect the area, including the Haida watchmen and Parks Canada wardens.
In addition to Edenshaw's appearance at the West Vancouver library, he will also give public presentations at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library, March 2 at 3 p.m. and the Museum of Anthropology, March 5 at 7 p.m. He's also scheduled to speak to students at Emily Carr University.
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