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Haida

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Haida Copper Shield

The Haida are the Indigenous Peoples of the west coast of North America. The Haida Nation territories comprise an archipelago called Haida Gwaii that is also known by its colonial name the Queen Charlotte Islands, and parts of south east Alaska.

Although well known as artists of wood, metal and design, Haidas can perhaps claim their greatest fame as persistent and effective protectors of their lands and waters against the efforts of non Haida corporations and Governments intent on removing the last remnants of island forests. These forests are known to be pre glacial and are believed to be almost 14,000 years old. Haida communities located in Prince of Wales Island, Alaska also share a common border with other Indigenous Peoples the Tlingit and the Cape Fox tribes of the Tsimshian.

Although Haida societal structural is a living process its roots in the ancient Potlatch system remain recognizable in contemporary political, economic and legal functions. The Council of the Haida Nation is the governing body of all Haida citizens and is defined in a Constitution not referenced in either the Canadian or American legislation or practices. This free Constitution defines a House of Assembly that functions as the highest law making structure and directs the activities of a Council consisting of 12 Representatives all elected to two year terms of Office. At a more municipal level are Village Councils. On that portion of Haida territory claimed by Canada the two communities of Massett and Skidegate have Band Councils which experience varying degrees of influence and control by Canada's federal government. The persistence of Haida government can be seen in that the influence of the Band Councils, in so far as they may be seen as agents of Canadian government authority, are regulated by a community governance system of Matriarchs and Lineage authorities.

Haidas are frequently referred to as fearsome warriors. Once a slave based economy Haidas traveled and captured as far away as California. Haida oral narratives also record journeys as far north as the Bering Sea and one account raises a reasonable possibility that Asia was also visited by Haidas before Europeans entered the Pacific. The Haida ability to travel was dependent upon a supply of ancient cedar trees which they carved into their famous Pacific Northwest Canoes. Carved from a single cedar tree, a vessel could sleep 15 adults head to toe and was propelled by up to 60 paddlers (which often included women). In the event of a battle at sea, paddlers were armed with heavy stone rings (18 to 23 kg) attached to woven tree root or bark ropes. These devices when thrown at enemy canoes inflicted substantial damage. Haida warriors entered battle with cedar armor, wooden shields, stone maces and atlatl's. War helmets were elaborately carved and armor was made or reinforced with metal, stone or bone copper.

The haida were hunters and gatherers. Because they lived so near the sea, fishing was crucial to them.

Like all Indigenous Peoples of the north east coast of the Pacific Haida make extensive use of Red Cedar bark, which is still used as both a textile for clothing, ropes and sails, and in its more raw form, as a building material or even armor. Most goods were fashioned from the wood of the Western Redcedar, Nootka Cypress, Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce. Highly prized plant bark and root weavers still create an array of clothing including hats and containers. The ancient Naahinn form of weaving, also called Chilkat continues although commercial produced wool is used instead of mountain goat.

In ancient times valuable items were also fashioned from copper. Haida culture places high value on a sophisicated and abstracted iconic art form. Although most impressively expressed in large Monumental totem poles this highly disciplines design is applied to a wide range of materials including the human body through tattooing. The diveristy of Haida design can be seen in its expression as Haida Manga.

The Haida theory of social structure is based on moiety lineages. That is the society is divided into two groupings one called Raven and the other Eagle, There are a variety of sub-groups that fall into either of the moieties. The moieties and their sub groups of Clans or matrilineal lineages own unique combinations of crests and other intellectual properties such as songs and names.

Although much reduced by commercial activities the natural abundance of forest and sea in the Haida archipelagos remains an essential aspect of contemporary Haida culture. The Council of the Haida Nation continues to pursue an unusually effective policy of rescuing natural lands and waters and is co-managing along with Canada, the wild and diverse islands of the Gwaiihaanaas Haida Heritage Site also reserved for National park status with the Canadian Park system.

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