Haida people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Canada ( British Columbia)

 United States ( Alaska)
Haida, English

The Haida (English pronunciation: /ˈhdə/, HY-də), historically sometimes spelled Hydah, are an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Their main territory is the archipelago of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) in northern British Columbia, but a group known as the Kaigani Haida live across the Dixon Entrance on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.

In British Columbia, the term "Haida Nation" refers both to the people as a whole and their government, the Council of the Haida Nation. The Kaigani are part of the Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska government.[2] The Haida language has sometimes been classified as one of the Na-Dene group, but is usually considered to be an isolate.[3]

Haida society continues to produce a robust and highly stylized art form, a leading component of Northwest Coast art. While frequently expressed in large wooden carvings (totem poles), Chilkat weaving, or ornate jewellery, it is also moving quickly into works of popular expression such as Haida manga.


Haida span the boundary between British Columbia and Alaska. Their heartland is the two large and many smaller islands known as Haida Gwaii, which means "island of the people" in Haida. This archipelago was surveyed in 1787 by Captain George Dixon of the British Navy, who named them after one of his ships, the Queen Charlotte, which was in turn named after Charlotte, queen consort of George III of the United Kingdom. The name "Queen Charlotte Islands" was subsequently "given back" to the Crown in a ceremony between the British Columbia government and the Council of the Haida Nation.

Haida also live in Southeast Alaska, particularly on the southern half of Prince of Wales Island in communities such as Hydaburg, and in large cities elsewhere in the region such as Ketchikan. Haida also live in various cities in mainland British Columbia and the western United States.


Houses and totem poles, Skidegate, 1878

The Haida were known for their craftsmanship, trading skills, and seamanship, particularly in their large red-cedar canoes. They were thought to be warlike and to practice slavery. Canadian Museum of Civilization anthropologist Diamond Jenness has compared the tribe to Vikings.[4]

Oral histories and archaeological evidence indicate that the Haida have occupied Haida Gwaii for over 17,000 years. In that time they have established an intimate connection with the islands' lands and oceans, established highly structured societies, and constructed many villages.[5][6] The Haida have occupied southern Alaska for over the last 200 years, the modern group having emigrated from Haida Gwaii in the 18th century. The Haida were important trading partners with Russian, Spanish, British, and American fur traders and whalers. According to sailing records they diligently maintained strong trade relationships with westerners, coastal people, and among themselves.[7]

Like other groups on the Northwest Coast, the Haida defended themselves with fortifications, including palisades, trapdoors and platforms. They took to water in large ocean-going canoes, big enough to accommodate as many as 60 paddlers, each created from a single Western red cedar tree. The aggressive tribe were particularly feared in sea battles, although they did respect rules of engagement in their conflicts.[4] The Haida developed effective weapons for boat-based battle, including a special system of stone rings weighing 18 to 23 kg (40 to 51 lb) which could destroy an enemy's dugout canoe and be reused after the attacker pulled it back with the attached cedar bark rope. The Haida took captives from defeated enemies. Between 1780 and 1830, the Haida turned their aggression towards European and American traders. Among the half-dozen ships the tribe captured were the Eleanor and the Susan Sturgis. The tribe made use of the weapons they so acquired, utilizing cannons and canoe-mounted swivel guns.[4]

In 1856, an expedition in search of a route across Vancouver Island was at the mouth of the Qualicum River when they observed a large fleet of Haida canoes approaching and hid in the forest. They observed these attackers holding human heads. When the explorers reached the mouth of the river, they came upon the charred remains of the village of the Qualicum people and the mutilated bodies of its inhabitants, with only one survivor, an elderly woman, hiding terrified inside a tree stump.[8]

Also in 1856, the USS Massachusetts was sent from Seattle to nearby Port Gamble, where indigenous raiding parties made up of Haida (from territory claimed by the British) and Tongass (from territory claimed by the Russians) had been attacking and enslaving the Coast Salish people there. When the Haida and Tongass (sea lion tribe Tlingit) warriors refused to acknowledge American jurisdiction and to hand over those among them who had attacked the Puget Sound communities, a battle ensued in which 26 natives and one government soldier were killed. In the aftermath of this, Colonel Isaac Ebey, a US military officer and the first settler on Whidbey Island, was shot and beheaded on 11 August 1857 by a small Tlingit group from Kake, Alaska, in retaliation for the killing of a respected Kake chief in the raid the year before. Ebey's scalp was purchased from the Kake by an American trader in 1860.[9][10][11][12] The introduction of smallpox among the Haida at Victoria in March 1862 significantly reduced their sovereignty over their traditional territories, and opened the doorway to colonial power.[13] As many as 9 in 10 Haidas died of smallpox.

In 1885 the Haida potlatch (Haida: waahlgahl) was outlawed under the Potlatch Ban. The elimination of the potlatch system destroyed financial relationships and seriously interrupted the cultural heritage of coastal people.

Model of House of Contentment, late 19th century, Brooklyn Museum

The Haida also created "notions of wealth", and Jenness credits them with the introduction of the totem pole (Haida: ǥyaagang) and the bentwood box.[4] Missionaries regarded the carved poles as graven images rather than intimate representations of the family histories that wove Haida society together. Chiefly families showed their histories by erecting totems outside their homes, or on house posts forming the building. As the islands were Christianized, many such cultural works were destroyed or taken to museums around the world. This significantly undermined Haida self-knowledge and further diminished morale.

The government began forcibly sending Haida children to residential schools as early as 1920. Haida children were sent as far away as Alberta to live among English-speaking families where they were to be assimilated into the dominant culture.


Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay
Haida carver Saaduuts, 2007

Historical Haida villages were:[14]


Lisa Telford, Haida basket weaver

The Haidas' calendar:

Notable Haida

Diane Douglas-Willard of Ketchikan, Alaska.
Young Haida woman with lip plate, portrayed in Dixon, George (1789): Voyage autour du monde

Anthropologists and scholars

This is an incomplete list of anthropologists and scholars who have done research on the Haida.

See also

Further reading


  1. History of the Haida Nation, Council of the Haida Nation website. Skidegate and Old Masset combined are 1,471 combined, and 2000 more Haida live in Vancouver and Prince Rupert and elsewhere.
  2. "Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska". CCTHITA. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
  3. Schoonmaker, Peter K.; Bettina Von Hagen; Edward C. Wolf (1997). The Rain Forests of Home: Profile Of A North American Bioregion. Island Press. p. 257. ISBN 1-55963-480-4.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Warfare". Canadian Museum of Civilization. Retrieved 2009-03-17.
  5. Hume, Mark (20 July 2012). "When did the first people arrive in the Americas?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  6. "Caves reveal thousands of years of history". Queen Charlotte Islands Observer. 14 September 2007. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  7. "Canoes and Trade". Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  8. Elms p 20, citing William Wyford Walkem, Stories of Early British Columbia, "Adam Horne's trip across Vancouver Island" (Vancouver, BC: Published by News Advertiser, 1914) p 41.
  9. Puget Sound Herald Nov 19, 1858
  10. Juneau Empire, February 29, 2008
  11. Beth Gibson, Beheaded Pioneer, Laura Arksey, Columbia, Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, Spring, 1988.
  12. Bancroft says they were Stikines, a Tlingit subgroup, and makes no mention of the Haida. History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana: 1845–1889, p.137 Hubert Howe Bancroft (1890) This enormous source, photocopied, including p.137, is more easily accessible online at , if desired. Retrieved 2012-2-21.
  13. "The Spirit of Pestilence". The University of Victoria. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  14. Canadian Museum of Civilization webpage on Haida villages
  15. "FirstVoices: Hlg̱aagilda X̱aayda Kil : words". Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  16. Parks Canada website


External links

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