Suppressed during years of residential schools and a decades-long government ban of potlatches, Haida culture is slowly being rebuilt. First came interest in the 1950s to preserve the totem poles, and later build new ones. More recently, community members have made an effort to bring back the music that was so important to dances, potlatches, weddings and funerals.
But in an oral culture, how does one start recreating songs? That question was posed by several community leaders in the early 1990s, and the answer came in shoeboxes tucked under beds and deep in closets, containing recordings of Haida music taped by community elders in the 1960s.
"Once we had those tapes, we transcribed them in English and Haida and did some fancy work to preserve the tapes and get them on to archival tapes and CDs," says Guujaaw, whose grandmother was among the singing elders who recorded over 100 songs.
The revival of interest in Haida music coincided with the coming-of-age of a generation of Haida who had been told not to speak their language and discouraged from taking an interest in their culture.
"The music is strong, and has grown with the other activities," Guujaaw says. "As the number of carvers increased, so too did the dancing and the music."
Guujaaw now estimates there are about 50 Haida making a living carving and another 30 who make at least part of their living by weaving. Meanwhile, the interest in Haida music and dance has spread throughout the community, keeping pace with efforts to preserve the Haida language.