Cedar is an important part of Haida culture. To learn more about the relationship, Canadian Geographic spoke to Barbara Wilson, a cultural liaison specialist with Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.
Can Geo:What is the historical significance of cedar to Haida culture?
B.W.: Historically, cedar has been the backbone of many parts of Haida daily life. Totem poles, houses and clothing all came from cedar. Looking at what was available on the land, cedar was the most versatile of all the woods on Haida Gwaii.
Can Geo:What exactly is cedar used for?
B.W.: In the past, cedar was used to make about five different sizes or types of canoes. The whole make-up of the house including wallboards and corner posts, as well as decorative accessories were made from cedar. Before we had access to woven materials, cedar bark was also used to weave clothing, such as capes and tunics. When we got wool from trading with the mainland, cedar was woven with the wool in order to give the material a certain amount of strength and stability.
Today, our people are going back to honouring the things we did in the past by doing them again. To a large extent we're using cedar every day. We use cedar for the sides of our houses, our roofs and for carving totem poles. Not everybody does, but some of us do.
Can Geo:To what extent would you say that monumental art and Haida culture is threatened by the loss of cedar?
B.W.: The logging companies are doing what's called helicopter-logging. They are able to look at the forest and pick and choose which trees to remove by helicopter, effectively taking the very best cedar out. They tell us that they're being respectful of the land, but in fact what they're doing is high-grading. The loss of cedar has a big impact on the cultural and monumental art that we do because the skills of our ancestors can't be practiced if the material we need is no longer around.