I’m travelling through Northern BC a place rich in scenery, wildlife, and First Nation culture. Off the coast in this region, there is an archipelago known as Haida Gwaii that means “Islands of the people” in the Haida Language. To get there you can fly in or take a 7 hour ride with BC Ferries from Prince Rupert. I’m heading there to explore parts of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site.
When I arrive in Hadia Gwaii, I visit the remarkable Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay. It is an award-winning Aboriginal cultural tourism attraction that is a must see. I then talk with the tour operator Moresby Explorers and choose to take a journey with them into the Gwaii Haanas, which is only accessible by boat. I’m told that during our tour we visit a few places with the Haida village site of K’uuna Llnagaay (also called Skedans) being the main attraction. K’uuna Llnagaay is outside the boundaries of Gwaii Haanas but it is within the Haida Heritage Site. It is one of the larger First Nation villages in the southern point of the islands that was abandoned in the 1880s near the end of the smallpox epidemic. So myself and other guests, gear up and take off in a Zodiac boat to explore the rugged beauty of this area.
For our first stop, we boat up onto a beach and walk into an old growth forest. Ancient cedars, hemlocks and Sitka spruce tower high while moss, ferns, and salal splatter shades of green around us. It feels as if you are the first person to ever set foot in certain areas. We spot numerous deer nibbling away on plants while our guide shares with us a mix of Haida cultural history and natural history.
We jump back into the Zodiac boat, which begins to feel like our own time machine into the past as we travel by untouched islands with mountains that drop into the sea. We then come into a small protected bay where the ancient village site of K’uuna Llnagaay lies. A Haida Gwaii Watchmen who works closely with Parks Canada to watch over this important cultural site greets us warmly with a smile.
We walk lightly over this fragile ground learning about the village and how the people lived. You really get a sense of what the village once looked like over a hundred years ago as the Watchman shows you figures on the poles and longhouse remains.
At one time, there where many poles in this village but now in varying states of deterioration several carved memorial and mortuary poles remain standing. The longer I explore the village site the more I felt my spirit wander. As we were walking, the Haida Gwaii Watchman says to me “Sometimes you can actually feel our ancestors presence as you walk through the village, and not many people get to experience that spiritualness”. No they don’t I thought to myself, and as we got back into the Zodiac boat I felt lucky to have spent time in this special place.
You can see footage from this experience and more about Aboriginal culture in Northern BC in this video:
Trip Tip: Make sure to check out different tour options at Moresby Explores Ltd. as some of their tours go further into Gwaii Haanas to visit areas such as SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Moresby Explorers Ltd. will provide the mandatory orientation required by Parks Canada for their tour guests. Visitors can also attend the Parks Canada sessions at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay by in Skidegate.