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Why Haida Gwaii?

Field Notes

Why Haida Gwaii?

Marisa Pahl

The islands at the boundary of the world. Living on the edge of a knife. Time out of mind, they say.  You could say that I've always wanted to go to Haida Gwaii, for purely selfish reasons.

[ Scroll down for the short version: 10 Superb Reasons to Visit Haida Gwaii. AND PHOTOS!]

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But there are some other reasons too.

My mom raised my brothers and I on a rich canon of world literature, from Gilgamesh to Odysseus to Baba Yaga. Raven often stole the show and dominated our before bed reading rituals. Later on I discovered my adult world view is (of course) influenced by all of these narratives.

One thing lingered in my mind from the classical Haida myths. The reality of art is an essential part of everyday life. Art is purpose driven. Artists serve people by creating work with a practical function, a necessary story or a meaningful dialogue. 

Maybe this is why I feel so at home with designers, makers, storytellers and architects. 

It wasn't intentional but I was primed to fall in love with the work of Haida artists. I'd never heard of Bill Reid before I saw his work in person for the first time at the Museum of Anthropology. As a gangly nine year old, I experienced art with my whole body. Chills and shivers. A frog in the throat. Wet eyes, thumping heart. And trying to play it cool. I walked around the giant chunk of carved yellow Cedar taller than me, captivated. I saw the story I knew, unfolding before me in a circle. Each curve and shape spoke to me.

Later that day, I was equally mesmerized by the objects we saw on display.

Today, the museum has an incredible interactive display of windows and drawers where you can discover the unique lives of indigenous people around the world, by walking through an exhibition laid out like a map. It is an amazing curatorial feat that people appreciate and rave about. Twenty some years ago, the belongings of not-so-ancient Musqueam, Sto:lo, T'Sleil Watuth, Nuu Chah Nulth, Haisla, Haida, Tlingit and Dene (among others) were lumped together. Spread out haphazardly on old rickety metal library shelves. I was struck so completely by each pile of handmade objects ... paddles, baskets, masks, cedar hats and bentwood boxes. I walked in circles, staying longer than I was supposed to. Thinking: someone made this basket out of individual strands of fibre. Someone used this paddle every day. Who did these belong to? The workmanship was breathtaking. I did not like the way the objects were being treated. The magnitude, the sheer volume of things felt excessive. There were no stories to say where they came from. And, another problem. Some of them did not look so old.

This was the first time I was confronted with my settler heritage in an uncomfortable way.

The second time was in a third year psychology course in human violence. We studied the mass genocides of the past 100 years, from the holocaust to the Baltics to Rwanda. I wrote my term paper on the deliberate and intentional genocide of indigenous people in Canada. It was meant to be theoretical. That was before I found public medical documents in the basement of Koerner Library, outlining explicitly racist, dark and ruthless government initiatives. My conclusion easily fit within the United Nations definition of genocide, though my old white male professor - the "expert" - chose not to agree with my findings, only a handful of years ago. It turns out the patriarchy is alive and well, in some parts of the University of British Columbia.

These early experiences triggered a journey of learning that has found it's way into my daily life and my creative practise. As a young, queer, feminist, Canadian, caucasian artist I feel:

1. That it's essential for me to persistently seek out, hear and listen to the voices of indigenous people.

2. That it's important to share what I learn about Canada's collective social, environmental and economic history -  for young folks out there today.

3. That this process is necessary for me, in order to understand our collective relationship to the wilderness around us - here in Canada and around the world.

Since my creative process is grounded in human connections to wilderness, you can see how these pieces all fit together. These are the early seeds that were planted. That's how Haida Gwaii relates to my art + creative process.

Back to the selfish reasons!

xo

Marisa

 

10 Superb Reasons To Visit Haida Gwaii

1. Haida Gwaii is a hotspot of biodiversity that rivals the Amazon rainforest. Orca whales, cloudberries and octopi, oh my. 

2. Haida Gwaii is the common thread of diverse contemporary art practises for internationally acclaimed artists like Bill Reid, Brian Jungen, Robert Davidson and Michael Nicholl Yagulianas.

3. Gujaaw is one brilliant political leader in Canada's recent history. Learn about the journey of self governance, Aboriginal title and Aboriginal rights of the Haida Nation in Ian Gill's book "All That We Say is Ours" before you go to Haida Gwaii. 

4. Haida carving lineages are like detective work waiting to happen. Start with the Edenshaw and Davidson families. Visit a carver in their workshop.

5. Emily Carr paddled up the coast in a canoe, before Gore-tex was invented. You probably can too!

6. Island life draws eccentric, witty personalities that will keep you effortlessly entertained (none to rival Susan Musgrave of the Copper Beech House.)

7. Food gathering and feasting. Nuff said.

8.  Learning about classical and current Haida culture, from Haida people, Haida Watchmen and Island residents. Visit the Kay Llnagaay Centre when you arrive to take in a first person perspective of Haida heritage.

9. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site only let in five people per day. Campers are not allowed to camp within eye sight of another group. Lovers of remote wilderness adventures rejoice!

10. Learn about the early days of the forestry industry here in BC, where you can see the legacy of each "tree farm license" all around you.

 

Reading List: 

Haida Manga - Michael Nicholl Yagulianas

Hunting and Gathering at the Edge of the World - Susan Musgrave

All that We Say is Ours - Ian Gill

The Golden Spruce - John Vaillant

A visit to the village site of Koona.

A visit to the village site of Koona.

The diversity of lichens and mosses were astounding.

The diversity of lichens and mosses were astounding.

Hunting for agates on Agate Beach.

Hunting for agates on Agate Beach.

Falling in love with shades of grey. 

Falling in love with shades of grey. 

Found clay in a riverbed and made some tiny pots.

Found clay in a riverbed and made some tiny pots.

The shoes that make it all possible.

The shoes that make it all possible.

And then she proposed... 

And then she proposed... 

All the rocky rocky layers.

All the rocky rocky layers.

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Sunburnt and wind blown. 

Sunburnt and wind blown. 

Rainbow wharf is quite long. 

Rainbow wharf is quite long.