Moon and Mountain Goat Chest of Chief Gidansda
Denis Finnin/AMNH Anthropology catalog 16/8802

Selected features from the Northwest Coast Hall.

Haida culture is born of respect, and intimacy with the land, sea, and air around us. We owe our existence to our home, the Supernatural, and our Ancestors. The living generation accepts the responsibility to ensure our way of life is passed on to following generations.

Tllgaay ad siigaay Gan t’alang aaxana ad yahguudang. XaaydaGa Gwaay.yaay Gaaganuu iid xaynanga ga. Asii gwaay.yaay guu, iid kuuniisii xaynang.nga, ad siing.gwaa’ad gan.

The text above, in English and the Xaayda kil dialect of Haida, is adapted from the Constitution of the Haida Nation. Today, there are three surviving dialects of the Haida language: Xáad kil (Alaska), Xaayda kil (Skidegate) and Xaad kil (Old Massett).

Two canoes full of people on the water. In one, a person in an eagle mask stands at front and in the other, a person in a robe stands at front.
In 2005, the Haida Repatriation Committee conducted an End of Mourning ceremony for hundreds of our Ancestors whose remains were returned home from North American universities, private homes and museums, including this museum.
Cynthia Frankenberg/Haida Gwaii Museum

Gin-g áahljaaw | Ceremony  

Gin-g áahljaaw, or ceremony, facilitates our consciousness of and connection to the Supernatural, our Ancestors and the natural world. It is how we show honor and respect, seek guidance and give thanks. Ceremony can be as grand as rituals conducted in a potlatch, or as quiet as individual prayers of gratitude. The foundation of all ceremony is yahguudang, or respect.

Large crowd of people in a room, including performers with drums in a circle in the center and large seated audience around three sides of performers.
Celebrating the opening of the Haida Heritage Centre and the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay, c. 2008
Rolf Bettner/Haida Gwaii Museum

SGaalang.ga ad xyaahl, or song and dance, are central to Haida life, connecting us to both spirit and being. The origin of song is said to have come from two sisters who became The Singers, Supernatural Beings who learned their songs from the birds. The Haida word for “drum beat” is Sgid k’yaagang, or “spirits drumming.” Our songs and dances are intellectual property and may only be used by those who hold the rights to perform them.

Listen to the Supper Song, sung by Haida Consulting Curator Jisgang Nika Collison and Jaad ga xil ta Irene Mills. This ceremonial song, held collectively by the Haida Nation, is sung before serving dinner, and is used as an introduction to the Haida Independence & Sustainability Series, created for the Haida Gwaii Museum. 

Gudée | Chest

Masterfully carved chests like the one below hold a Chief’s treasures throughout their life.

Chief Gidansda’s Moon and Mountain Goat Chest

The painted cedar chest below, carved circa 1850, belongs to Chief Gidansda of Skedans, an ancient village on the east coast of Haida Gwaii.

Historical image of Chief Gidansda’s Moon and Mountain Goat Chest on a plank near totems.
Chief Gidansda’s Moon and Mountain Goat Chest in Skedans village, prior to its sale under duress.
Image PN 89, courtesy of the Royal BC Museum 

In 1901, Chief Gidansda, under duress, sold the chest to a collector, who in turn, sold it to the American Museum of Natural History. The figures on this chest are high crests of Gidansda’s clan, the Gakyaals KiiGawaay. The old Chief Gidansda, who originally owned this chest, was known for his diplomacy, a legacy carried on by the current Chief Gidansda.

The highest position within our hereditary system is that of Iitl’lxaaydaGa, the clan Chief who represents and manages a clan’s collective property and political affairs. In 2017, this chest was brought home to Haida Gwaii for a two-day potlatch. The first day was a memorial for Gidansda Percy Williams, previous Chief of the Gakyaals KiiGawaay Clan. On the second day, Percy’s nephew Guujaaw, former president of the Haida Nation, was inaugurated as the new Chief Gidansda.

Man in headdress and patterned robe sits on painted, wooden settee with carved chest to his right and row of people seated at banquet table behind.
Chief Gidansda in 2017, sitting on his Chief’s settee.
Dr. Laura Peers/Haida Gwaii Museum

Practicing Yahguudang 

The Haida Nation and the American Museum of Natural History have developed a relationship based on yahguudang, or respect. Between 2002 and 2014 the remains of 48 Haida Ancestors, who were stolen from graves during the late 1800s, were returned to our Nation from this museum.

In 2017, we collaborated to return this important Chief’s chest back to Haida Gwaii for a short-term loan. First it participated in a two-day potlatch hosted by the Gakyaals KiiGawaay Clan, then the Haida Gwaii Museum commissioned a recreation of the chest, which was first put on view at their exhibition on repatriation, Yahguudangang - To Pay Respect. The historic chest itself was shared with visitors at the Haida Gwaii Museum for nearly three years before traveling back to New York.

A brightly painted and decorated carved wooden chest sits in a glass cube museum display in a gallery with other wooden carvings and masks on view.
The chest was displayed at the Haida Gwaii Museum, along with Chief Gidansda’s settee (back wall), for almost three years.
Haida Gwaii Museum

Bringing Home Our Ancestors

Beginning in the latter half of the 1800s, anthropologists and other unsanctioned “collectors” took the belongings and stole the actual bones of our Ancestors. We have worked for decades to right these wrongs. Between 1991 and 2016, we brought home the remains of over 500 Ancestors, including 48 from the American Museum of Natural History. During this time, we also researched where our belongings are kept around the world. As of 2022, we know of over 12,000 Haida cultural treasures held in global museums, including this one. We call the work of repatriation yahguudangang, to pay respect. We are directed by our Nation to approach this work with museums with the goal of mutual respect, cooperation, and trust. We continue to build these relationships with museums and others in good faith, pursuing the return of our people and belongings.

Two women sit on a blanket outside preparing food, with 24 platters of food laid out in front of them.
Kuunaajaad Jenny Cross (left) and SGang Gwaay Dolly Garza (right), prepare to burn food in a ceremony to feed the Ancestors in 2005.
James (Bussy) McGuire/Haida Gwaii Museum

Complex Economies

Long before the arrival of Europeans, a complex economy spanned the Northwest Coast and far beyond, and continues to this day. We often trade for raw materials and foods not available in Haida territories, such as saw (pronounced "sau"), eulachon fish, and taw (pronounced "tao"), its grease, in exchange for commodities and manufactured goods unique to our people. Trade is not limited to material items. A ceremonial exchange between high-ranking people might involve the transfer of names, songs, ceremonies or other valued prerogatives.

Herd of bighorn sheep grazing on a snowy mountainside. Because mountain goats and sheep don’t live on Haida Gwaii, our Ancestors imported horns from the mainland to make intricately carved spoons and dishes, like the one on the right.
Kim Keating/USGS
Translucent amber colored bowl curved on both sides with delicate carved figure on the side in a museum display case. Laamaduu k'yamGaay kayhla gamjuu | Mountain sheep horn bowl (AMNH Anthropology catalog 19/696) The translucent amber color of this ceremonial dish comes from steamed and molded mountain sheep horn. The delicate design, featuring a hook-nosed hawk, was sure to be admired at a feast. Treasures like these moved extensively through trade and marriage. This dish was carved by a Haida artist and owned by the Tlingit Chief Shtax’héen.
Denis Finnin/© AMNH
Man in a sweatshirt with tattooed arms sits in a studio making pencil markings on a carved wooden piece.
Artist Ta’kiid Aayaa Corey Bulpitt.
Jay Tseng

Every single thing we made was used in recognition of who you were, your ancestry, your clan. Your bowl or your spoon had your clan history on it.

—Ta’kiid Aayaa  Corey Bulpitt, Haida artist
NaiKun Raven Clan, Vancouver, British Columbia 

Surviving Colonialism

Long before European contact, an extensive economy existed across the Americas. After contact, our Ancestors expanded this economy by creating sculptures and weavings for purchase by sailors and other collectors, who bought them in great quantities. By the late 1800s, these artworks not only served an economic function, but also one of cultural survival. Deemed “acceptable” by colonists who outlawed our way of life, these gin Gáwtlaas, or new objects, not only diversified our economy, they ensured our cultural knowledge and practice of Haida art remained active and unbroken. 

'Yáats' X̱aadee | Iron People
Before contact with Europeans our Ancestors acquired iron through extensive trade routes and from shipwrecks. When European sailors arrived, they had plentiful iron for trade, so we named them Iron People. 

St’ii Kaa | Sickness Walking

 Illustration depicts people in boats or on riverbank slumped over or lying dead as large stylized figure looms over them.
Reproduction courtesy of the Bill Reid Estate

Early interactions between our Ancestors and European sailors revolved around maritime fur trade. As this economy waned, Europeans sought to colonize our territory and people. In 1862, some colonists knowingly spread smallpox in the Northwest Coast. Vaccines and treatment were withheld from the Haida, killing over 95% of our people. The illustration above, The Spirit of Pestilence (1965) by Haida artist Iljuwas Bill Reid, depicts the devastation of smallpox.

Barbara Wilson, wearing a rain jacket, leans over to examine a plant in a forest.
Ḵii’iljuus Barbara Wilson, Haida Matriarch.
© Andrew S. Wright

Smallpox running through our people can be likened to a fire burning a library of 30,000 books. Our Elders are our books of knowledge.

Kii’iljuus Barbara Wilson, Haida Matriarch
   St’awaas Clan, Haida Gwaii

Gaay Giisdaxan id kaagantl’lxa | Even out of that we survived

Survivors of biological genocide went on to face a cultural genocide facilitated through churches, Canada’s Indian Act, and the Indian Residential School system, which separated children from their families in an attempt to break our cultural and community ties and extinguish our language.

Our Ancestors not only survived, they continued our Haida way of life, so that today we know who we are, where we come from, and our place in the world. Id kuuniisii sGaw da gii dalang ‘waadluxan Gaa hll kil ’láa ga. Thank you to our Ancestors.

Four people carrying babies as they walk, with performers on a stage behind them holding drums and more people in left foreground, right background.
Haida families at an Old Massett Baby Welcoming Feast in 2016. From right: Gaadgaas Erika Stocker, Roy Yeltatzie, Guulee Xuhl Trina Parnell, and children.
Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer

 Jáadas Dagwiiyáa | Strong Women

In Haida society women are respected for the vital contributions they make to our community, including the passing down of lineage, property and status, as well as artistic knowledge, scholarship and wise counsel.

7 older women sit on chairs in a row outside a building, with an 8th woman standing on left end of line.
Matriarchs gather to witness and celebrate the raising of the Skidegate Dogfish Pole in 1978. Carved by Haida artist Iljuwas Bill Reid, it was the first monumental pole to be raised in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, in almost 100 years. Left to right: Xyáhl gúu ‘láas Colleen Williams, Laagangee Louise Dixon, Illjuu Kyanduwas Hazel Stevens, Giidsguulang Kuuhlaas Agnes Moody, Aahlgahl Jaads Maude Moody, Xaay.ya Jaads Ethel Moody, Jaadsgwan Anne Young, Xaahuujuuwaay Lillian Brown. 
Ulli Steltzer/Haida Gwaii Museum 1978

k’uuljaad (pronounced "k’ool jut"), lady of high esteem, plays a significant role within Haida culture, giving balance to the Iitl’lxaaydaGa (pronounced "ee-till hi-da guh"), Chief. Among other responsibilities, a Matriarch holds knowledge, ensures a clan’s affairs are kept in order and advises the Chief on important matters. While chieftainships are typically held by a man, women can also hold this position.

Four women and boy sit at a table indoors weaving hats.
Iskyaalas Delores Churchill and daughters (left to right) Kujuuhl Evelyn Vanderhoop, Duugwa Taaw Holly Churchill, XiihliiḴingang April Churchill and grandson (back), Stast Aaron Burns, c. 1990 
Hall Anderson

The women would go into the woods in groups to gather the spruce roots. On the beach, they kept working in groups, cooking, debarking, splitting and grading them. No one quit working until all the roots were finished. Just like when they worked on food, they did not do a lot of talking. They really paid attention to the roots they were working on. When they took breaks, there was lots of talking and laughter. My memory is filled with a sense of love and safety during these times. 

—Iskyaalas Delores Churchill, Haida artist
Ketchikan, Alaska

Artist Profile: Iskyaalas Delores Churchill

Iskyaalas Delores Churchill is a Haida master weaver who gathers and prepares her own materials for cedar bark and spruce root works.

Woman in a woven hat, patterned outfit and slippers sits in a rolling chair weaving a hat.
Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie

Delores reveals, “Although I grew up with my mother weaving, and me helping to harvest materials, I did not think weaving would be a major part of my life. I took no interest in it until I was an adult. Learning from my mother was difficult at times. She was a perfectionist and expected the best from her children. She burned my first baskets saying, ‘People will know you learned from me. Your baskets need to be good.’ As my weaving improved, I was glad she burned those first baskets. I would not want those to represent my work.” 

In this video from Sealaska Heritage Institute, Delores discusses the harvesting and processing of spruce roots used for weaving.

Níijang.uu | The Mask

Many masks in the Hall depict Haida women at different stages of life. Historically, a woman of high rank wore a labret in her lip, which was made larger as she increased in age and status.  

Haida masked dancers respect and embody the life-force of the being they represent, a privilege earned only after intense study. When dancers use a mask in ceremony, they seek to connect the viewers to the being’s spirit.

Gaagiid | Wild Being of the Woods

The green mask below depicts a Gaagiid (pronounced "gaw-geet"), or Wild Being of the Woods. A person can be turned into a Gaagiid when they nearly drown, are lost on the land, or are bewitched by a river otter. Left to live a lonely and untamed existence, a Gaagiid can be returned to its human self under the care of other people.

Gaagiid Mask  In 1900, this Museum asked famed Chief and artist 7iDANsuu Charles Edenshaw to carve this Gaagiid mask for the Hall. It is one of the few masks known to be carved by 7iDANsuu Charles Edenshaw.


AMNH Anthropology catalog 16.1/128

Man sitting in a small chair carving something in front of small table with a carving placed on it. Chief 7iDANsuu Charles Edenshaw.
Image PN 5168 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum
Man in patterned shirt holds a carved mask in his hands, additional masks on a gallery wall behind him. Master carver, painter, and jeweler Guud San Glans Robert Davidson with the Gaagiid mask that his great-grandfather 7iDANsuu Charles Edenshaw carved for this Museum.
Jill Bauerle/© AMNH

Gaagiid is featured in Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown’s award-winning 2018 film, SGaawaay K’uuna | Edge of the Knife; the first narrative feature film to be performed entirely in Haida. It tells the story of a man, stricken with guilt over a boy’s death, who becomes a Gaagiid after nearly drowning at sea.

Man with matted hair, spikes around mouth and garment around hips in the forest.
Gaagiid from SGaawaay K’uuna | Edge of the Knife.
SGaawaay K’uuna | Edge of the Knife. Directed by Gwaai Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown. 2018. Photo credit Niijang Xyaalas Productions. Copyright Isuma Distribution International.

I grew up with grown people, adults, scared to go out at nighttime. Scared of the dark. Because of the stories they were told as kids. Wild Men of the Woods, Supernatural Beings. In the old days especially, the Supernatural and the natural, they were never separate. You’re sitting there, and the Supernatural was too. It’s always been a part of our lives.

—Chief 7iDANsuu James Hart, Haida artist
Saangga.ahl Stastas Clan, Old Massett, Haida Gwaii

Artist Profile: Chief 7iDANsuu James Hart

Chief 7iDANsuu James Hart is a Haida master carver, goldsmith, and painter. Born into the Eagle Clan at Old Massett, Haida Gwaii, James first worked as an apprentice for Guud San Glans Robert Davidson in 1978 before working with Iljuwas Bill Reid between 1980 and 1984.

Man with gray hair and mustache in a flannel shirt and puffer vest poses outside.
Chief 7iDANsuu James Hart at his home in Old Massett (Gaw Tlágee), Haida Gwaii.
Patrick Shannon/InnoNative

In 1999, James Hart became a Chief of the Stastas Eagle Clan and received the name 7iDANsuu (pronounced “ee-dahn-soo”), which was passed down from his great-great-grandfather, Chief 7iDANsuu, who has been described as the “Michaelangelo” of Haida art.

I was named by my uncle to be the next chief in our clan. It’s pretty amazing when you take on that position. You change. Then, it slowly goes into your system, and you realize that change is not the way you think it is. The change becomes more serious, but more subtle, too. You’re not up there ranting and raving for me. You can’t think “for me” anymore. You’re thinking for us and the betterment of, not just your clan, but all of us.

—Chief 7iDANsuu James Hart, Haida artist
Saangga.ahl Stastas Clan, Old Massett, Haida Gwaii

From Gina Suuda Tl’l X̱asii - Came to Tell Something: Art and Artist in Haida Society, Haida Gwaii Museum Press, 2014  

Indian Residential Schools

Pairs of children's shoes are lined up in two rows on the lawn in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
A 2021 memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada, honors 215 Indigenous children buried there in unmarked graves. For decades the Canadian government forced First Nations children across the country to go to residential schools; the U.S. had an extensive network of similar facilities. And for just as long, Indigenous families in both countries have asked government and church officials for more information on children who were taken away but tragically never came home.
Dennis Owen/REUTERS

The Great Canoe

The Great Canoe is the largest remaining Northwest Coast canoe in the world. At 63 feet (19 m) long, the hull was carved from one enormous red cedar tree and designed to carry dozens of people and their belongings on the open ocean. Carving and painting style links this extraordinary canoe to both Haida and Haíłzaqv Nations.

Large wooden, painted canoe hangs from the ceiling in the Museum's Northwest Coast Hall gallery.
This tluu (pronounced "tlew"), canoe, has a Haida Eagle painted on its stern.
Denis Finnin/© AMNH

For more information on the Great Canoe, visit our exhibit page.

A 2014 potlatch at Haida Gwaii celebrated and reaffirmed a peace treaty between the Haida and Haíłzaqv Nations that dates to the mid 1800s.

Woman with colorful paint on each cheek smiles with eyes closed with large crowd behind her.
Nikkayla Gladstone at the celebratory potlatch.
Patrick Shannon/InnoNative

I am from both of the Nations that signed the peace treaty…That day I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

—Nikkayla Gladstone

Map showing Haida territories highlighted in a bright color, including Old Massett, Haida Gwaii, and Skidegate.

Haida Consulting Curator

Taa.uu 'Yuuwans Jisgang Nika Collison, Kay’ahl Laanas Clan with ‘aay.yaay Gidins, Naa 'Yuuwans XaaydaGaay/Gidins Clan and SGaan Kwahagang James McGuire, Gakyaals KilGawaay Clan.