Editor’s Note: This is part one hundred thirty of a series of testimonies given by our aboriginal neighbors. We are posting these in an attempt to allow everyone to better understand just how badly Canada has neglected the first nations of Canada. These are the words submitted to the JRP Hearings, to Enbridge and to the Government of Canada.
ORAL PRESENTATION BY MS. DIANE BROWN
MS. DIANE BROWN: K’ul jaad Gaa.nga, Kilslaay Gaa.nga, iid hltuaxulang Kuuyasis. Ahaay.yad uu Xaayda Gwaay.yaa t’alang kaaganda t’aajing sgaawdaagi. ‘Wagyen dii t’ak’inga dii a k’aaw.uu dii.
This is my granddaughter Taang.gunaay. She’s seven years old and is going to share a little story with you.
MS. TAANG.GUNAAY: This is my cousin Ganhlaans and my Uncle Jed. And this is my Uncle Jed cutting fish; my chinaay and my Uncle Jed picking fish. Me and my nanaay, waiting for the fish. My chinaay checking the net. Sometimes there’s no fish and sometimes there is lots of fish.
Sometimes we can the fish and sometimes we smoke it in the smokehouse. We are happy with our fish and I want our food protected.
MS. DIANE BROWN: Thank you, Taang.gunaay.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for sharing your story. Just for the record, were you reading from a book that you had put together yourself and it was a collection of photographs? Is that correct? Is that correct?
MS. DIANE BROWN: Yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Thank you very much.
You can keep it. Thank you very much. But thank you for sharing it with us.
MS. DIANE BROWN: The thought of coming up here was quite frightening to her, but she felt it important to say something. I’m very proud of you, Taang.gunaay. Haawa.
The map of Haida Gwaii with the Haida place names showing.
These — this story — these stories come from Solomon Wilson, Henry Young and primarily from Nang King.aay’uwans, James Young. He was the leader of the Naa’uwans Xaaydagaay Haida Gwaii. I learned a lot off him, a lot of legends and Haida stories.
A long, long time ago, before there was land, we were covered in water. One time, this loon got tired and he flew up to the heavens where the grandfather was, the highest being since Sang Sgaanuwaay. He’s our head person in the supernatural and spirit world. So he goes by many names.
So the loon flew up there and he came outside his grandfather’s house and he would say, “Grandfather, grandfather”, and then he would cry and cry. Nothing would happen. The second day, he went outside the door again and he cried and cried. Nothing happened.
The third day, he went, “Chinaay”, cried and cried. Finally, his grandfather came out and said, “What is it, my grandson? What is it you want? Why are you crying like that?”
And he said, “Grandfather, we have no land and we get tired. We’d like to have a place to rest”. He said, “Well, come in, grandson. You see that partition there in the corner of the house? You go behind that partition and get that box. Within that box is another box. You open that one, and within that box is another box. And you take that box out. And then the fourth box, you open that one. You will see a rock with white crystals going through it. You will also see a black rock, a shiny rock. Now, my grandson, you take that black rock and you blow on it hard as you can and you throw it as far as you can”.
So the grandson took the black rock, breathed on it hard, threw it as far as he could, and our legends say that is North America today.
So grandson went and took — got the other rock with the crystals running through it and he said, “Grandson, you take that rock and don’t blow on it too hard and don’t throw it too far”. So grandson put a little breath on it and threw it a little way. And that is what became Haida Gwaii.
These legends have been passed down since we got here this time. According to our legends and our creation stories, I believe, which is as valid and as real as the people’s Holy Bible, yet some people try and change things around in our legends to suit themself. I wouldn’t mess with the Bible, so our legends need to be respected as well.
So our stories tell us that’s how Haida Gwaii was created. This time, we came out of the ocean. This is our third time here. Nang King.aay’uwans, James Young, told me we came the first time from the air and we disappeared. And we came the second time out of clay, we were made, the humans were made. And we disappeared again.
This time, with chiia kaa tl’l xa, we came out of the ocean, and Nang King.aay’uwans, James Young, says there’s one more time after this we’re going to come again. And I think the only thing left would be out of fire, perhaps, but the legend doesn’t tell us exactly.
So we came out of the ocean and in several areas of Haida Gwaii, for example, in the north in Naay kun. Where’s that fancy thing? This one? I’m not real technical, sorry. Right around up there, Raven was — that’s called Naay kun, House Point, where many descendents from this area now live in Skidegate. They’re called the Naa’uwans Xaaydagaay, but Raven was around there and he noticed a clam shell and he could hear — he could hear voices.
And he looked and he saw humans in the clam shall, so he coaxed them out. And that was the beginning of the Naay kun north end people.
I come from the kayahl llnagaay Xaaydagaay. That’s where the heritage centre is, about there, maybe. Around there. Oh, I’m pointing in Skidegate Inlet where Second Beach is. Its Haida name is Kay, and that’s where our clan came out of the ocean.
And there’s another — Solomon Wilson called these places places of origin. Another is — I’m trying to find Hot Spring and House Island. Right here? Hot Spring right here.
All right, on the back end of Hot Spring Island I think that’s House Island, the bigger one, there was another place of origin where ravens came out, Raven clan.
Another — I’m not going to go through all of them, but on the southern tip of the island there’s a reef. Again it’s — it’s called — it’s around Swan Bay, what Jason was talking about, Xaagii. There’s a reef called Xaagii right around here and there more people came out of the ocean.
So there’s more places that we came out around Haida Gwaii but our highest being put us here in the beginning of time, this time. Him putting us here — it wasn’t really long after we were here — when we got here there was no trees yet, there was no shelters so it was a struggle for our ancestors.
Nang King.aay’uwans and James Young says if the supernaturals didn’t pity us, we might not have made it this time around but thankfully the supernatural beings took pity on us and helped us out in many areas.
And when the trees came they helped us and showed us how to make shelters and the longhouse. They showed us how to make the canoes and the totem poles. We had medicines from Jiila kuns; Creek Woman showed us some medicines that are still used today.
Everything that was under the ocean before we got land came to the land. Everything that was under in the underworld became something in the upper world. James Young remembered four things and of those four unfortunately I only remember two, the Guudingaay, the sea urchins were — became salmonberries up here. The abalone became mouse up on earth, the land.
So for everything that was under there became something up here. So we were birthed out of the ocean, everything that’s up here now came out of the ocean.
Some of the first visitors we had from the southern part of the world to us were the Sgaana, the killer whales. They came up to Naay kun area and lived. And this was a time when they still were very comfortable in the transformation; the killer whales could become humans at will and they could become — they could become the killer whales.
For example, when they ran out of food they would unhook their killer whale skin and put it on and come down to Skidegate for halibut, say. And when they would get back to Naay kun their wives would keep them moist, as it takes time to transform from a supernatural being to come back to be human.
If they were left in the sun they would burn so the wives of the killer whales would go and dump saltwater on them until they came out of being the killer whale back into being human.
So they were quite happy there. However, they could not reproduce, they could not get pregnant, the women killer whales could not have babies. So they talked it over and they said they were going to go into where Gaw is, Old Massett Village is now, and ask for some young women to come with them. So they did, they got some ladies from Old Massett — the original Old Massett Village and after that were able to have babies.
So each clan has a story like that. This is the Naay kun relationship with the supernaturals that I heard from the last trained Haida legend speaker, to my knowledge, was James Young. His father was a totally trained Haida speaker and he passed it onto his son James, and then I heard these from James.
So because this — these people in Old Massett had such a relationship with the supernatural beings he said that’s why the Old Massett people are special, they’re good gud giihljuuwa he called it, and that means they’re more thoughtful, they’re kinder. And that was the legend he told us on the killer whales.
The last thing on that is that the people noticed there were different markings on the female killer whales than the male killer whales. So it was from there that the humans realized you couldn’t marry within your clan, you had to marry with — outside of your clan.
But coming into that we were here and the first people to come here started talking. So Solomon Wilson told me this story. Solomon Wilson was the Chief of the Ts’aahl clan and after him was Watson Price and today our Hereditary Chief is Gaahlaay Lonnie Young.
So Solomon Wilson told me this story; that after we got placed here on Haida Gwaii the people — the people that were here started having concerns on how we were blessed to be put here in Haida Gwaii so we must talk about how we’re going to co-exist and live on Haida Gwaii.
So they had a meeting around Skidegate Lake in the southern — on Moresby Island. So Skidegate Lake is more upper.
Okay, where’s Skidegate Lake, someone help me. Up? Here?
Okay, we’re on track here.
So the highest mountain around Skidegate Lake is where the — he said it was six or seven — oh, I’m getting rusty — but anyway, six or seven people got together. Of the, say, seven people that met there one was a female, so six men and one woman, we’ll say, met on the highest mountain near Skidegate Lake and discussed how we will conduct ourselves, how we’re going to look after things.
So it was at that meeting that I think respect laws were discussed, the respect for the foods, the respect for the animals, the respect for the land, the marriage laws, the death laws probably. It doesn’t go into detail on all they discussed, it was mainly how to take care of Haida Gwaii and live on Haida Gwaii. So that took place thousands of years ago.
Since then we have survived many things as a people; there were famines, there were floods. Hazel Stevens, another Elder that I spent — was fortunate and blessed to spend time with told me that around Copper Bay, which is a fishing area for us — my granddaughter talked about it — there’s another — the highest point behind Copper Bay, she said, was built. Cedar planks were laid on the ground and led up to the mountainside, to the top of the mountain.
Because we had some prophets the flood was foretold. So she said they built a sort of a roadway up to this mountain and they pulled the canoes up this trail made of cedar planking and when the rains came they went up to the mountain and got on the canoes, which is a whole other legend but…
But I thought if Hazel was born in 1900 and there was still remnants of a trail — but anyway, subsequently, after that, it got completely logged over, so there’s no trace of that cedar trail.
Famines, many famines happened, and our people survived. I know one famine legend; this girl became pregnant and then — in them days the village left — left you alone in a village without fire. She did not have a husband, so the whole village pulled out on canoes. But before — before her sister-in-law left she whispered to her to go down just above the tide mark, “I’ll have a shell with fire embers in the shell for you”.
So the young girl waited for them to pull away and when the canoes pulled away she went and looked for the shell and opened it up, and there was some embers. So she brought it up and survived.
The people that left her didn’t realize that she was — became pregnant by the supernatural beings, therefore, she gave birth to a supernatural boy, and he grew strong and he grew rapidly into a young, strong man. And his mother made him a bow and arrow and he started hunting. And he hunted every species, and his mom dried like geese and porpoise meat and salmon. He had so much food he and his mother had prepared and dried that they had to build another longhouse to store the food.
And by and by, the uncle came back, the one that had left them, and said they were in a famine in their land where they were. And the nephew said, “I have lots of food. You go get the people and I’ll share it with all the people”.
So they came back — the village came back to this village and the Chief then offered the nephew — said he could marry one of his daughters, who were very beautiful. But this one daughter wasn’t real beautiful and she had a limp. And the nephew said, “No, I want this daughter”, the one with the limp, and not real pretty. So the Chief said fine, he can marry her.
And the grandfather that — the deity, the supernatural being, the — told the grandson to get the taawt’a, which is a bentwood box, and there were large bentwood boxes and they poured — filled it up with medicines, full of water and medicines. And they put the lady, the young lady in the taawt’a four times. They shoved her under water. And the fourth time she came up her limp was healed and she became very beautiful. And that was that legend that — that tied with food.
When you’re going to work with medicines — oh, I had my pictures there. What am I supposed to do about them?
Okay, I’ll show them after I finish then, maybe, if I have time.
So we have every — we are still so fortunate. We have every kind of seafood that people have mentioned, abalone not so much, but clams and cockles and crabs and everything from the ocean.
From the land, we have many medicines that people still use today, medicines that were taught to us by our grandmothers and their grandmothers. These medicines have to — they liked — many of them like to live by rivers, many of our stronger medicines, they like living alongside the riverbeds.
I started getting trained in herbal medicines when I was three or four, is what I think. I was taught how to identify and gather. It was a very slow process. I think I was 40 before I got taught how to use stronger medicines.
These medicines in the ocean, they all need to be clean. The fish need the ocean to be clean. The rivers need the ocean to be clean. The fish that go up the rivers, they wouldn’t survive unless it was clean.
I remember it was Niis Wes, Ernie Wilson, that said everything depends on everything else, and it was true.
So we as the Haida people, we are responsible to take care of Haida Gwaii. Every Haida person on Haida Gwaii has a responsibility to protect Haida Gwaii and all that grows on Haida Gwaii. That responsibility was taken up by our ancestors many, many hundreds of years ago, and the Elders and the ancestors say, you know, if you don’t know you’re not as responsible as when you do know.
So if you know the laws of respect for food, the laws of respect for the land, you are more responsible to take care of it. And many of us have that relationship to Haida Gwaii, as you’re going to hear in the next while, today and tomorrow.
But we, as a people, stood together in 1985 when it was like the nation came together with the thought that we must preserve Gwaii Haanas, and we did.
We haven’t been able to harvest abalone for many years now because it was over-fished and almost made obsolete from us, but they are slowly coming back. I don’t know when we’ll ever be allowed to harvest again, but even that one food that we weren’t able to access was very painful for the Elders.
I did 28 years as a community health representative in Skidegate from 1970 to 1998, so I had close contact with all the Elders in Skidegate from different clans, and they shared much stories with me.
But — so we have succeeded in protecting Gwaii Haanas and the waters that surround it, and I think on why I went on the line that time is the same reason I’m sitting here today. We all have grandchildren and — coming now. We want them to live how we lived. We want them to eat the food that we ate. We want them to access the medicines that are available to us. That is why we come here to speak to yet another panel.
It’s not an easy process to be constantly having to worry about protecting your homelands. I see the strain it takes on our leadership of constantly fighting for our rights and fighting mainly to protect. But I suppose, you know, if you’re going to live on Haida Gwaii, you’re going to have to step up and protect her.
So we, as a nation, strongly — as a grandmother, I strongly oppose any kind of pipeline or boats that carry the oil. One spill would devastate all of us.
Oh, I didn’t finish my abalone story. Sorry. I’ll finish it. I’m almost done.
In my work as a community health rep, I was often with many of my Elders that passed on, and I was astonished at how many of those Elders wanted abalone just before they died. They asked for — they would say, “I wished I could have some abalone”. Gaahlaay, my dad, requested abalone, but I couldn’t get it for him. Jaadsang Kinghliiyas, Ada Yovanavich, who hardly ever ate it, wanted some in her death bed. And I remember Essie Greene and a few others wanted to have that as their last meal.
And it was real shameful and heartbreaking not to be able to provide that particular food to these precious Elders, and that was only one food. And if we had a spill, all our foods would be gone and there’d be no point.
We need Haida Gwaii and everything that’s on Haida Gwaii’s oceans and lands to survive.
I’ll just — I had some slides to share, and I’ll just do that quickly now. The importance of passing on food preparation to your children and your grandchildren is pretty important.
Oh, that’s me. I dug all those clams you see behind me. No, I didn’t.
MS. DIANE BROWN: I think I’m four there. Next. That’s at Burnaby Narrows. That is 1973, about, with my daughter, Lauren. We got a deer in Copper Bay.
Next. My husband shot the deer; I didn’t, even though I’m trying to look like I did. There is my husband with a coho. Holy — okay, thank you.
MS. DIANE BROWN: Here is my daughter, Gyaaxagaay’uwans, spearing for sea urchins at — behind Gandll k’in Hotsprings.
There is Marsha and my friend, Babs, and we are gathering sea urchins for breakfast at hot spring — around Hotspring.
There’s my son, who shot a seal. There’s my dad sitting behind there who lived to be 10 days short of 102. And my son brought a seal home, and it was the first seal that people had in a long time. I must have had 40 people for supper that night.
Next. That is — you can’t really see, but those boats are loaded up with herring roe-on-kelp. We’re heading from Sgaay.yaas and we’re heading into Skidegate, but it spawned every spring out in the inlet here, and it hasn’t spawned really well for a long time. But we used to just be able to go in front of our village and gather it, and now we don’t. I think it almost did last year, so we have hopes this year.
Next. That is the herring roe-on-kelp being dried by some young chick.
MS. DIANE BROWN: And drying the herring roe-on-kelp in my yard.
It’s quite a process to dry in this climate.
Is there any more? Is that it?
There’s my husband checking the net at Copper Bay, sockeye, the blueback fish we get in the spring.
Next. This I laid eyes on in the British Museum in London, and it’s the first time I had eve seen our ancestors’ medicine tools. And it was the first reference I heard to shamanesses, lady shaman that had this — that have the rattles. They have the puffin beak on their rattles and the men don’t. And there were several women rattles that I saw. And the tools of our ancestors that I saw, the tools of the medicine men that — the tools that they used. It was quite a powerful feeling to see these things and quite sad to leave them. It would be good to have our artefacts here.
Kihlguula sgwaanangs; Dii kil gii dalang gyuusda sgaawdagii. Dalang ga hll kil ‘laa ga. Haawa.
Thank you for listening.
JLS ……For What It’s Worth