Haida Nation: New Watchman Cabin in SGang Gwaay Stirs Past Memories
On the first day of summer the original Watchman, Captain Gold arrives by floatplane to witness the blessing of a new cabin at SGang Gwaay. Captain Gold has been working on a dream since he stepped into his canoe and paddled over 250 km to this small island in South Moresby many years ago.
Gathering at the poles in SGang Gwaay to discuss management plans for Gwaii Haanas. Top left to right (Standing): Captain Gold, Ernie Gladstone, Jiixa Gladys Vandal, Gaahlaay Lonnie Young, Taaw.ga Halaa’ Leyga May Russ, Stiithda Frank Collison, Gitkinjuaas Ronald Wilson. Bottom left to right (Sitting): Averie Romas, Nadine Wilson, Skil Hiilans Allan Davidson, Wiigaanad Sidney Crosby, Guujaaw, Camille Collinson, Goox Laura Beaton. Photo by Council of the Haida Nation.
“When I started [thinking about protecting our village sites] in 1973, I was only looking towards honouring the ancestors. I never thought that as it snowballed that it would ever turn into something as wonderful as this,” he said looking at the assembled guests, which included hereditary chiefs, matriarchs, Gwaii Haanas employees, members of the Archipelago Management Board, Skidegate Band Council, Council of the Haida Nation, present day Watchmen and others.
The Watchmen program which has been watching over village sites all over Haida Gwaii has finally outgrown the original cabin on SGang Gwaay. The new 1000 square foot red cedar cabin is sited in the same place Captain Gold built the original in 1980. It’s protected just offshore by a tiny rocky island, which breaks the waves and weather and limits access to the front of the cabin. It’s the perfect spot.
The blessing of the cabin officially began as two gaagiixiid crept and skulked their way around to the front of the cabin. The sound of them slapping and huffing resounded into the forest and across the sea, warding off any bad spirits that were about.
Jiixa Gladys Vandal followed reciting a prayer and Captain Gold then cut the woven cedar rope tied across the stairs to open the new Watchman cabin.
Raising his arms triumphantly he showed the two ends of the rope and said, “Many dreams have come and gone inside the first cabin and I can see it happening with this one also. In the future there are going to be quite a few people walking through here with different viewpoints, aims and goals in life, but a lot of them had one common goal and that is the dream to get here. To experience SGang Gwaay. To be on tour with some of our knowledgeable experts; Haida experts. So, let’s get going!” he exclaimed!
Following the official opening, many speeches give thanks to Captain Gold for his forward thinking almost 40 years ago. It was remarked that an amazing legacy has grown from his first dream.
The Watchmen Program really started when Captain Gold began camping at SGang Gwaay for the summer season. Other families followed at K’uuna, T’aanuu, Klk’yah, Gandle K’in, and Burnaby Narrows, using their own equipment and volunteering their time.
A young Anita Moody, who spent time with Captain Gold said that he was the one who taught her about Haida culture and traditions while working at his side. Today, Moody coordinates the Watchmen Program.
Gwaii Haanas Superintendent, Ernie Gladstone was also affected by Gwaii Haanas when he was young. “I remember I had a summer job working with Mark Yaroshuk and Jim Carlson when I was about 14 years old and we built the original cabins at T’aanuu and Gandle K’in. It was one of my most memorable summers,” he said. Yaroshuk went on to build all of the cabins in Gwaii Haanas.
As a reminder of the past and a hint at recent history, a small piece of Captain Gold’s original cabin now hangs from the front gable of the new cabin. Captain Gold smiles as he says, “It’s not the best carving but it’s what you get when you use a dull file to carve out a bear face. The lines are not sharp but it’s the best I could do down here. It’s one of my clan crests.”