Haida Nation Raises New Totem Pole at Tlielang

Hiellen totem pole c. 1911
Much of the design for the pole to be raised on June 21st at Hiellen is inspired by a spectacular pole that was erected here in the 19th century — illustrated in this painting by Emily Carr around 1911.

On National Aboriginal Day June 21st, Old Massett Village Council is welcoming all community members to participate in a joyful event: the raising of a totem pole at Hiellen Longhouse Village.

Located at the mouth of the Hiellen River in Haida territory on Graham Island, this site hosts a thriving Haida-owned business that rents longhouse-styled cabins to locals and visitors to the Island. But it was formerly a large Haida village, known as Hl’yaalan ‘Lngee and Tlielang, where residents enjoyed ready access to the rich food resources of the territory. On the opposite side of the river is Tow (Taaw) Hill, a distinctive remnant of a volcanic cone. Tow Hill long served as a visible landmark to canoes crossing Dixon Entrance. It also provided defensive advantages to village residents against intruders, and hosted an elaborate fort. Haida and Tshimshian oral histories include stories about the village and its battles.

The totem pole that will be raised on June 21st is inspired by a spectacular pole that was created in 1820 by Sqiltcange, a carver from Tsal village on Langara Island. It fronted a chief’s house in Tlielang for more than a hundred years before it was taken and erected at the entrance to the City of Prince Rupert around 1923. There it remained until 1965, when it went to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. In 1976 it was finally repatriated on Haida territory. Today, the almost 200-year-old pole is being stored in a carving shed.

The new totem pole has been fashioned from a 600-year-old red cedar tree chosen by master carver Kilthguulans Christian White. At 15.5 metres in height (with an additional 3.4 metres in the ground), it will tower above Hiellen. Kilthguulans was commissioned by the Old Massett Village Council to create the new pole, and he has incorporated images from the old pole into its design. When the result of the months-long effort of Kilthguulans and his apprentices assumes its rightful place on the vertical this June 21st, community members will celebrate Haida culture and honour Hiellen’s long history—and its still unfolding story.