Early this morning, National Geographic Sea Lion cruised on a slow bell into Skidegate Inlet on her way to Daajing Giids, one of the larger population centers of Haida Gwaii.
The captain tied our floating home to a small dock shortly before breakfast, readying all gangways and walking aids for disembarkation. There was not a breath of wind, and the soft light of early morning washed over all the scenery both near and far.
Once National Geographic Sea Lion was tied up and quiet, many, many people began arriving to the ship. Elsie Stewart-Burton, our Haida cultural interpreter, arrived with her luggage, a Haida loom, and Haida regalia. Representatives from Parks Canada and the Lindblad office also came on board to share information with shipboard staff before we continued our passage through Haida Gwaii and farther north to Alaska.
As soon as breakfast was finished, we were all invited to make our way to shore via a very steep dock to a waiting bus. Our first stop would be the Haida Heritage Center. After a short bus ride, Haida host Elsie took everyone around the side of the museum to its front, which faced the water and was decorated with many totem poles.
Inside the Haida Heritage Center, we were greeted by James Williams, a Haida guide and interpreter who spent the next two hours leading our group through the center. Outside, we learned about the many totem poles and the construction of the buildings that make up this spectacular museum. After an hour, we returned inside, and James continued into the heart of the Heritage Center. We observed very large, exquisite Haida hand-carved masks and exhibits that represent the Haida worldview. As we made our way through the beautiful displays that tell the story of the Haida Nation, we learned about the painful period of contact with non-native people and the loss of 90% of the Haida population due to introduced diseases.
All too soon, we had to return to National Geographic Sea Lion for another lovely lunch. Shortly after our meal, we returned to our buses for a short drive to the Spirit Lake trail. We divided into several small groups and walked in the early spring forest as we listened to our naturalists and cultural interpreters tell stories about the land our feet were touching for the first time.
Again, the time flew by. Soon it was time to return to our floating home. Shortly after arrival, the ship began making her way south towards tomorrow’s destination at SGang Gwaii.
But wait…there was still our evening cocktail hour, recap, and several special events after dinner!
Elsie, our Haida host, invited us all to the forward lounge to introduce us to her world. She wore her traditional Haida regalia and told the story of how all these pieces came into her life. Dressed in all her finery, she sang a song of blessing to officially welcome us to Haida Gwaii.
Lifted by the Indigenous spirit present on board, we all made our way to our cabins…ready and hopeful for tomorrow’s visit to the ancestral site of SGang Gwaii, a World UNESCO Heritage Site…the only place on the planet where mortuary poles stand in situ.