Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii is the land of plenty. With salmon, crab, and oceanic beaches all around this archipelago, there is more than enough to go around. So naturally, the culture of the Haida people is that of generosity.

Freshly jarred Sockeye salmon

They shared with me this abundance shortly after arriving in Masset, Haida Gwaii. On day two of my adventure I was slicing salmon and having my first authentic experiencing canning sockeye. I was also gifted a private tour of the White family’s master carver workshop and longhouse with rich explanation of the significance of the totems and canoes that stand as markers of their living culture. These are just some of the many gifts I received in my time on Haida Gwaii. Coffees, beach treasures, and so much quality time made my Haida experience.

Master Carver workshop tour
Todd White, master carver, in his family workshop

“Why did you receive such generosity?” you may be wondering. I didn’t do anything special or even significant. I was fortunate enough to make two friends and they took me under their wings. I met Arnold on day one in Haida Gwaii, when I locked my keys in my car. He noticed me shivering in the car park and waited with me in the cold for help to arrive.  I met Butch at a gathering that Arnold took me to and became friends when I offer to help him can some salmon. Next thing you know, I’m leaving the island with a milk crate full of wild seafood.

Really, I can’t even begin to fathom what had possessed these kind people to seemingly bend over backwards showing me their home and making it feel like it was my own. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who had been warmly welcomed into the community. Butch, my beloved tour guide and new friend shared photos and stories of other kind people who he had showed around the Island. He noted that many people came through town and looked at the totems and explored the area but had no idea of any of the significance and history. He had also watched as more and more people came to Haida Gwaii every year. It was just a matter of time before Haida Gwaii became the new “Tofino.” Now is the time to start developing a business, he told me, that can support and educate the influx of tourists coming to the area.

Tow Hill, Haida Gwaii
Arnold at Tow Hill

Having said that, it was clear that showing me around was so much more than just a business idea. Butch genuinely became my friend. We played billiards and Keno together, he showed me photos of his children, introduced me to master carvers, and he spent every day with me for the rest of my time in Haida Gwaii.

Salmon Canning complete
Butch and I with our freshly canned salmon

To be honest, I worried a few times that I may be burdening him at some point over the six days. Of course, he never made me feel that way. So why did I doubt his generosity? I believe it was prompted by my culture. The old qualm that Candians are too polite is a stereotype because it’s a realiy. See, when people offer you something it’s natural to politely decline. I’ve been conditioned to believe that when a person gives and gives to you, it generally means that they want something in return, or at least that is what is polite to do. It’s rare you find people that are truly generous and when they are, not in the quantity or quality that I received.

Perhaps you’ve felt it too; a feeling of unease when a friend buys you a drink or even a meal. “Fine, I’ll get you next time,” you may have said semi-reluctantly but secretly grateful for not having to pay. There is this notion that it’s okay to receive if you return the favour. Sometimes, this feeling builds up and creates a general sense of owing or debt of which some people may even take advantage. You can imagine it was a bit different for me to come to a new place and instantly witness people give unconditionally.

Master Carver, Jaalen Edenshaw
Master carver, Jaalen Edenshaw, at work in his shop.

I never once had the notion that my new Haida friends expected anything in return. So what makes the people of Haida Gwaii so different? I think it has to do with the fact there is so much abundance of food and culture and a pride for their way of life. As a result, they lack ascarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is the worldview that if you give then there won’t be anything left for yourself. Of course, sometimes this is true. That’s why, the general way to get around this fear is to attach the act of giving with receiving something in return.

So why didn’t anyone ever ask me for something in return? Perhaps it’s because the people of Haida Gwaii see that giving is a gift. The ability to offer and bring happiness to others is what they receive. By accepting and respecting the gift, you allow the cycle to continue. The key here is respect. That is, not to take advantage of the generosity or impose systems that limit this abundance mindset. It also means, accepting gifts even if you don’t really want them.

Respect the Sea
One of many anti-tanker signs posted around Masset, Haida Gwaii

I noticed this shortly after meeting Arnold. When we went to exchange numbers he handed me his iPhone and asked me to put my number in. “I don’t know how to use it” he laughed. He went on to say how he liked his old fashioned flip phone better. Being an older fella he didn’t need any of the social media or selfie options, I assumed. He said the only reason he had the phone was because it was because it was a gift from his niece. He said that he would have said no, but decided against it because “saying no to a gift wasn’t good”.

So Haida Gwaii inspired me to be a little more generous. To accept gifts a little more freely and to be more cognizant of opportunities to give from a place of abundance. It makes for a beautiful way to move through life. If there is anything I’m taking away from Haida Gwaii, it’s an appreciation for the way the people of this place move through life appreciating what they have been given from old growth ecosystems, seafood, and a rich living culture which nourishes them. All of which they honor by continuing the cycle.

True island living
Sipping on crab juice straight from the shell. True island living.


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