Woody Morrison A Little Haida History - P.O.W. Report

Friday, February 8, 2019

Woody Morrison A Little Haida History

Woody Morrison posts regularly on the Tlingit and Haida People of Alaska FB page and we encourage all to follow it [here]. 

by Dr. Woodrow Ḵáawan Sangáa Morrison BA, JD

Voyages South

In Haida we classified people in one or the other of two categories: Ts'aagws X̱aat'áay (Bald Eagle People – when the ice came they left and went south to get away from the cold. When they returned – about 16,ooo to 14,000 years ago - the Bald Eagle came with them) or Git'áwyaas (the ones who stayed during the time of the Ice – the ones I remember are the Haisla, Nuuchanuhl, Makaw, Suquamish... and others on the coast).

Some Haidas left with the Cloak People when the Hard Cold came and, they did not return. X̱áadas decided to find out what happened to them.

However, if they traveled off-shore on the southerly tidal flow, they could make it in 12 days. After having visited with the peoples of San Francisco bay... one was called “Miwok”.

We used to paddle from Alaska to the House of Storms (Cape Horn at the tip of South America). Centuries later, X̱aat'áay on whaling and other ships sang the songs our ancestors sang when they rounded the "Horn".

We didn't have navigation instruments to get them from one place to another. We were 'Tide Trackers', after thousands of years of living beside and being upon the ocean we gained an intimate knowledge of Ocean Currents; we were able to 'catch rides' to anywhere we wanted to go... to follow the Great Ocean Circle.

We watched the ocean swells and the stars; reflections off of the clouds, for the echo of waves hitting land, and, we watched migratory birds and whales as they traveled to their destinations. Then we followed Tide-Lines to our destinations...

Sgaagaas (Spirit Guides) drilled holes in the rocks above the tide and when the tide reached those holes we knew it was time to depart to the West.

Before and, at the time of the Ice X̱aat'áay departed on an "Ocean Platform", traveling south. Where they ended up no one knows. So the People decided to follow; we set out on four X̱aadas Tluwáay (Traveling Canoe) from K’eik’ ‘aanii and traveled south.

At first, the canoes stayed close to the land because we were not certain of what would happen after nightfall and, we didn’t know what was ahead. We knew the Old Ones told of the Tide-Lines but we were not convinced that it would work the way the stories said. We kept trying it; finding the “tide lines” they told us about. Then we got everything ready on the canoe and headed straight out to sea and, as we went west, we crossed many Tide-Lines; some going one way and others going the other way.

We paddled southward… we took lots of dried Sk’ook (Dog Salmon) and trolled for other fish once in a while. In the bow of the canoe we had a "sandbox" where we could build a small cooking fire or fix medicine for anybody that was sick or hurt. We burned the bark from the Douglas Fir we collected from the seashores - no Fir trees on Haida Gwaay.

Every once in a while we would turn to the East to see the land. Each time we went South we went a little farther and knew where to put ashore sometimes for food... sometimes just to see who was there. We had to be careful until the Others got to know us. Just to be sure they weren’t mad at somebody we always approached the coast when it was in full daylight; that way they could see it was us. When we did that we pulled two canoes alongside other and lashed them together. We dressed in our best things then moved close to the beach singing our "Coming-In" song. Just before we touched the beach we put small feathers on the water and they knew we were peaceful.

We kept going to the south and the weather kept getting warmer. We draped our Laguus (cedar bark mats - storm covers) over the sides of the canoes and kept damp so the wood wouldn’t get too warm and dry, and crack. One day the color of ocean changed and we spotted “sticks” sticking up on horizon to the East.

We didn’t know what those things were; they moved very fast – like those bugs that run on top of the water. So me headed toward them… real slow so they wouldn’t see us; we didn’t know what they were; they could have been some kind of strange Sea creatures.

When we got closer we could see that they were canoes with a tall stick with some kind of Laaguus (cedar bark mat) hanging on it; it looked like the wind was pulling it real fast… there was people on it. We went back out (off-shore) until we could see only the sticks sticking up. We watched them, then they started getting shorter so we followed them to the east until we could see their village.
We spent the night out of sight from their place, singing our songs, putting on our paint… getting ourselves ready. Then we put on our best things and paddled in close to the beach and waited for the sun to come up. When they saw us, there was lots of activity; like they didn’t get many people visiting them from canoes.

We turned our bows to the beach and sang our songs then moved close to the beach, our nang Iihlaakdaas spoke to them and spread the G̱inuu (small white feathers) on the water. The ones on the beach spoke to us… the looked like birds with lots of different colored feathers. The waved us to come in.

They called themselves Meshico. They were very friendly and were very curious about our Canoes. The atmosphere was very pleasant and warm so we let only two men to take care the canoes.


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