Haida Gwaii

Mortuary Poles at SGang Gwaay (Ninstints), UNESCO Heritage site

As of 18 months ago, the Queen Charlotte Islands are officially known as Haida Gwaii: “land of the Haida”. It is an archipelago of islands, consisting of two main islands, Graham Island in the north and Moresby Island in the south. For me and my wife, Joan, our introduction to Haida Gwaii a few weeks ago was along a logging road to Cumshewa Inlet, the launch point for Gwaii Haanas, the national park that is an extensive collection of islands, fjords and mountains. The day we arrived was sunny – not a guarantee on Haida Gwaii – and it became quite windy, which translated into some rolling which became an issue for a couple of people on our boat. After a few hours we were at Skedans, one of several significant abandoned Haida villages that can still be visited, under the careful and friendly eye of Haida “watchmen”.

Unlike those who thought about our buildings at SMUS, the Haida deliberately and rigorously believe their past habitations should simply decay – return to the earth, decompose and be regenerated into trees or organisms that will contribute to a future and a mythology that they understand may well supplant their own history. It is the way of the earth, they say, and this dance of decay and rebirth should continue organically, unhampered by coats of paint, glass cases and preservatives.

In the last 12 years at SMUS we have built buildings with the very conscious mandate that they endure. We have restored and rebuilt older buildings that were not so enduring – notably School House, and less prominently, the Chapel. Our students are aware they belong to a school that is over a hundred years old, and that its original vision and values have sustained it during that time. It has shed numerous skins over the decades, for sure, but the strength of that original vision –to pursue academic success in an environment where the character and the self also grow- has created a pulsing and lively entity for its current skin.

These past few days, of course, students have once again flooded the quads and classrooms and fields with movement, shouts, laughter and uniforms. There aren’t many times in the school year when we pause and think about why the physical body that is SMUS is so kinetic, but that is what I am doing this morning. We definitely preserve our legacy, but we also pursue the future of our students and the great potential that is theirs – in the words of our vision, discovering the promise in our selves and the world.

In our kayaks, looking for intertidal life, Gwaii Haanas


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