Women's Sodality at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii

Above: Closeup of the women's regalia and paint-up, with masked women in background, and a bear mask at left. "A number of young Skidegate women wearing secret society regalia are surrounded by men, including Chief Tom Price (right) in a white shirt. Reverend Charles Harrison arranged this photograph in 1890 in an attempt to discourage face painting, masks and secret societies." That's a euphemistic way of describing the cultural repression that took place, at the instigation of missionaries, as white settlers began takig over Haida Gwaii (renaming the "Queen Charlotte Islands").

"Why is this photo so important? The people of Skidegate Village gathered for this photo (circa approx 1886-1890) by a missionary in order to commemorate the last time they would be allowed to wear their ceremonial regalia. After this, their cultural property was taken away. The Canadian government enacted a law which banned all Indigenous ceremonies--including the Potlatch--from 1885 to 1951.

"This photo hits extra hard because my 3x-great grandmother Jeannie and 2x Great grandmother Elizabeth are shown here (front row left, 2nd photo close up) The Haida are a Matrilineal society who pass names, titles, songs, dances and prerogatives through the mothers' line. These are the women whose lineage runs through my veins.

"Remarkably, Jeannie had been living down south around Tacoma Washington--like many Haidas had been known to do during that time. (Haidas were known to have recurrent seasonal villages as far south as the Puget Sound area). Jeannie's brother George Young paddled by canoe to bring her and her children back to Haida Gwaii because they were the last remaining lineage holders of our Clan. Had he not returned them home, our Clan would have been essentially forgotten.

"They arrived in Skidegate to a rapidly changing landscape (as you saw from one of our previous posts of all the totem poles in our village being cut down and hauled away in just over a decade). Here in this photo, my ancestors sit--marking the last occasion the village was allowed to publically don their cultural property. Because of Government imposed laws, Residential Schools, and Religion, the culture lay dormant within our clan from then... until now!

"On June 24, my brother Jesse and my daughter Marlo will be opening their art exhibit at the Haida Gwaii Museum. To celebrate this occasion, as well as to conduct my traditional marriage ceremony, our Clan will be feasting for the first time in written record (well over 150 years) on the following day, June 25th.

"For the Show Opening we are honored to share the evening with a cultural exchange between the Tluu Xaadaa Naay Cultural Group from Masset and the Kumugwe Dancers, a Kwakwa’kwakw cultural group from K'omoks."

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=344612914444020&set=a.320342160204429 From Native American No1 Store.

View of the full photo, showing the village with forest in background. Someone asked about women's masks: here are examples, according to the dress and also the links I'm posting here.

"Two visitors to Skidegate within a short time of each other provide an insight into Haida ceremonial life as the final curtain [they wish, not done yet] fell. Reverend William H. Collison of Masset, who visited Skidegate in 1876 with Albert Edward Edenshaw and his son Cowhoe (later baptized George), describes his reception thus:

Cedar bark mats were spread for us to the rear of the lodge in the centre . . . Water, soap, and towels were first brought, and each of us invited to wash our hands. The first food offered us was dried salmon and eulachon grease . . . The next dish was boiling dulse, which, when gathered, is made up into square cakes about twelve inches by twelve and about one and a half inches in thickness, and dried in the sun. Before boiling, this is chopped fine, and it is also mixed with eulachon grease before being served out. Large horn spoons were then handed round, those given to the chiefs being inlaid with abalone or mother-of-pearl. As a special mark of honor, I was given a large silver-plated tablespoon, which became so heated with the boiling seaweed that I could not permit it to touch my lips. Accordingly I called upon them to change it for one of their horn spoons. This caused much hilarity among them to find that the Yetz haada preferred a spoon of their manufacture to that made by his own countrymen.

After this dish we were served with dried halibut and grease, and then with boiled herring spawn. During this repast I had remarked two young men, stripped to the waist, beating up in tubs dried berries with water until it became a frothy substance, not unlike ice cream in appearance. This was served up last as dessert.

"Dawson attended a potlatch at Skidegate on 24 July 1878 and furnishes a rich description of the proceedings:

'The smoke from the fire, -- which the only light -- escaping by wide openings in the roof . . . The performers in this instance about twenty in number, dressed according to no uniform plan but got up in their best clothes, or at least their most gaudy ones, with the addition of certain ornaments &c. appropriate to the occasion. All or nearly all wore head dresses, variously constructed of cedar bark rope ornamented with feathers &c. or as in one case with a bristling circle of the whiskers of the Sea-lion. Shoulder girdles made of Cedar-bark rope, variously ornamented & coloured, with tassels &c. very common. One man wore gaiters covered with fringes of strung puffin bills which rattled as he moved.

'Nearly if not all held sprigs of fresh spruce, & were covered about the head with downy feathers which also filled the warm atmosphere of the house. Rattles were also in order. Different from the rest however, five women who stood in front, dressed with some uniformity, Several having the peculiarly beautiful mountain goat shawls which are purchased from the Mainland Indians. The head-dresses of these women were also pretty nearly the same consisting of Small mask faces Carved in wood & inlaid with haliotis [abalone] shell, these Attached to Cedar bark & built round with gay feathers &c. stood above the forehead. The faces of the women -- as if All engaged in the dance -- gaily painted, vermillion being the favourite colour. Another important feature the master of the ceremonies, who stood in the middle of the back row, slightly higher than the rest, not particularly gaily dressed, but holding a long thin stick with which he kept time & lead off the singing .

'The performer on the drum -- a flat tambourine-looking article formed of hide stretched on a hoop -- Sat opposite the dancers & near the fire, So that they Could mutually see each others movements. The drum beaten very regularly in "double knocks," thus -- tum tum--tum tum--tum tum -- &c!'

'With this the dancers kept time in a sort of Chant or Song to which words appeared Set, & which rose to a loud pitch or fell lower according to the motions of the Master of the Ceremonies, who besides keeping up the time now & then slips in a few words of direction or exhortation. To the drumming the dancing also keeps time, following it closely . . . When the chorus swells to forte, the rattles are plied with tenfold vigour & the noise becomes very great. After a performance of ten Minutes or so the Master of Ceremonies gives a sign & all stop, ending with a loud Hugh! After a few minutes repose the movement begins again, with the drum.'"

Is there a written Haida account of this ceremony? Don't know. This superficial account doubtless misses much, but it gives a glimpse. More at this page: https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/haida/hvski03e.html?fbclid=IwAR3CIb_bRQ_uJxbLVT5muhiYjTU-HFVHVUu6n_rZzSEJ5062C3nakqdu5xE

Article above quotes an 19th century traveller talking about "the final curtain"—but not by a long shot. https://www.globetrottingbooklovers.com/blog/potlatch-on-haida-gwaii?fbclid=IwAR0tYmha8YM4Z3IN21iX6narnuoPHu8RB4Srdusw_Mw_LO2KYfSJL399J6gNot "the final curtain," not by a long shot. Lots of women elders in this photo (of a chief-investment potlatch). Male chiefdom in matrlineal society, it happens, and slavery too, apparently (more to research on this instance); but what i like in these photos is that they show women elders wearing the wooden mask-crests inlaid with abalone.

Closeup of two women in the photo, showing paintup and headdresses.

Haida elders block logging road to protect sacred forest, late 20th century

Florence Edenshaw Davidson and her daughters at a Haida potlach. Edenshaw family includes famous leaders and carvers.

"The Birth Of Sin, The Sky Deity" from a shell, supposedly from a Haida story. Don't know how authentic this is, or who the woman is supposed to be. Richard Hook, the painter, is not Native as far as I can determine. Cool painting, though.

She is wearing woven cedar cloth and a painted cedar fiber hat.

Evelyn Vanderhoop and her mother Delores Churchill, Haida master weavers, who revived the Ravens Tail ceremonial mantles.

Important women's history here, and the work of restoration.

"The story of Haida artist Evelyn Vanderhoop, entwined within the threads of her weaving practice, is one of cultural survival. Her life as an artist, educator, mother and grandmother bears legacies of traditional knowledge and meaning that reaches back to her mother, to her mother’s mother, and journeys forward with her daughters who have young children of their own. Re-working the fragmentary threads of a forgotten practice, these Haida weavers across generations have regained and are actively sustaining an ancestral tradition that was lost for nearly two hundred years—the tradition of the Raven’s Tail chief’s robe, Yeil Koowu, a historic Tlingit ceremonial dance blanket, the design and execution of which was fixed exclusively within the realm and responsibility of women.

"The revival of the Raven’s Tail tradition from its mysterious [really? don't we know the causes of cultural repression all too well?] fall from practice is itself a compelling story of re-discovery, reverberating within the ripples of knowledge transmission and the preservation of Native culture. Its resurgence during the 1980s was catalyzed by Cheryl Samuel, a weaver, educator, author and native of Hawaii. She was among those receiving meritorious service awards last spring 2019 by the University of Alaska Southeast for her role in bringing the practice to Alaska Native Elders. Her exceptional dedication to the tradition is underscored by her adoption in the year 1991 into the Strong family of Klukwan, the Mother Village of the Chilkat Tlingit. She is a member of the Kaagwaantaan Clan, Eagle/Wolf, and was given the name of a weaver from the mid-1800’s: Saantaas, or Ancient Threads.

"Her discovery of the lost practice came by way of studying Chilkat (naaxiin) style weaving, a later formline art that evolved from the Northern Geometric style (another name for Raven’s Tail). When she became aware of this latter style, she realized it seemed quite rare and not part of any Native tradition that she knew.

"The auspicious re-awakening of the Raven’s Tail dance robe is all the more miraculous when one learns how few exist historically. Only eleven robes, or dance blankets made during the late 18th-early 19th century remain: they are stewarded by museum collections scattered throughout the world. Seven of these robes exist in fragments, and two can only be observed in the form of illustrations made by early explorers.

"One of two in North America survived intact, and today exists in near perfect condition—the “Swift” robe, named after Captain Benjamin Swift of Massachusetts who acquired it around the turn of the 19th century while on a trading mission to the Northern Pacific coast. The blanket is housed at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University and considered to be the finest historic example known; aside from its excellent condition, it displays the majority of techniques and pattern forms known to the Northern Geometric tradition.

"Of special significance to this story is the visible kinship between the “Swift” blanket and the dance robe made for the MFA, Boston by Evelyn Vanderhoop. By her own account, this historic chief’s robe was a special object of study and personal interest during her early exposure to Raven’s Tail weaving—passed down to her by her mother, Delores Churchill. Both robes are designed with two distinct halves bearing specific meaning. According to tradition, each side was intended to deliver a particular message to a viewer who would see one side of the robe at a given vantage point while being danced. Depending on who that person was, the message might be favorable…or not so favorable!

"Gripped by an obsession to get up close and personal with the last surviving Raven’s Tail robes, Samuel’s mission to experience them through object-based research was guided by her chief goal to document their forms, allowing for their re-creation in contemporary times. She embarked on a quest that lasted seven years, traveling to museum collections in Europe, Canada and the U.S. to study the textiles’ structures and experience their power.

"The depth of her personal journey is epitomized by the introduction to her book, The Raven’s Tail entitled, “The Gathering of the Robes.” Her search to locate the eleven historic robes is characterized as an odyssey touched by magic: “It was almost as if the robes themselves wished to come forth and be counted.” After her extended period of sleuthing and direct encounters with these rare objects, she endeavored to weave a Raven’s Tail robe herself in order to fully understand its structure.

"She chose to bring to life a dance blanket that existed by way of illustration alone—the “Kotlean” robe, worn by Chief Kotlean of Sitka, Alaska as represented in a watercolor painting by Russian artist Mikhail Tikhanov (c.1818–1819) entitled, “Kotlean.”"

"Cheryl Samuel’s reconstructive challenge was huge, and relied on the participation of others. To reduce the time it would take to complete the Kotlean robe, she initiated a partnership with two Native women from Alaska who came to apprentice with her in Chilkat (naaxiin) weaving. Both were skilled in basketry technique; neither had previously worked in wool. The geometric designs and weave of Raven’s Tail dance blankets relate closely to the twining structures of basketry, so their knowledge and skill in this arena were well-suited to the collaboration. Positioning themselves at either side of their teacher, the three women worked as a single unit, side-by-side, each working her own section from left to right. One of these apprentices was Evelyn Vanderhoop’s mother, Delores Churchill (pictured in foreground, above image).

'Each of us wove slightly differently; to keep the tension even, we changed places every day. The most difficult part was measuring the space between the weft rows and keeping them parallel to the heading. Each of us had a different concept of measuring. Eventually we made three tiny, identical templates of yellow cedar bark which measured exactly the distance between the rows. Working in this way, we completed the next two patterns, learning how to move the spiral wefts efficiently, learning a lot about each other, laughing together…The experience of creating this robe gave body to the technical knowledge I had been gathering; when it finally danced we felt the impact of a Raven’s Tail robe in motion.' – Cheryl Samuel, from her book, The Raven’s Tail


Above:; Haida weaver Evelyn Vanderhoop (Kujuuhl) sits at her vertical frame loom working the lower weft rows of her Raven’s Tail chief’s robe.

Below, she wears the completed robe.

Veering away from Haida Gwaii, this tradition overlaps with the Tshimshian and Tlingit.

This antique Raven’s Tail blanket was woven by a Tshimshian woman, circa. 1740-1760 CE. Wool, dye, leather, fur, mountain goat wool, cedar bark, twined. So-called "Swift" blanket, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.

Some views of Haida weaving, daughter of Evelyn Vanderhoop and granddaughter of Delores Churchill, "I weave Raven’s Tail and Naxiin style Haida regalia. I started weaving Raven’s Tail with my sister when I was 22 years old. I continued to learn the different Haida textile weaving techniques from my mother, who also taught me the Naxiin style weaving, which depicts the formline art of the northwest cost.

"Before the task of weaving can begin the weaver has to prepare the materials to be woven. All the warp needs to be thigh spun in the traditional way, which is spun in the Z twist fashion. In the past mountain goat wool was used to spin the warp, in modern times we use merino wool roving. The warp is the foundation of the weaving itself and can only be created by an artist who is experienced in the Raven’s Tail or Naxiin style of weaving. To weave a full size chiefs robe you would need about 1,200 yards of warp.

"A full size Raven’s Tail Robe can take anywhere from 9 months to a year to complete and a full sized Naxiin robe can take up to three years to finish. One of my goals as a weaver is to complete several full sized Raven’s Tail robes. For me, creating these weavings is personally and culturally significant because it contributes to the cultural revitalization and decolonization of the Haida. These weavings serve as an unbroken link to my ancestors.

"The regalia that I create is worn by performers who dance, sing and drum at Potlatches and other Indigenous celebrations. A Potlatch is, to the Haida people, at the heart of the Haida political and economic systems. During a Potlatch an outpouring of wealth is displayed and given to the witnesses of the Potlatch. The Naxiin and Raven’s Tail woven chiefs robes were one of the most valuable possessions of the Haida people's, and were often cut to pieces and given to witnesses as a sign of wealth from the host of the Potlatch.

"In 1884 the Canadian government outlawed the Potlatch in an attempt to disassemble the strongly established society of the indigenous people of the northwest coast. Although disease wiped out a big portion of the Haida population and the Canadian government did its best to ethnically cleanse the indigenous people, we still remain and continue to grow and thrive and revitalize our traditions and culture by hosting Potlatches, raising Totem Poles, drumming, singing, speaking our language, and by creating our weavings, carvings and contemporary art."


"This original Ravenstail-style design, inspired by traditional designs in use for hundreds of years in Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures, was created by Clarissa Rizal, a master weaver, in 1996." 

She legally challenged Neiman Marcus for their blatant ripoff of her Ravens Tail design. https://www.juneauempire.com/news/sealaska-heritage-institute-sues-neiman-marcus-for-blatant-copyright-infringement/?fbclid=IwAR2SMqrfMrFMcfAvRQJp-Q2h_K1pxiouz8KmUOaoZaRWR6P6uzL0MQIZqMI

Here it is:

Complete and Continue