Haida

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Haida are the indigenous people of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, USA. Traditionally they lived by fishing, hunting, raiding and trade.

Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, consists of two main islands and 150 smaller ones. Biologists call it the ‘Galapagos of the North’. The temperate rainforest that covers the islands includes trees over 100 meters tall and moss seven inches thick. Unique species include the Sitka spruce and Haida Gwaii black bear. Migrating birds from around the world nest, and seals and whales beach in Haida Gwaii. Salmon fill its rivers. Today, the archipelago falls under Haida heritage areas and National Parks.

Haida were hunter-gatherers. In lands so abundant in fish and wildlife, however, they could settle in one place and sustainably forage rather than move from place to place – a rare luxury in hunter-gatherer societies. Haida gathered edible plants, hunted deer, birds and bear, and caught salmon and seafood. From hollowed red cedars, they carved canoes that took them as far as California, where Haida not only traded but plundered and enslaved.

There were once 100 self-governing villages in Haida Gwaii. Their people identified with one of two clans – the raven and the eagle. One could only marry a member of the other. Within each clan were 20 lineages, each of which had economic rights to particular groves, rivers and fishing grounds.

Haida art exemplifies the distinct Pacific Northwest style, with stylised depictions of animals such as ravens, eagles, orcas and bears carved and painted onto wood. Symbolising lineage, these images traditionally decorate Haida canoes, houses and, most famously, totem poles. Haida manga began publication in 2001.

Stanley Park Haida Totem Poles | The rich cultural ...

The potlatch ritualises social and economic ties between lineages and commemorate births, weddings and deaths. In these public ceremonies, attendants exchange gifts, perform dances and music and settle disputes. They are essential to Haida culture.

Haida worldview was essentially animistic, with a supreme being at the top. Today most mix Christianity with traditional beliefs. As in Pacific Northwest and Koryak traditions, the trickster Raven is central to Haida myth. His schemes inadvertently create the fabric of our world.

The Haida’s ancestors migrated to the islands at the end of the Ice Age 13,000 years ago, when the rainforests emerged. Their customs and folklore bear striking similarities to the Koryak people of eastern Siberia, meaning the two are likely related.

File:Haida canoe.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

When Europeans made contact in 1723, there were around 50,000 Haida. An 1863 smallpox outbreak emptied their villages. By the time Canada annexed Haida Gwaii in 1900, there were only 500 left, a number sustained to this day. Like other First Nations, Haida children were victims of the Canadian Indian residential school system in the 20th century. Today there are 501 Haida, 445 of whom speak the language. The name ‘Haida Gwaii’ (meaning Islands of the People), was restored in 2009.

Sources: American Anthropologist, Canadian Encyclopedia, Coast Funds

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Inuit

An elderly Inuit man, Aarulaq, wearing a duffle parka and ...

Inuit are the indigenous people of the North American Arctic. They live in Greenland and the polar regions of Alaska and Canada. Their ancestors migrated from Asia around 1000, making them the last indigenous people to settle the Americas. 

Inuit means ‘the people’ in Inuktitut. A singular Inuit is an Inuk. 

The word ‘Eskimo’ refers to the related peoples of the Arctic Circle who speak Eskimo-Aleut languages, including Inuit, the Aleuts of Alaska and the Yupik of Kamchatka. Eskimo means ‘snow shoes’ in Algonquin but scholars once thought it came from the Cree ‘askipiw’, meaning ‘eater of raw flesh’. That etymology is now disproven, though Eskimo is still considered derogatory in Canada. Inuit is preferred. 

Eskimos of Alaska construct an igloo, 1924 | Inuit, Igloo ...
Inuit in 1920

The ancestors of the Inuit crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia a thousand years ago. Known as the ‘Thule Culture’, their ancestors displaced the Dorset people who came before them and spread across the American Arctic. The Thule had greater numbers and husky-driven sledges which the Dorset lacked. The last Dorset group perished in 1903. Owing to their later migration, Inuit are more closely related to the indigenous Siberians than other Amerindian and First Nations groups. 

Inuit have adapted to the most extreme conditions of any human society. In the Arctic, temperatures can reach -50° and there are periods of 24-hour darkness in winter. There is no wood or domesticable animals. Agriculture is impossible. The traditional Inuit diet was 75% fat and in winter, 100% meat and fish.

Inuit drove sledges, wore fur coats and built skin tents in summer and igloos in winter. They fished, and hunted seals, walrus, caribou and whales, and made harpoons from narwhal horns and walrus ivory. Their adaption to polar environments meant Inuit settlers thrived in Greenland while Norse colonies perished. Kayaks are an Inuit invention. 

European whalers made contact with Inuit in the 1700s. By the 19th century, the measles, smallpox, tuberculosis and alcohol they introduced had killed 90% of the Inuit population.

Throwback Thursday: Nunavut up and running | Canadian ...

By the early 20th century, Inuit were hunting with guns and using metal tools. Many made a living selling fox pelts to white traders. Some attended missionary schools but were largely independent of mainstream Canadian society.

The Canadian government asserted control over the Inuit from 1939. Government assimilation policies forced Inuit children into residential boarding schools and assigned them state-sanctioned names. Abuse was rampant. They resettled nomadic Inuit into permanent settlements to lay claim to parts of the Arctic, ended their traditional way of life and forced them into the modern economy. The decimation of whale populations, melting ice caps and oil drilling has since made the traditional Inuit lifestyle untenable.

In the 1970s, university-educated Inuit lobbied for land claims and self-representation. The territory of Nunavut, which is majority Inuit, became self-governing in 1993. 

Map of Canada highlighitng the Nunavut and Nunavik regions

Today, Canadian Inuit live in four autonomous regions, each located north of the treeline.

  • Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories)
  • Nunavut (own territory)
  • Nunavik (Quebec)
  • Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador)

Greenland, though under Danish sovereignty, is 80% Inuit. As in Canada, the Danish government resettled Inuit into towns and forced changes in diet and occupation. Resettlement, overfishing and climate change destroyed their traditional way of life in a mere generation. Greenland gained home rule in 1979.

Blanket Toss in Utqiagvik, Alaska

Modern Inuit are impoverished minorities in their respective countries. Many live in isolated communities with little access to roads and hospitals. Canadian Inuit live 15 -20 years less than the average citizen. In both Greenland and Canada, suicide is six times the national average. 

It is not all, however, so bleak. Inuit culture is seeing a revival across Alaska, Greenland and Canada. Traditional visual art and throat singing is taught across the Inuit homeland, and in Nunavut, most children now learn Inuktitut as a first language.

Sources: Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, Minority Rights Group

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The Death of Qassem Soleimani

Iran's elite Quds Force commander General Qassem Soleimani ...
Qassem Soleimani
was Iran’s top general from 1998 – 2020. A US drone killed him and 54 others near Baghdad Airport on January 3rd 2020 on orders of the Pentagon and President Trump. The attack could be considered an act of war against Iran and has significantly escalated tensions between the two states. If worst comes to worst, history will remember him as the Franz Ferdinand of our time.

Soleimani led the Quds Force, the foreign branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He was the country’s second most famous person after the Ayatollah and favoured by 82% of Iranians, according to a 2019 poll. Known for his calm and calculating demeanour, Soleimani had a knack for forging friendships amongst unlikely allies. He coordinated the alliance between Iran, Russia and Syria and allied Shia militias: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in Iraq.

US-Iran: Tehran asks regional powers to unite against US ...Born poor in 1958, Soleimani supported the 1979 Revolution that established the Islamic Republic of Iran. He made a name for himself in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s and by 1998 was leading the Quds Force. Soleimani led the fight against ISIS in Iraq by forging an unlikely alliance between the Iraqi military and Shia and Kurdish militias. With ISIS defeated, Iran contends with Saudi Arabia and the USA for influence over the region.

The US has considered assassinating Soleimani since 2003. Both Bush and Obama recognised his value to rival Iran but considered the implications too risky. Trump authorised the drone strike but did not consult Congress, legal only when responding to an ‘imminent threat’.

The attack was a culmination of a tit-for-tat feud between the US and Iran in Iraq:

  • 27/12/19: PMF (Shia militia) attack a US-Iraqi base, killing one US contractor and two Iraqi soldiers
  • 29/12/19: US airstrikes kill 25 PMF militiamen
  • 31/12/19: PMF storm US Embassy in Baghdad. 0 casualties.
  • 3/12/20: US drones kill Soleimani, the PMF’s second in command and 53 others

The current crisis began in 2018 when the USA pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions. Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, which would deter the USA from invading and bolster its international standing. Considering their ties to rivals Russia and China, and hatred for ally Israel, the US wants to stop that. Sanctions can slow the process, but only invasion can prevent it.

Vital: The Deeper Story Behind the Assassination of ...

Iran’s leadership vowed to avenge Soleimani’s death. Hundreds of thousands attended his funeral in over eight cities, including his hometown of Kerman, where a stampede killed 80 mourners. President Trump responded via Twitter, threatening to bomb 52 sites of cultural significance if Iran retaliates. They did retaliate, but only with a symbolic missile strike on an American base in Iraq that killed no one. On the 9th, January however, a commercial plane bound for Kiev crashed in Iran, killing all on board. The 176 passengers were mainly Iranian and Canadian citizens. Canada’s Justin Trudeau blamed Iran. After initially denying involvement, Iran accepted it had mistakenly shot the plane down.

Soleimani was no terrorist. He had blood on his hands and threatened the geostrategic interests of the USA and her Middle Eastern allies but not American civilians.

Iran accidentally attacked a Ukrainian plane, causing its ...His death comes at a crucial time for both countries. Iran is undergoing anti-regime protests and economic hardship. In 2020 President Trump of the US, who promised his voter base both to defy Iran and avoid overseas conflicts, faces reelection and impeachment. Tensions with Iran could rally nationalist support for Trump and get Republican hawks on his side – their support he needs when facing the senate.

Sources: ABC News, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Economist, The Guardian

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