This past weekend hundreds of people gathered in Old Masset, Haida Gwaii, to see the raising of a new totem pole carved by Haida artist Christian White.
At 16 metres tall, it is the largest totem pole yet raised in front of the Tlúu X̱aadaa Naay Longhouse.
White spent 14 months carving the 800-year-old red cedar log with two of his brothers, Todd and Derek. It features stunning emblems of his own Raven Clan’s crests, including a shark and grizzly bear.
White and his family honoured the community with a two-day potlatch in celebration of the totem pole raising. A potlatch is a Haida ceremonial feast where gifts are often given to the community. This communal ritual was made illegal from 1884 until 1951 under the Canadian Federal government’s Indian Act.
“I believe we are doing what we are meant to be doing: carving totem poles, having them raised, celebrating, reviving our culture and carrying on our traditions – enhancing them in the ceremonial way,” White told Global News.
He learned how to carve at the age of fourteen from his father Morris White, who had himself been carving since the late 1960s. They would carve canoes and paddles together and travel to potlatches along the coast when he was a child. White also studied the work of other great carvers, especially his great-great-grandfather Charles Edenshaw.
Christian White is deeply invested in the future of Haida carving, and has established an apprenticeship program for young Haida looking to carry on the tradition.