Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Canada part 2: the First nations

The West coast of Canada is still an area where you see a lot of evidence of the Frsit nations of the North American continent. It is not a dying culture, but in many places is very vibrant and living. It compares very interestingly with the equivalent in Australia where the aboriginal culture feels either absent or purely for tourists. Here, even in very "westernised" areas the indigenous tribes and cultures are there in many ways.
One of the classic marks of the culture is the totem pole. These were on Stanley Island in Vancouver.

 They are not randomly put together and if you understand them they tell a clear story. The characters are mostly based on mythology, or more properly the equivalent of religion with the spirits represented. Many of the characters are easy to interpret, such as eagles and bears, but others are fusions of different animals such as sea-bears.

One place we can definitely recommned visiting is MOA, or the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. It doesn't just cover the local tribes, but the whole of Pacific coast and has some stunning exhibits.

After Vancouver we visited an island well to the north called Haida Gwaii. This is a very rarely visited place, even by Vancouverians?) and is even more steered in local culture. We stayed in a hotel run by the local Haida people and had a local guide, Ai-Ai, showing us around.

Again, there was a very good museum of local culture which both showed and explained the local arts and cultures.

One of the most interesting things was meeting Jim Hart, a local Haida chief and carver who is raising  full sized totem pole and transferring it eventually to Vancouver. He was a real character, like a moderne hippy, carving this giant tree all by hand, with his assistants.