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Ancient tradition celebrates a modern breakthrough in native relations

When members of the Haida Nation raised a monumental totem pole in the forest on Lyell Island this week, it marked a historical moment in more ways than one.

The 13-metre-tall carving, which features the dramatic images of animals, spirits and humans, is the first pole raised in the area known as Gwaii Haanas in 130 years. And it went up at a site where in 1985 native elders faced off against the RCMP to stop logging in the southern part of Haida Gwaii, a remote archipelago on British Columbia's north coast.

The Lyell Island blockade ended logging that threatened to clear-cut the area and sparked talks that led to the creation of a national park reserve jointly managed by the Haida Nation and the federal government. The pole raising was held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of that agreement.

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"The legacy pole tells the story of how we work together for the common good, resulting in the successful care of land and waters for the benefit of all people," says Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation.

Arriving in kayaks, canoes, fishing and whale-boats, about 400 people formed a circle around the pole and watched as head carver, Jaalen Edenshaw, and his crew applied the finishing touches of paint and capped the top with copper eagle feathers.

When the pole was raised, some people wept. Looking down at them were the fierce faces of the grizzly bear, the raven, Wasco, a supernatural sea wolf, and the "five good people," depicting those who blocked the logging road.

The pole stands in a grove of pristine old growth forest, near the waters of Windy Bay, now part of a marine reserve. All around it stands land protected by the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

The pole-raising ceremony was a powerful symbol of the resurgence of the Haida Nation and, for Canadians, it celebrated the power of diplomacy, with the government being able to forge a new relationship with the native population after years of conflict.

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About the Authors
Photojournalist

Some days you want to pinch yourself, other days you wonder why? It's that kind of a profession.As a photographer I've recorded history, influenced public opinion and been an eyewitness to life and death. More

National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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