Zacharias Kunuk I

Canadian Geographic - - DE­PART­MENTS - —As told to Harry Wil­son

I went to Haida Gwaii for the first time last fall and fell in love with it. I come from the Arc­tic, where it’s all white with snow and there are no trees. But in Haida Gwaii, ev­ery­thing is grow­ing and it’s so green! Back home I know my hunt­ing grounds, but when I went to th­ese is­lands and found my­self wan­der­ing through all the trees, I was at a loss. I was there to help make Edge of the Knife, the first fea­ture film shot en­tirely in the Haida lan­guages. It’s a story from their cul­ture about a man who sur­vives an ac­ci­dent at sea and be­comes known as the Haida Wild­man. I stayed in a long­house and got to see a totem pole be­ing cre­ated for the com­mu­nity’s res­i­den­tial school me­mo­rial. It was amaz­ing to watch that gi­ant tree be­ing carved. Up North, all I have to carve is soap­stone! So I tried carv­ing in wood, and did a fig­ure of an Inuk woman with a baby on her back in cedar, which I left with my friends there. I saw where the salmon spawn, I went clam dig­ging, and I saw seals and killer whales. I’d seen both be­fore, but see­ing them in a new place was nice. I also went seal hunt­ing with two young men, but they didn’t have the proper guns — just a cou­ple of high-pow­ered ri­fles, which are pretty strong for a seal. We even­tu­ally shot one, and I taught them how to skin and butcher it, then we shared some of the raw liver. The Haida used to hunt seals a long time ago but they haven’t done so in many years, so they don’t know how to do it. Some­times, glass floats used in fish­ing nets from Ja­pan wash up on the beach. They are re­ally neat to see. I looked around for some but didn’t find any. Maybe when I go back to see the film be­ing fin­ished, I’ll go see the Pa­cific side of the is­lands and find one there.

The Inuk film­maker re­calls his mem­o­rable first visit to the ar­chi­pel­ago of Haida Gwaii, B.C.

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