The Haida people have lived on Haida Gwaii for thousands of years; the Haida say "since time immemorial."
Before contact with Europeans, thousands of Haida lived in dozens of communities throughout the islands. They had strong traditions with complex rank and class systems.
British Captain George Dixon arrived in 1787 and named the islands after his ship "The Queen Charlotte." When Europeans started to value the pelts of sea otters, trade between Europeans and the Haida flourished. Relations soured, though, as pelts became harder to find and trade became more cutthroat.
The sea otter eventually became extinct and trade more or less stopped. Exposed to European diseases such as tuberculosis and smallpox, the Haida soon started to die in masses. The original population of almost 7,000 decreased to about 700, all of who congregated in two Haida villages that still exist today: Skidegate and Old Massett.
Maritime and Military History
Check out the Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum in Masset for more information on life at sea, or go to the Port Clements Museum for a look at the history and current state of logging in the area.
Masset also has an interesting military history. Almost 280 soldiers were stationed in this small town between 1965 and 1995. Check out the former military buildings and housing that still exist in the the community today.
Haida Gwaii Today
Today, Haida Gwaii's culture contains combined elements of First Nations art and pride, along with a relaxed atmosphere of islanders who want to live a slower, laid back lifestyle.
While people who live on Haida Gwaii are as self-sufficient as other northern BC residents, there's a softer feel to them. Art – First Nations and modern – is hugely popular here. The number of artists compared to Haida Gwaii's relatively low population is impressive, as is the quality of the work.
Hang out in any community long enough and you'll likely meet an artist. And if you don't, you'll have a good time meeting everyone else. Locals here are friendly and full entertaining stories.
Visit the museum at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate to get an in-depth look at Haida history, culture, art and current initiatives.