Restored footage reveals how a totem pole raising sparked a cultural rebirth.
‘Imagine a world without art. Now imagine if you were the one to help bring it back.’
On 22 August 1969, the Haida community of Masset, British Columbia gathered for their first totem pole raising in living memory. According to past elders, the small village located on the Haida Gwaii archipelago was once a ‘forest of totem poles’. However, by the 1960s, they’d all been torn down at the insistence of Christian missionaries. Also banned were the Indigenous ceremonies known as potlatches, which, for generations, had been instrumental in building community and passing down Haida traditions. So when the Haida artist Robert Davidson, then just 22 years old, took on the daunting task of carving and raising the village’s first totem pole in nearly a century, and holding a celebratory potlatch alongside it, the occasion sparked a renewed sense of artistic and spiritual purpose among the Haida people.