Today, most of the Haida population in Canada lives on Haida Gwaii, particularly Graham Island, but in prehistoric times they were much more evenly distributed throughout the archipelago. According to the early fur traders, there were concentrations of population in the south at Skungwai (or Ninstints) village and in the north at Cloak Bay, where there was cluster of villages, including Kiusta, Dadens and Yaku. On Masset Inlet there were the major villages of Masset, Yan and Kayung, and on Skidegate Inlet there was the village of Skidegate. The locations chosen for these settlements protected them from the winter storms that lash the Pacific coast and Hecate Strait.
Although the Haida spent most of the year in their sizable towns, during the fishing season they dispersed to every stream or river that had a fish run. Salmon were the primary food species, although they run only on alternate years on Haida Gwaii. All Haida had access to the rich halibut fishing grounds, and villages on the west coast relied heavily on black cod. Shellfish was readily available, except on the west coast. Eulachon, a variety of herring rich in oil, was not available on Haida Gwaii, so the Haida travelled to the huge runs on the Nass River on the mainland, where they traded for other foods and rare materials that were not available in their homeland.
A late visitor to Haida Gwaii, Newton H. Chittenden, who went to the villages of Cumshewa, Skedans, Tanu and Skungwai as part of a survey for the British Columbia government, reported:
All the villages named are beautifully situated, facing the south from cosy sheltered nooks, with splendid beaches, and abundant supplies of food conveniently near. Besides the halibut bank marked on the chart, there is one near all of the villages mentioned, and inexhaustible quantities of clams and mussels along the neighbouring shores. This is certainly one of the most favoured regions in the world for the abode of the Indian.