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Haida Villages
Haida Villages

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Skedans village is located on the neck of a peninsula of land at the head of Cumshewa Inlet. A high rocky prominence at the end of the peninsula offered a perfect site for a fort to protect the village. Skedans is a European rendering of the name of the town chief, Gida'nsta. The Haida name for this town is Koona, or in the old days Huadji-lanas, which means Grizzly Bear Town. Chief Gida'nsta maintained a special relationship with Chief Tsebassa, town chief of the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla opposite Skedans on the mainland. According to a charter myth, both town chiefs had a common ancestor who had migrated from the Nass River. This alliance provided the main channel through which trade and potlatching took place.

The Haida exchanged their dried halibut, dried seaweed, herring roe and canoes with the Tsimshian for eulachon grease, dried berries, goat wool and horns. Friendly competition in the potlatch system encouraged the exchange of crests, songs and stories, and it appears that the secret society structure of the Nuxalk and other central coast tribes moved from Kitkatla to Skedans via this connection.

This burial chest intended for the chief of Skedans bears his Mountain Goat crest, which he obtained from the chief of the Tsimshian village of Kitkatla. The chest is now in the American Museum of Natural History.

Collected by Charles F. Newcombe in 1897.

George M. Dawson's recently published field notes provide a much richer insight into Haida life than his official monograph issued a year after the expedition, such as this record of his impression of Skedans during a visit in July 1878:

Skedan's village shows signs of having passed its best days some time since, though not quite so deserted as Cumshewa's. It has always been a larger village & many of the houses are still inhabited. Most, however, look old & moss grown & the totem poles have the same aspect. Of houses there are about sixteen, of totem poles about 44. These last seem to be put up not merely as hereditary family Crests, but in memory of the dead . . . The flat topped, boarded totems are more frequent in this village than elsewhere seen. One of these shows a curious figure leaning forward & holding in its paws a genuine Copper like those described to me by Mr. Moffat as in great request & much worth among the Ft Rupert Indians. At least one other Copper in view on the posts here, but the second observed not in Evident relation to any of the Carved figures.

Dawson was a keen observer of the routine activities that occupied the community:

About sundown two large Canoes with two masts Each, & the forward one with a large flag hoisted, hove in sight round the point. Turn out to be Kit-Katla Chimseyan Indians with loads of oolachen grease for Sale. They have slept only two nights on the way from Kit-katla. They come here on a regular trading expedition, & expect to carry back chiefly blankets in place of their oil . . . Quite a picturesque scene when the Canoes grounded & the Kit-Katlans assisted by the Haidas carry up blankets used as bedding, miscellains little things & the Cedar bark boxes which hold the precious oil.

The surprising feature of this event is that the traders from Kitkatla were seeking woven Chilkat blankets from the Haida. Since the Tsimshian were the providers of goat wool to the Haida, this suggests that the Haida either wove the blankets or traded blankets they had obtained from the Tlingit to the north.

Panorama of Skedans village from the eastern end.

Photograph by George M. Dawson, July 1878.
National Archives of Canada 249.