The national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is only abundant on the Alaskan and British Columbia coasts. Our largest eagle, with wing spans up to eight feet, it is not as fierce as its appearance suggests. It feeds primarily on dead or dying fish, shell-fish and carcasses of dead animals. Eagles mate for life, and build large nests of sticks in high tree tops which they occupy and add to for years. Over time these nests can grow to weigh over a ton and be ten feet across.
The Haida, to regulate intermarriage and the succession of rights and property, divided their people into two separate lineages: the Ravens and the Eagles. Through these lineages and the stories they owned a link was preserved to the mythological time of their origins. A village usually included members of both Eagle and Raven moieties, but the village chief was always from the dominant or founding lineage.
The painting shows the western third of Skidegate in the 1870s, when it was occupied by all of the Haida who had abandoned their villages in the southern Queen Charlotte Islands. Originally a Raven town, the village was given to the Eagles of Skidegate as payment for an injury. Skidegate was the chief of the village at the time of European contact and the name has been applied to the site ever since.