Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mi'kmaq Poetry on the Spirit of Haida Gwaii

The Haida First Nations people of Haida Gwaii (off the coast of present-day British Columbia in Canada) were a flourishing population that maintained a delicate balance with the sea and the forest and sustained a civilisation that had evolved over the past twelve thousand years. Since James Cook landed on the island in 1778 and in the 138 years of contact with settler Europeans, over 90% of the Haida population was wiped out due to spread of European diseases of smallpox and measles, cultural dislocation and killing (Tulley, Strange Multiplicity).

These are beautiful words of truth, from Rita Joe of the Mi'kmaq First Nations people. These words speak to the 'spirit of Haida Gwaii' and to the spirit of modern-day Canada and urges us to remember and respect the indigenous populations of present-day Canada.

Your buildings, tall, alien,
Cover the land;
Unfeeling concrete smothers,
windows glint
Like water to the sun.
No breezes blow
Through standing trees;
No scent of pine lightens my burden.

I see your buildings rising skyward,
Over the trails where once men walked,
Significant rulers of the land
Who still hold the aboriginal title
In their hearts
By traditions know
Through eons of time.

Relearning our culture is not difficult,
Because those trails I remember
And their meaning I understand.

While skyscrapers hide the heavens,
They can fall.

(Rita Joe, 1978)

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