Peel's Prairie Provinces

Aboriginal Youth Writing Challenge 2005 - First Place

Nicole Nicholas

Age 16, Grade 11 — Spectrum Community High, Victoria, B.C.

Author's Statement: I wrote about first contact with the Europeans because I think that if they hadn't come and treated the Aboriginal peoples as they did, life for all Aboriginal people would have been different. The cultures of so many Aboriginal groups would be way more mainstream for the youth than it is. I know that the cultures are slowly coming back, but it's been a long hard road for the Aboriginal people to gain what little they have back. I chose to write it in a generational story to show that even though Aboriginal people have been treated really badly in the past, there is always hope that everyone will be treated equally, whatever nationality they may be. I think that first contact is something really exciting and interesting to have researched about and I learned a lot about my own Haida culture. The Aboriginal people were so friendly to the Europeans and helped them get well from diseases like scurvy, but the Europeans still treated them like they were uncivilized. It is kind of unnerving to think that people could have treated other people like that, and it be somewhat forgotten and brushed aside. I really enjoyed researching and writing this story, it has been a great experience for me!

First Contact

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something odd creeping over the horizon; I quickly left my fire, and hurried to the beach. What was it? I could sense the uneasiness coming from the totem pole watchman. Could the rest of the camp? But mother told me not to worry, it was just a cloud. Father's totem pole would watch it. But the cloud started to look even stranger, it looked like the cloud was covered with spider webs, what was it? The adults thought it was a spirit. I heard talk about the spirit of pestilence. As it got closer, we began to see people on it. Why would there be people on a spirit? It couldn't be a spirit then. . . could it have been a boat? The people on the boat were friendly, but we did not know the language they spoke. They did not stay for long. They mentioned the land belonged to them now. What did that mean? Land could not be owned.

About ten years later, I, much older now, saw another ship coming. I alerted the camp and we gathered around the totem pole I had carved. When these people landed, we did not understand them, either. But it was a different language than before. We began to trade our carvings, furs and other goods for artillery, utensils and tools. They came and went for a long time, and we learned to decipher bits of their language, and they, ours. After I die, I was sure they still would be trading with us. After my death, my son, John, will continue...

The Russians, what they told us they were called, kept trading until a century passed. We learned all their language and customs well in this century. Our children became the children of the east. They became peace keepers and translators for the elders who did not wish to learn the language of the Russians. The change of youth to the eastern way began the slow disappearance of our history. No more happens in my time, my son, Charles, will continue the story...

At the end of the century, more men, from a new country, came and changed the name of our island. We called this land Xhaidlagha Gwaayaai (Haida Gwaii), and they called this land the Queen Charlotte Islands. That was the name of the European's boat, the Queen Charlotte. Around this time, we had almost 30,000 Haida on these islands, but the fur traders and explorers brought a strange disease they called small pox. Soon entire camps were abandoned or the populations died because of all the disease riddled everywhere. By this time there were only 588 Haida left. It was just devastating. I was elderly and very lucky to have been spared. My daughters, though, were not so lucky. They had settled down with husbands, but the white men wanted them for their wives. When the white men came to take them. . .my dear daughters felt already gravely ill. But there was a light during this tough time for my people: my daughters did not spread the disease to anyone in camp. Soon after they were taken from us, we held a ceremony to honour my daughters and their inevitable deaths. Our people lived now as we did before, but much weaker. Isaac, my son, carries on my story...

My father did not mention one of the most important villages, Ninstints, was completely abandoned because of the small pox and other diseases. Since the strange men came to our island long, long ago, we have been becoming more like them. Many of our customs and traditions have been lost. Our traditional clothing, the button blankets and our capes, used to be worn at all times, now those clothes are only worn during ceremonies and other special occasions. Everyone wore our traditional colours of black and red. They are not worn often anymore. We no longer have many ceremonies; they have been reduced to deaths and births. A lot of our art meanings have been buried with their artists. We are known for our art; the first thing thought of when Haida is mentioned is our art. The totem poles in Ninstints are very beautiful and were curved so graciously, but the origins only six of the twenty-four are known. We lost our land to the greedy Europeans and made to live on small land. We were being treated like we were no longer humans. We were, to the Europeans, not able to do what even the simplest minded child could do. I felt like I really was not human, and I really couldn’t do anything. It was the worst way to live. I sometimes wonder how life would be different if the white man had never come. How would our culture be? Would it be like it was hundreds of years ago? Would we rely solely on fishing, or animals we hunt in the forests? Would we have been at peace with nature after all theses years? Would we still have changed our ways to keep up with the changing world around us, or would we have isolated ourselves so we can stay to our traditional ways? I guess we will never know. I leave the ending of this epic tale to my dear son, Eli…..

During my time, a lot of progress has been made. A lot of wrongs have been made right. Out Haida culture is slowly, but surely, creeping back to today’s youth. Our strong and proud history is being told as tales from the elders. In 1960, we have been granted our right to be human again; we could decide who ruled what from now on. More people respect us and our history. A past tradition has been brought back to Haida Gwaii, the watchmen. My family has carved watchmen for as long as there were watchmen. I am told, soon I will be able to continue this tradition for my family, as our camp needs a new one.

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