About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Totem Pole Raising and Button Blankets

My last two posts have been about the totem carving shed on Granville Island and a review of Silver Totem of Shame. Tonight’s post is about Haida culture, celebrations and button blankets.

Women have a special place in Haida culture. Women from prominent members of clans have great status as matriarchs.

At the website ancientworlds.net it states:

The Haida are a matriarchal society. Property, titles, names, crests, masks, performance, even songs, are among the hereditary privileges. These are passed from one generation through the mother’s side. A chief usually inherits his title from his mother’s brother (maternal uncle). A group of related families, descending from a common ancestor forms a lineage, sharing crests, names and songs.

All families are divided into Eagle and Raven subgroups or moieties. Every Haida is either Eagle or Raven, following from the mother. If one is born Raven, he or she must marry Eagle. In ancient times, marriages were often arranged when the children were still young.

In Silver Totem of Shame Louise has been the lead matriarch in her clan. With a member of another family in the clan hosting a potlatch and raising his own totem she is about to be supplanted by Rose, the mother of the new chief.

It had been a long time since there has been a traditional chief. It is very expensive. At potlatches the chief provides gifts to the hundreds in attendance. New totem poles cost $6,500 per meter.

In real life in 2013 for the first time in 130 years a new totem pole, 40 feet tall, was erected on Haida Gwaii in honour of the agreement made 20 years earlier with the Federal Government to establish the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. The photos of the totem pole in this post are from that event. More information is available at http://cpaws.org/blog/haida-poles.

At ceremonies traditional garb includes button blankets and cone cedar hats to shed the rain that is constantly falling in Haida Gwaii.

Harlick describes Louise at the celebration:

Louise was wearing a black ankle-length blanket with a wide bright red border. Flowing creatures in red appliqué cavorted across the back. I recognized the bold eyes and sharp beak of an eagle and the long pointed beak of a hummingbird. The border and designs were edged with shimmering white buttons, hence the term “button blanket”. Her broad face beamed from under a high, flat-topped cedar hat with a similar design painted in red and black on the woven bark.

With the drama of raising totem poles and the richness of the celebrations and clothing I could see Silver Totem of Shame being well suited to being made into a movie.
My next post will conclude my quartet of posts inspired by Silver Totem of Shame with a review of a non-fiction book on the most famous giant spruce of Haida Gwaai.


  1. This is really fascinating, Bill. One of the things that stands out to me is how the Haida (like a lot of Indian groups) have adapted themselves so well to life in their environments. I'm also struck by the symbolism in things such as blankets. I'm glad you shared this.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. For indigenous peoples their traditional clothing, rituals, foods and work are all intertwined with their environment.

  2. I'll keep reading about this as long as you post Bill, it's so lovely and nostalgic for me, such fond memories. I used a couple of my own photos on a blogpost here http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/i-heard-owl-call-my-name-by-margaret.html

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment and your kind words. I loved your post. Your post and photos are great. I encourage readers to follow the link back to Moira's blog.