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.
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.