Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Haida Indians



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


[Further information on the Haida may be found in the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of North American Indians and at the Native American Languages' site]



Haida (Xa'ida, 'people'). The native and popular name for the Indians of the Queen Charlotte ids., Brit. Col. , and the S. end of Prince of Wales id., Alaska , comprising the Skittagetan family. By the natives themselves the term may be applied generally to any human being or specifically to one speaking the Haida language. Some authors have improperly restricted the application of the term to the Queen Charlotte islanders, calling the Alaskan Haida, Kaigani. Several English variants of this word owe their origin to the fact that a suffix usually accompanies it in the native language, making it Ha'de in one dialect and Haidaga'i in the other.


On the ground of physical characteristics the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples should be grouped together. Language and social organisation indicate still closer affinities between the Haida and Tlingit.


According to their own traditions the oldest Haida towns stood on the E. shore, at Naikun and on the broken coast of Moresby id. Later a portion of the people moved to the W. coast, and between 150 and 200 years ago a still larger section, the Kaigani, drove the Tlingit from part of Prince of Wales id. and settled there. Although it is not impossible that the Queen Charlotte ids. were visited by Spaniards during the 17th century (No Spaniards reached it before 1774), the first certain account of their discovery is that by Ensign Juan Peru, in the corvette Santiago, in 1774. He named the N. point of the islands Cabo de Santa Margarita. Bodega and Maurelle visited them the year after. In 1786 La Perouse coasted the shores of the islands, and the following year Capt. Dixon spent more than a month around them, and the islands are named from his vessel, the Queen Charlotte. After that time scores of vessels from England and New England resorted to the coast, principally to trade for furs, in which business the earlier voyagers reaped golden harvests. The most important expeditions, as those of which there is some record, were by Capt. Douglas, Capt. Jos. Ingraham, of Boston, Capt. Etienne Marchand in the French ship Solide, and Capt. Geo. Vancouver, R.N., (Dawson, Queen Charlotte ids., 1880).


The advent of whites was, as usual, disastrous to the natives. They were soon stripped of their valuable furs, and, through smallpox and general immorality, they have been reduced in the last 60 years to one-tenth of their former strength. A station of the Hudson 's Bay Company was long established at Masset, but is now no longer remunerative. At Skidegate there are works for the extraction of dog-fish oil, which furnish employment to the people during much of the year; but in summer all the Indians from this place and Masset go to the mainland to work in salmon canneries. The Masset people also make many canoes of immense cedars to sell to other coast tribes. The Kaigani still occupy 3 towns, but the population of 2 of them, Kasaan and Klinkwan, is inconsiderable. Neighbouring salmon canneries give them work all summer.


Mission stations are maintained by the Methodists at Skidegate, by the Church of England at Masset, and by the Presbyterians at Howkan , Alaska . Nearly all the people are nominally Christians.


The Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian seem to show greater adaptability to civilization and to display less religious conservatism than many of the tribes farther S. They are generally regarded as superior to them by the white settlers, and they certainly showed themselves such in war and in the arts. Of all peoples of the N. W. coast the Haida were the best carvers, painters, and canoe and house builders, and they still earn considerable money by selling carved objects of wood and slate to traders and tourists. Standing in the tribe depended more on the possession of property than on ability in war, so that considerable interchange of goods took place and the people became sharp traders. The morals of the people were, however, very loose.


Canoes were to the people of this coast what the horse became to the Plains Indians. They were hollowed out of single logs of cedar, and were sometimes very large. Houses were built of huge cedar beams and planks which were worked out with adzes and wedges made anciently of stone, and put together at great feasts called by the whites by the jargon word "potlatch". Each house ordinarily had a single carved pole in the middle of the gable end presented to the beach. Often the end posts in front were also carved and the whole house front painted. The dead were placed in mortuary houses, in boxes on carved poles, or sometimes in caves. Shamans were placed after death in small houses built on prominent points along the shore. Among the beliefs of the Haida reincarnation held a prominent place.


An estimate of the Haida population made, according to Dawson , by John Wark, between 1836 and 1841, gives a total of 8,328, embracing 1,735 Kaigani and 6,593 Queen Charlotte Islanders. Dawson estimated the number of people on the Queen Charlotte ids. in 1880 as between 1,700 and 2,000. An estimate made for the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs in 1888 ( Ann. Rep ., 317) gives 2,500, but the figures were evidently exaggerated, for when a census of Masset, Skidegate, and Gold Harbour was taken the. year after (Ann. Rep ., 272) it gave only 637 (In 1911, Masset band, pop. 372 and kidegate band, 239). This, however, left out of consideration the people of New Kloo. In 1894 ( Ann. Rep ., 280), when these were first. added to the list, the entire Haida population was found to be 639. The figures for the year following were 593, but from that time showed an increase and stood at 734 in 1902. In 1904, however, they had suffered a sharp decline to 587. Petroff in 1880-81 reported 788 Kaigani, but this figure may be somewhat too high, since Dall about the same time estimated their number at 300. According to the census of 1890 there were 391 and they are now (1905) estimated at 300. The entire Haida population would thus seem to be about 900.


The Alaskan Haida are called Kaigani. By the Queen Charlotte Islanders they are designated Kets-hade ( Q!éts xa'dé ), which probably means 'people of the strait'. The People of Masset inlet and the N. end of Queen Charlotte ids. generally are called by their southern kinsmen Gao-haidagai ( gao xa'-ida-ga-i ), 'inlet people,' and those living around the southern point of the group are called Gunghet-haidagai ( Ga'ñxet-xa'-idAga-i ), from the name of one of the most southerly capes in their territory. All of these latter finally settled in the town afterward known to whites as Ninstints, and hence came to be called Ninstints people.


The entire stock is divided into two "sides" or clans - Raven (Hoya) and Eagle (Got) - each of which is subdivided and resubdivided into numerous smaller local groups.


[For technical reasons we have not reproduced the extensive branches of the two clans of the Haida; please refer to the original text for these.]


The principal towns known to have been occupied by large bodies of people in comparatively recent times, although not always contemporaneously, are the following, the Kaigani towns being marked with an asterisk: Chaal. (on Moresby id.), Cumshewa, Dadens, Gahlinskun, Haena, Hlielung, Howkan,* Kaisun, Kasaan,* Kayung, Kiusta, Klinkwan,* Kloo, Kung, Kweundlas,* Masset, Naikun, Ninstints, Skedans Skidegate, Sukkwan,* Tigun, Yaku, and Yan. Of these only Howkan, Kasaan, Kayung, Klinkwan, Masset, and Skidegate are now inhabited.


In addition there was formerly an immense number of small towns hardly distinguishable from camps, places that had been occupied as towns at some former time, and mythic or semi-mythic towns. The following is a partial list of these: Aiodjus, Atana, Atanus, Chaal (on North id.), Chatchini, Chets, Chuga, Chukeu, Dadjingits, Dahua, Daiyu, Djigogiga, Djigua, Djihuagits, Edjao, Gachigundae, Gado, (2 towns), Gaedi, Gaesigusket, Gaiagunkun, Gaodjaos, Gasins, Gatgainans, Gitinkalana, Guhlga, Gulhlgildjing, Gwaeskun, Hagi, Heudao Hlagi, Hlakeguns, Hlgadun, Hlgaedlin, Hlgahet, Hlgai, Hlgaiha, Hlgaiu, Hligihla-ala, Hlgadun, Hlkia, Hluln, Hotao, Hotdjihoas, Hoya-gundla, Huados, Kadadjans, Kadusgo, Kae, Kaidju, Kaidjudal, Kaigani, Kasta, Katana, Kesa, Ket, Kil, Koa-gaogit, Koga, Kogalskun, Kostunhana, Kundji, (2 towns), Kungga, Kungielung, Kunhalas, Kunkia, Kuulana, Lanadagunga, Lanagah-Ikehoda, Lanahawa (2 towns), Lanahilduns, Lanas-Inagai (3 towns), Lanaungsuls, Nagus, Sahldungkun, Sakaedigialas, Sgilgi, Sindaskun, Sindatahla, Singa, Skae, Skaito, Skaos, Skena, Skudus, Stlindagwai, Stunhlai, Sulustins, Ta, Te, Tlgunghung, Tlhingus, Tohlka, Widja, Yagun, Yaogus, Yastling, Yatza, Youahnoe (?).


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 188-191.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College