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Definition: Haida from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1841) 1 : a member of an American Indian people of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska 2 : the language of the Haida people


Summary Article: Haida
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an American Indian people who live on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada, and islands of southern Alaska. Their language belongs to the Na-Dene family. The abundance of natural resources enabled a settled lifestyle and highly developed culture. They lived in permanent villages of cedar-plank longhouses, and were known for their woodcarving, including elaborate cedar-log canoes and totem poles. Salmon was their main staple food. They were great traders and, like other Northwest Indians, they practised the potlatch ceremony in which prestige was gained by giving gifts. In Alaska they share tribal government with the Tlingit, and have a joint population of 14,800 (2000).

The Haida supplemented their predominantly salmon diet with saltwater fish, such as halibut and cod, molluscs, sea mammals, and game. They were skilled seafarers using huge cedar dugout canoes, and often raided neighbouring peoples for slaves. Haida society was matrilineal (membership passing through the mother's line) and divided into two major divisions or moieties: Raven and Eagle. The moieties were subdivided into separate lineages. Hereditary rank was also matrilineal, and a chief usually passed his rank to his eldest sister's son. Marriage had to take place between a Raven and Eagle. The lineages had their own chiefs, ceremonies, and lands. Originally they occupied separate villages, but later only households. Totem poles, up to 15 m/50 ft high, were erected outside a household's longhouse, and bore the family crests in the form of various animals. Other art included copper shields, slate carvings, and the decoration of artefacts with symbolic household crests; their bodies were tattooed with the same designs.

The potlatch was a measure of an individual's standing in Haida society. Wealth in the form of gifts was accumulated over many years to ensure a lavish and lengthy ceremony that would last over many days. The arrival of mass-produced goods introduced by white traders and settlers upset the delicate balance of Haida society, and the practice was banned by the Canadian government in 1884.

The Haida remained relatively undisturbed by white settlement for most of the 19th century, but their population was devastated by the diseases that were introduced through Western contact, falling from an estimated 9,800 in the early 19th century to fewer than 1,200. In 1878 salmon canneries were established by Seattle business people in Alaska, and in 1889 native fish traps were banned, damaging the heart of the Haida economy. By 1925 over 125 canneries were being operated by outside interests on the coast. The gold rush of 1889 also upset the traditional economy of the region, as the Haida became involved in the service industries of the era.

In British Columbia, the Council of the Haida Nations was formed in 1980 to pursue land claims against the Canadian government. In 2002 the Haida Nation filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to establish land title to the islands of Haida Gwaii and title to the surrounding waters.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), based in Juneau, was established in 1939. Since 1965 it has been the recognized tribal government representing the Haida and Tlingit in the USA. It briefly lost federal recognition in 1993, but this was reaffirmed by Congress the following year. In 1968 the US government awarded the Tlingit and Haida people US$7.5 million for lands withdrawn to create the Tongass National Forest in 1902 and Glacier Bay Monument in 1925.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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