The first European expeditions to North America in the late 1700s found the Haida artists of northern British Columbia to be remarkable painters and sculptors. The coastal peoples of the Queen Charlotte Islands, or Haida Gwaii, northern British Columbia,worked in a variety of materials: woven cedar bark, wood, argillite (a black slate found in local deposits), silver and gold (Drew and Wilson 94). Initial contact and trade in sea otter pelts stimulated the local economy and cultural patronage of artists to fulfill the demand for increasingly ‘taller and more complex totem poles' for families of nobility (Stewart 20). The Haida have an extended vocabulary of mythological figures, family crests, and beings of legends in flat form-line style, with typically ovoid design shapes. But by the mid 1860s, the Haida had lost an incredible 85-90% of their population due to the smallpox epidemic, spread by European colonisers. During the mid-1880s, devastating displacement of cultural and spiritual practices occurred through the outlawing of shamanic practices and destruction of carvings, as well as a ban on potlatch celebrations that lasted until 1951. The legacy of the residential school system, 1874 to mid-1970s, further oppressed the culture. 1 However, since the 1950s, Haida art has enjoyed a cultural reconstruction and renaissance, due, in part, to collaboration among art historians, anthropologists and artists.
Trouton, Lycia Danielle, From her Grandmother’s House: The Role of Craft and the Significance of Community Public Art in the Work of Haida artist Bemie Williams (formerly Bemie Poitras), Kunapipi, 23(2), 2001.