Drift slowly at high tide into Hlk’yah GawGa (Windy Bay). Observe the 12.8-metre, ornately carved “Legacy Pole” that appears near the shoreline, set against a rainforest backdrop. Listen to a Haida woman on board as she drums a rhythm that echoes across the bay.
“This is where the line was drawn in the sand,” says James Cowpar, pointing to a hillside ravaged by clear-cut logging on Athlii Gwaay (Lyell Island), “where Haida people finally stopped the logging after 15 years of effort.” On shore, guests meet Haida Gwaii Watchmen, some of whom participated in the 1985 blockade that shut down the destruction of old-growth forest.
Identical twins James and William Cowpar run Haida Style Expeditions, Haida Gwaii’s first Haida owned and operated tour company introducing visitors to B.C.’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Their motto is “Welcome to our backyard.” Their ethos is reciprocity, giving back to the community by engaging youth, hiring drummers and elder storytellers and promoting local B&Bs. “We include the community wherever possible,” says James. “And everyone treats visitors like family.”
Cultural day trips via Zodiac go to four ancient village sites, including SGang Gwaay Llnagaay (Ninstints) on SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk through old-growth forest, spot wildlife on land and sea and savour a traditional wild salmon beach barbecue. Join a fishing trip or stay for several days at a cultural immersion camp where fees fund Haida youth camps. “We’re building understanding, not with politics,” says James, “but by getting people out on the land.”