Sadly times change. The first contact with Europeans came late in the 18th century, when Spanish and British explorers found a place for traders seeking rich stocks of sea-otter pelts. All tribes eagerly adopted firearms, iron tools and other European goods, but permanent trading posts were set up like the HUDSON'S BAY CO, which by 1850 controlled all trade.

Discovery of gold on the Fraser River in 1857 brought miners and settlers to the colonies (see GOLD RUSHES). There weren't many towns , but native people came to them for trade goods. Diseases, mosly smallpox, killed most of the aboriginal people, who were a small race in the population of Canada by 1885.
european influence on the natives
european influence on the natives

Governor James DOUGLAS made a few agreements with native villages on Vancouver Island between 1850 and 1854 (see INDIAN TREATIES). This reconizing of native land was abandoned when BC entered Confederation in 1871. Commissions were established in 1876 and 1912 and were in charge of creating INDIAN RESERVES. Though reserves were forced on the native peple and did not always meet their requests, they did give protection for village's as the European invasion continued.

Unsettled land and government oppression, including an anti-POTLATCH part in the INDIAN ACT in 1884, led to protests by native groups. Tribal associations emerged later with the Allied Tribes of British Columbia in 1915 and the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia in 1931.

Coastal natives traded and worked as boatmen and house servants. natives living in far-off places were ideal seasonal workers in the beggining of resource development. However, as mechanization of the fish and timber industries proceeded, participation of natives as workers went down. By the 1960s unemployment and underemployment in coastal communities was every where.

Early acceptance of European clothing and tools brought big changes to Northwest Coast cultures, villages, often on ancient sites. Enforced Westernization was the policy of missionaries and government administrators until recent times. Education in boarding schools, where native speech was forbidden, had terrible effects on native socialization and languages (see RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS). Several
children in a residential school
children in a residential school

Northwest Coast languages now have only a few speakers and are in danger of being forgotton, despite efforts to reverse the trend with language-teaching programs. Pentlatch, for example, is already gone.


After the smallpox epidemics, the remaining Haida moved to two central villages on the islands, Skidegate, at the south end of Graham Island, and Old Massett in the north, at the mouth of Massett Inlet. These these two villages are growing quickly. The economy of the islands has been in the forest industry and fisheries, since the 1930s, declining fish stocks and forest resources are forcing new approaches to making a living on Haida Gwaii. Tourism and arts and crafts are some examples of growing trends on the islands.
Fortunatly the population of Northwest Coast tribes has continued to increase since 1915. In 1996 there were over 50 000 registered natives and probably as many who are nonregistered descendants of coastal tribes. Isolated villages have lost residents because unemployment and educational opportunity got people to move to bigger cities. More than 40% of the registered population are off-reserve residents.
a modern Haida continuing the ways of old
a modern Haida continuing the ways of old

Today, Haidas still enjoy the traditional seafood of Haida Gwaii. In spring and summer, Haida people prepare salmon, halibut, herring roe on kelp, seaweed and other foods from the Pacific Ocean. Herring roe on kelp, called "k’aaw," is the most valued food in the Haida community. This item is sought all over the world! Razor clams are another food prepared often in Haida kitchens. When the clam-digging season starts, the village of Old Massett empties, as truckloads of clam diggers head to Tow Hill. Whole families go to the beach for the day, clam digging and picnicking together.