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Guujaaw, also known as Gary Edenshaw, is a singer, wood carver, traditional medicine practitioner, political activist and leader. He of Gakyaals Kiiqawaay, a Haida family of the Raven moiety. He has currently inherited the name Gidansda from his potlatch in 2017, the title of Gakyaals Kiiqawaay hereditary leader. The family's alternate name, "Skedans", is an anglicized mispronunciation of the family's hereditary leader's title.
Guujaaw is a Haida matrilineally descended from Gakyaals Kiiqawaay, a family of the Raven moiety from the village of Skedans (Ḵ'uuna). He was born in Masset, named G̱aaw in Haida, on the northern part of Haida Gwaii. His father, Chiits Gitnaii, is matrilineally descended from the Eagle moiety from the Yakoun River.
Guujaaw means drum, a name formally given him at a potlatch at Kiusta.
Guujaaw began going out onto the land at a young age, digging cockles, picking seaweed with his mother, hunting and fishing with his father and trapping with his uncle. In his infancy he spent summers with his great-grandmother who lived to be 114 years old. She was a singer who taped over 100 songs and became the greatest influence on his life.
Elders also played an important role in Guujaaw's growth and understanding of the world. It was through this engagement with their wisdom and the old ways that Guujaaw undertook journeys around the Islands by row-boat and canoes, often alone. He knows the ways of the Islands as well as anyone.
Guujaaw has worked with the Council of the Haida Nation for the past twenty years to secure the protection of some areas of the Islands as well as pushing for more care and sustainable use of Island resources. He was in the forefront of the fight for the protection of Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby) and took part in the blockades of logging operations at Lyell Island in the mid-1980s. Today, he is a member of the Archipelago Management Board which co-manages, with the Government of Canada, Gwaii Haanas.
He has been involved in developing the policies and strategies of the Council of the Haida Nation, and has served as the negotiator for the Council of the Haida Nation and worked to develop guidelines and policies towards the protection of living Haida archaeological sites (culturally modified trees). He has held the official position of 'Firekeeper' for the Hereditary Chiefs of Haida Gwaii.
Guujaaw has been a regular contributor to Haida Laas — the official publication of the Council of the Haida Nation. He is a dedicated teacher working to pass songs and dances on to the next generation within the broader context of Haida culture. His love for the land and understanding of the vulnerability of life has put him in the position of devoting much of his adulthood to fighting the forces that are changing the land.
All the we say is ours is of Haida Gwaii. This is our lot, our heritage, our life ... and one of the world's great cultures.
Today Guujaaw continues to balance carving with his many other roles which include; political activist, teacher, medicinal practitioner, historian, and performer.
Beginning in the 1970s, Guujaaw worked to protect Gwaii Haanas from logging activity. He was in the forefront of the fight for the protection of Gwaii Haanas (South Moresby) and took part in the blockades of logging operations at Lyell Island in the mid 1980s. He had worked as an assistant to Haida carver Bill Reid. Guujaaw participated in the revival of Haida songs and dances and other dying arts such as the building of canoes, longhouses and Coppers. Some of his totem poles are on display in Indonesia and Japan.
He was elected President of the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) in 2000. His council filed one of the first Aboriginal Title Cases which is before the courts and has already moved Aboriginal Law through the "Haida Taku" Case. In December, 2012, Guujaaw announced that he would not run again as President of CHN.
In June 2006, he was awarded with the Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership, on July 19 in Portland, Oregon in recognition of his longstanding engagement for the political, cultural and environmental advancement of the Haida nation. The same month he showcased Haida Culture at the First International Forum of United Indigenous Peoples, held in Pau, France.
- 1968 Education: enrolled in a student carving program hosted by Rufus Moody to encourage young argillite carvers. This kicked off a lifetime of studies of Haida artifacts and culture.
- 1972 Performance: became the principal singer for the Kadsnee Dancers, a dance group led by Claude Davidson.
- 1972 Architectural commission: designed and constructed a longhouse in the Haida style at Kiusta, Haida Gwaii.
- 1972 Commission: made several masks for ceremonial use of the Kaadsnee and Skidegate Dancers.
- 1973 Exhibition: an argillite sculpture titled Woman Washing Hair was purchased for the Legacy Collection of the Royal British Columbia Museum at Victoria, British Columbia.
- 1976 Performance: made a skin drum with a painted bear design which he still uses today and has become a symbol of his work as a dancer, singer, political activist, and artist.
- 1977 Commission: assisted Bill Reid with the carving of the 17.4 metre pole which was a gift to the village of Skidegate and now stands at the Skidegate Band Council building.
- 1979 Commission: assisted Bill Reid with the carving of the Raven and the First Man, a seven-foot sculpture which was commissioned privately and donated to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in honor of the grand opening.
- 1980 Architectural commission: designed and built a longhouse in the Haida style which is used as a carving shed at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii.
- 1981 Performance: performed with the Squamish Dance Group under the leadership of Simon Baker at the Kobi World's Fair in Japan.
- 1984 Research project: considered to be at the forefront of the canoe building renaissance which began with a ten-year search of the forests of Haida Gwaii for old and unfinished canoes, and Culturally Modified Trees. Interviewed elders and applied historical theories and practices in the making of contemporary canoes.
- 1984 Documentary: featured on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Islands at the Edge hosted by David Suzuki as part of the series The Nature of Things.
- 1984 Publication: The Cedar, illustrated by Arlene Golson, published by Wedge Publishers, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia.
- 1985 Performance: official unveiling of the bronze Killerwhale by Bill Reid in front of the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.
- 1985 Performance: singer and dancer with a multi-nation dance group at Expo '85 in Osaka, Japan
- 1985 Built scale model for Bill Reid's Loo Taas canoe.
- 1985 Architectural commission: designed and built a longhouse in the Haida style at Windy Bay, Lyell Island, Haida Gwaii.
- 1986 Documentary: Islands of the People, British Broadcasting Corporation production documenting Guujaaw's work and travels on Haida Gwaii.
- 1987 Publication: featured in National Geographic, July, page 102.
- 1987 Architectural Project: Three longhouses at Rediscovery, Taalung slung
- 1988 Architectural project: designed and built three longhouses in the Haida style at Taalung Slung, Haida Gwaii
- 1988 Architectural commission: designed second longhouse at Windy Bay, Haida Gwaii
- 1989 Lecture and performance: Altamira Forum Conference on Environment and Tourism, Brazil.
- 1990 Publication: Chronicles of Pride - Journey of Discovery, Patricia Logie, published by Datselig Enterprise Ltd. Calgary, Alberta.
- 1990 Publication: featured in Paradise Won - The Struggle for South Moresby by Elizabeth May, published by McCelland and Stewart.
- 1991 Documentary: featured in On the Road Again - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation hosted by Wayne Ronstad on drumming and dancing in the Haida style.
- 1992 Performance: unveiling of the Black Canoe - Spirit of Haida Gwaii, by Bill Reid at the Canadian Embassy, Washington, DC.
- 1992 Commission: Gagiiht mask, private collection, Alaska
- 1992 Architectural commission: designed and constructed a longhouse in the Haida style at Windy Bay, Lyell Island, Haida Gwaii.
- 1992 Presentation: 6' totem pole carved by master carver Masimoto in Hokaido, Japan.
- 1992 Performance: featured on CBC's Ideas. Gwaii Haanas: How non-violence works.
- 1993 Publication: featured in Keepers of the Totem, Time Life Book publication.
- 1993 Performance: Sesame Street - Guujaaw and the Higagalda Dancers performed on the television show with a documentary showing old canoe sites in the forest of Haida Gwaii.
- 1993 Commission: carved the 6-metre Sea Grizzly pole, private collection, Ontario
- 1993 Architectural project: designed primary dwelling in a Haida style.
- 1994 Performance: raising of totem pole carved by Reg Davidson at Birmingham, Alabama.
- 1994 Publication: Gathering at Ainumashi - The Land of the Ainu: A message from indigenous people of the world (page 204), published by Eikoh Educational and Cultural Institute.
- 1994 Commission: Carved a 2-metre pole with master carver Masimito, Japan.
- 1995 Publication: Skidegate Haida Myths and Histories, wrote foreword for book of short stories.
- 1995 Presentation: the First International Forum on Nature and Human Kind in the Age of Environmental Crisis - International Japanese Centre for Environmental Studies, Kyoto, Japan.
- 1995 Performance: raising of totem pole carved by Jim Hart at San Francisco, USA.
- 1996 Publication: The Great Canoes by David Neel, wrote article The History and Building of Canoes.
- 1997 Commission: 28' totem pole commissioned by the Government of Canada for presentation to the people of Indonesia. Pole raising ceremony by Guujaaw, Robert Davidson, Terri-Lynn Williams, Simon Dick, Jalun, and Gwaai.
- 2006 - Winner of the Buffett Indigenous Leadership Award
- "Skedans". historymuseum.ca. Canadian Museum of History.
- "Making history on Haida Gwaii". The Globe and Mail. August 22, 2017.
- "GwaiiComm - Connecting Haida Gwaii to the world without compromise".
- "HaidaGwaii Singers".
- "GwaiiComm - Connecting Haida Gwaii to the world without compromise".
- Gill, Ian (23 February 2010). "All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation". D & M Publishers – via Google Books.
- Haida Launch Aboriginal Title Case in BC Supreme Court Archived 2009-02-10 at the Wayback Machine First Nations Drum
-  CBC News]
- 2006 Buffett Awardee: Guujaaw Archived 2008-10-07 at the Wayback Machine
- CBC.ca Arts - Haida 'front and centre' at indigenous people's conference
- "CTV News Vancouver - Local Breaking News - Weather & Traffic". bc.ctvnews.ca.
- "Ecotrust in the News - "BC Artist Wins Buffett Leadership Award"". archive.ecotrust.org.
Bibliography and further reading
- Skidegate Text and Histories by Swanton ...Enrico (with a foreword by Guujaaw)
- Haida Gwaii by Fedje and Mathews (with a foreword by Guujaaw)
- Mycelium Running by Paul Stamats (Guujaaw note)
- Raven Travelling (Guujaaw quote and art)
- Neel, David. The Great Canoes: Reviving a Northwest Coast Tradition. Douglas & McIntyre. 1995. ISBN 1-55054-185-4
- The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed, By John Vaillant. W. W. Norton & Co. 2005.
- David Suzuki: The Autobiography, David Suzuki. Greystone Books. 2006.
- All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation, Ian Gill. 2009. (Shortlisted for BC Book Prize and nominated for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize)