Haida Gwaii brothers named to Order of Canada – Campbell River Mirror

Two Haida brothers from the T’saahl clan of Old Masset were invested into the Order of Canada on June 29.

Reg Davidson was made a member of the Order for the first time. Robert Davidson, the older of the two, was promoted within the Order from member to officer.

Reg was shocked when he received the email regarding the award.

“Everything I do, I do because I love it. I’m not looking for awards. I mean, I’m overwhelmed that what I love to do, they actually give me an award” , did he declare.

The prestigious designation was created to recognize individuals “whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations, and whose compassion unites our communities,” the governor general’s office said in a June 29 press release.

When Robert was first made a member in 1996, it was Reg who appointed him. Someone from the Order told Reg that this was the first time a nomination had come from a brother.

They rented tuxedos for the ceremony but Reg doesn’t think they will this time.

The brothers are celebrated for their artistic contributions and their advancement of Haida art and culture.

It was not something he had ever set out to do, Reg said.

“I was really curious about our history so I continued to pursue it by studying the old master’s creations which are housed in many museums.”

When Reg and Robert learned to carve with argillite and it was their father, Claude Davidson, who taught them.

There were only a handful of part-time carvers in Skidegate and Old Massett at the time, Robert said.

Totem pole carving and other Haida cultural practices had been lost as a result of federal government laws to ban them. The elders were the last remaining link to their ancient practices.

“All the elders spoke Haida and my parents’ generation was the one that was kidnapped. I have to say it very strongly, they were literally kidnapped. The laws of Canada were the law,” Robert said.

In 1969, 22-year-old Robert carved the first totem pole the community had seen in nearly a century. He said he felt a lot of desperation among his grandparents’ generation and wanted to create an opportunity for them to celebrate once again as they knew how to.

Reg, who was only 14, helped and learned from his older brother.

Before the pole was erected, the elders of the community would go to the naanii (grandmother) of the brothers to practice the dance.

“She was dancing behind a blanket and she said, ‘I need a mask for this’. So she went into the kitchen, got a brown paper bag and put some holes in it. That’s what that she used for her mask,” Reg said.

At that time, there were only two drums on the whole island. Reg said a photo of the brothers’ tsinii (grandfather) shows him using a toy drum during the ceremony.

The elders pieced together what they remembered from the past and created a schedule for the lifting of the poles.

This was a turning point in the cultural revival of the Haida.

Thereafter, Reg and Robert began to learn songs and dances from their naanii. For Reg, this means he gained a better understanding of the purpose of his sculptures.

He said his early masks weren’t suitable for anyone, they were just used as wall art. Learning to sing and dance gave her a better understanding of Haida culture. With a new understanding, he made masks that people could use.

In 1980 Reg and Robert founded what is now called Rainbow Creek Dance.

At first they were called Urban Haida because they lived in Vancouver. Then, when they were hired to dance at the Calgary Winter Olympics, organizers asked them to change their names. We thought people would associate them with the movie Urban Cowboy.

They renamed themselves after Rainbow Creek in their village.

One of the most significant projects Reg worked on was a pole his father hired him to carve after he became a chef. He was raised in front of his father’s house and still exists there today.

Reg and Robert were instrumental in the resurgence of Haida culture and art, making their childhood in Old Massett different today from their childhood.

“I hear a kid get off the bus singing a Haida song,” says Reg.

There are a lot of people in the younger generation who are making great efforts to revitalize the language and that’s exciting, Robert added.

Reg doesn’t sing as much anymore because so many people sing now. He doesn’t feel obligated, he said, smiling.


Kaitlyn Bailey | Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
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