Ride a reconciliation wave on culturally, naturally rich Haida Gwaii

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Daajing Giids, Haida Gwaii – Travel fuels reconciliation. I knew my first visit to Haida Gwaii would leave a significant impression, but I was not ready for the historic occasion I would experience when I reached the main island in May 2022. 

This past spring, the Haida Nation made more history when they voted to remove another piece of colonial baggage: their major “urban centre name” Queen Charlotte City. From that moment on it will be known as Daajing Giids (dah—gin geeds), its original name which translates as common hat village.

This cultural statement of independence would resonate, as my traveling partner and I made our way through some of the wildest, most natural beauty we had ever experienced, combined with an unmatched sense of place. 

Haida Gwaii island landscape Jim Barr
Photographer: Jim Barr
Overflowing, lush forests drape over the Haida Gwaii landscape.

For years Haida Nation warriors have been leaders in gaining their independence, with their roots tracing back over 13,000 years on this grouping of island gardens. The island archipelago nation’s recognition plans really got rolling back in 2009 when the Nation gave back to the British their “Queen Charlotte Islands” marquee, and Haida Gwaii was reborn. Haida Gwaii translates to “Islands of the Haida People,” and the Haida have done an incredible job in keeping the destination’s magic.

“(It’s) dripping in nature… everywhere you look is alive,” gushes my travel companion Marilyn Hemingway as we make our way along the Cape Fife Trail. Moss, as you can see in these pictures, thick like carpet, untouched and very much a preserved garden of the lushest kind.

Haida Gwaii shoreline Jim Barr
Photographer: Jim Barr
Mossy rocks along a shoreline trail.

Camp oceanfront on Graham Island

We made our way across Graham Island, the biggest of the Haida archipelago, with Gwaii Adventures who offer camper van rentals keeping us as connected to this place as possible. 

“Next to the beauty, is the flow you can achieve here, simply by being present and allowing the world to come to you,” explains Gwaii Adventures founder Kyle May. “You let life happen and what you need shows up.”

Camping with a Gwaii Adventures van gets you closer to the spectacular nature of Haida Gwaii.

And May was right, giving us access to some of the best camping I have ever done given it was a van with a pop top tent on top, so easy to set up and provided a “penthouse” feel to the whole trip. #Vanlife! 

It’s hard to imagine how many camp spots could be across the 400 islands of Haida Gwaii but we spent three of our four camping days at all unique, oceanfront sites.

To unlock Graham island, read the When You Go section below for a primer on making the most of this magical destination.

Hike, bike and surf at Agate Beach 

Agate Beach Campground is a spot not to be missed. Surf break comes to life in October through March. 

Agate Campground is found on the very north of Graham Island, about a 30 min drive north of Masset—and home to Rose Spit, Haida Nation’s birthplace for their people. Go and experience this incredible location, hike up Tow Hill, rent an e-bike to ride Rose Spit (8 kms long) or hike it along the Cape Fife Trail that will take you through an ancient forest the likes you’ve never seen before. 

Kayaking to the Haida Heritage Centre on Kay 'Linagaay.

Kayak to the Haida Heritage Centre

Hemingway and I made our way to the Haida Heritage Centre, out of Daajing Giids via an hour kayak from friends at Green Coast Kayak rentals. Picnic on the beach while watching for the grey whales who can pop up early spring through late fall.

Visit the Haida village at Kay ‘Linagaay 

In 1998 Haida built a “village” of Haida-style houses lined up along a beach, called Ḵay 'Linagaay or Sea Lion Town and thus rose a must-see museum, cultural centre, gift shop, carving shed and art school. The Haida Heritage Centre At Ḵay 'Linagaay is there to welcome tourism to the community, but also send a signal to Government officials that the Haida are not only here to stay but on a path to full control over their lands.

The "village" at Kay 'Linagaay.

Haida’s interests in complete autonomy from the Canadian Government took a huge step in the summer of 2021 with an agreement that received very little media coverage. The “Changing Tides” agreement between Haida Nation, the BC Government and the Government of Canada is a big step in that direction, recognizing the Haida’s title to land without the onus of proof. 

You can read more about this historic agreement in this story by the independent news source The Tyee.ca. 

Paddle, hike, bike and camp in history; a history that allows you to go back to the future, in what might be coming across the country as we see more Nations call to remove colonial names in favour of their traditional names. If the result is anything like Haida Gwaii, there is cause for optimism for that future.

When You Go

Do as we did, and make it an EPIC—here is how:

1) Take the Haida Pledge, and commit to travel with respect on Haida lands.

1) Fly in with Air Canada to Sandspit, Haida Gwaii. From here, you can grab the ferry into Skidegate (about 15 mins from Daajing Giids).

2) Rent a camper with Gwaii Adventures. September can be some of the best times to go and to score some of the best camp spots. 

3) Support Haida where you can: 

4) Catch BC Ferries from Haida Gwaii (Skidegate terminal) and sail the seven hours to Prince Rupert. (If you want to live it large, check into BC Ferries’ Premium Suites on board, with a personal shower, queen size bed and a room with a premium view.)

5) Hop the Skeena Line with VIA Rail from Prince Rupert to Prince George (12 hours of 360 wow — the leg from Prince Rupert to Terrace includes mountains with raging waterfalls), and fly Air Canada back to home, knowing that you’ll only be home for a few hours and likely will be pining to get back to Haida Gwaii.

Let us know what you find, #ZenSeekers

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