Tag Archives: Queen Charlotte Islands

Haida Gwaii – Argillite Art

29 May

Haida People

It is unclear how the first people arrived on the the archipelago formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands; but what is certain is that possibly as far back as 13,000 years ago, a group of people inhabited these Islands and developed a culture made rich by the abundance of the land and sea. These people became the Haida.  They are a linguistically distinct group, and they have a complex class and rank system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens.

Haida Gwaii MapIn 1787 the islands were surveyed by Captain George Dixon, an English explorer.  They were named the Queen Charlotte Islands after one of his ships.  In 2010 the name was officially changed to recognize the history of the Haida people.  Haida Gwaii means “land of the people”.

The Haida are widely known for their art and architecture, both of which traditionally focused on the creative embellishment of wood. They decorated utilitarian objects with depictions of supernatural and other beings in a highly conventionalized style. They also produced elaborate totem poles with carved and painted crests.

Haida Gwaii art on building and totemHaida Art

Haida art stems from Haida life, past and present.  Haida art is the visual companion to Haida language, both of which are born from their connection to the lands, waters and supernatural beings of Haida Gwaii.  Whether painted, carved, tattooed, woven or appliqued the “art of the clan” signifies lineage, rank and history.


Haida artists have been carving with the Argillite found on Haida Gwaii for several hundred years.  Argillite is a fine-grained sedimentary rock composed predominantly of hardened clay particles.  Haida argillite may also be referred to as “black slate”.  It is found near Skidegate on Slatechuck Mountain on one of the Islands of Haida Gwaii located off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada.

The Argillite quarry is very difficult to get to and its exact location is a heavily guarded secret.  Only the Haida people have the right to use the Argillite found at Slatechuck Creek.  Haida Argillite does not contain quartz or feldspar and that, along with its highly complex matrix make it different from other Argillites found around the world.

Haida Symbolism

In Northwest Coast Native culture there are ancient traditional legends in which the world of man and the animals is closely linked.  Native Indian tribes across North America have creation stories, which tell of the human-like qualities of the animals.

Haida Carved Argillite Bear PendantBear symbolizes strength, family, vitality, courage and health.  Known as the Protector of the animal kingdom Bear is the most powerful coastal animal.

Haida Argillite Carved Eagle PendantEagle is king of birds and is revered for his beauty and regal nature.  He is the most respected of all birds and signifies peace, spirituality and friendship.  Eagle is recognizable by its hooked beak.

Haida Carved Argillite Orca PendantOrca symbolizes family, longevity, harmony, travel and protection.  Orca is said to protect those who travel away from home and lead them back when the time comes.

Haida Carved Argillite Raven PendantRaven is the transformer, trickster and creator. Known in legends as the one who released the sun, moon, and stars; discovered man in a clamshell; brought the salmon and the water; and taught man how to fish and hunt.  Raven symbolizes creation, knowledge and truth.

Haida Carved Argillite Salmon PendantSalmon are honoured and celebrated by all coastal peoples.  They serve as a powerful symbol of regeneration, self-sacrifice and perseverance.

Haida Argillite Carved Seal PendantSeal represents wealth and plenty and is an important family crest. It is a favourite theme of northern bowl carvers, probably because it was an important source of oil and its meat and blubber were significant foods at feasts.

Haida Argillite Carved Wolf PendantWolf represents loyalty, strong family ties, good communication, education, understanding and intelligence.  Of all land animals the Wolf is believed to have the strongest supernatural powers and is the most accomplished hunter.

The above Haida carved Argillite pendants are available for sale: Sunstones Gems & Jewelry

%d bloggers like this: