The Haida People live on the Pacific west coast of North America at the southern end of the Alaskan Archipelago and the outer most Canadian Islands, the Queen Charlottes or Haida Gwaii as the Haida call the islands. The Haida are referred to as First Nations People in Canada as opposed to the term Native American Tribe that occurs in the United States. Their ancestral language is Haida, which is now endangered.
The Haida are wood and copper craftsmen. Totem poles of mythical creatures that honor their heritage are common in the villages. The Haida have strong values and beliefs in their position as "original guardians" of their homeland, given to them by the "Creator" as a blessing to be cared for and not wasted. Many of their ancient myths, stories, songs, and dances tell the story of the relationship of the Haida people with their Creator and to the wildlife and environment around them.
The primary Haida towns or villages are in Masset & Skidegate, British Columbia and Hydaburg, Alaska. However, many Haida have moved to urban areas in the western United States and Canada. Before contact with Europeans, in the late eighteenth century, all Haida lived on Haida Gwaii or what is now the most southeastern tip of Alaska.
The locally resources of halibut and salmon, which formed the basis of their diet, supported Haida society. They lived in large cedar-plank houses and constructed totem poles, some as tall as 60 feet, at the fronts of the buildings. The Haida potlatch system reinforced a social hierarchy, which is based on rankings of both hereditary status and wealth. The northern and southern dialects of the Haida language are unrelated to any other known tongue.
The Haida system for social structure is based on moiety lineages. That is, the society is divided into two groupings, known as Raven and Eagle. (Their clan totem poles fall under the Raven or Eagle crest.) A variety of subgroups fall into either of the moieties. The moieties and their subgroups of clans possess, through matrilineal lineages, unique combinations of crests and other intellectual properties such as songs and names. People must marry outside their own moiety.
Potlatches, ceremonies to show wealth or to earn status in a community, were closely linked to a man's moiety. Potlatches were and still are huge celebrations, hosted by a wealthy member of the community. Hosts often invite hundreds of guests. Guests arrive in their best dress and best canoes, ready for a feast lasting up to 10 days. Afterward, all of the host's possessions are distributed to the invited guests. However, this will not bankrupt the host, as the family can then rely on receiving gifts from another’s potlatch.