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ETHNONYMS: Haidah, Hydah, Hyder


Identification. The Haida are an American Indian group whose traditional territory covered the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia and a section of the Alexander Archipelago in southeastern Alaska. The name "Haida" is an Anglicized version of the Northern Haida's name for themselves, meaning "to be human, to be a Haida."

Location. The Queen Charlotte Islands, which includes 2 large and about 150 small islands, lie from thirty to eighty miles off the north coast of British Columbia, between 52° and 54° 15 N. Haida territory in southeastern Alaska extended to about 55° 30 N. This is an ecologically diverse territory, with considerable variation from one locale to another in rainfall, flora, fauna, topography, and soil. At the time of first contact with Europeans in the late 1700s, the Haida were settled in a number of towns that formed six regionallinguistic subdivisions: the Kaigani people, the people of the north coast of Graham Island, the Skidegate Inlet people, the people of the west coast of Moresby Island, the people of the east coast of Moresby Island, and the southern (Kunghit) people. In the 1970s, four divisions were still recognized.

Demography. A census conducted from 1836 to 1841 suggested a total Haida population of about 8,000. By 1901 the population had declined to about 900 and then to 588 in 1915. Since that time, it has gradually increased, and today there are about 2,000 Haida in Canada and 1,500 in Southeastern Alaska.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Haida language is apparently unrelated to any other known language, although at one time it was classified in the Na Dene language family. Before European settlement, there were Northern and Southern dialects and a number of subdialects spoken in specific towns or Regions. Today, there are few Haida speakers left.

History and Cultural Relations

The first known European contact was with the Spanish explorer Juan Pérez in 1774. For the next fifty years, the Haida traded sea otter pelts with European trading ships for iron, manufactured goods, and potatoes, which the Haida then began to cultivate themselves. In 1834 the Hudson's Bay Company established the Fort Simpson trading post in Tsimshian territory which became the center of Indian-White trade as well as trade among the various Indian groups for the next forty years. The trading trips disrupted the traditional economy, led to warfare with the Kwakiutl, and brought a smallpox epidemic to the Queen Charlotte Islands that led to a rapid population decline in the late nineteenth century. By 1879 the Haida were so reduced in number that they had all resettled in the communities of Skidegate and Masset. The first missionary to visit the Haida came in 1829, but the first to establish residence on the Queen Charlottes did not arrive until 1876 (in Marret); the first missionary to the Kaigani Haida arrived in 1880 (Howkan). The Skidegate mission was founded in 1883. From 1875 to 1910 the Haida underwent considerable culture change, largely in the direction of acculturation into the adjacent White society. The potlatch was outlawed, many features of the traditional religion disappeared, White-style housing replaced the cedar plank houses, and totem-pole raising was discontinued; wage labor increasingly replaced traditional economic pursuits. The Queen Charlotte Haida were granted a number of reserves that reflect their many subsistence places. The two largest reserves are the Skidegate and Haida (Masset) reserves, which were laid out initially in the 1880s and added to in 1913. The Kaigani Haida are not reservation Indians.


At the time of European contact, the Haida lived in a number of "towns," although it is not clear how large or permanent these towns really were. Winter villages, consisting of one or two rows of cedar plank dwellings facing the sea, were more permanent and substantial settlements. In a row in front of the dwelling houses were the totem housepoles. Today, Haida house styles are like those of their White neighbors.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional economy rested on a combination of fishing, shellfish gathering, hunting, and the gathering of plant foods. Because of seasonal variations in food availability, much effort was expended on extracting as much food as possible and preserving foodstuffs by drying, smoking, wrapping in grease, and so on for use in lean seasons. Halibut and salmon were the most important preserved foods (by drying, smoking), and sea mammals (which were also preserved) were more important than land mammals for food. Dozens of species of berries, plant stalks, tree fibers, seaweed, and roots were harvested and preserved. Current jobs and sources of income include the Commercial fishing industry (fishing and fish and shellfish processing), logging, and arts and crafts (wood carving, argillite carving, graphics, jewelry, weaving, and so on).

Trade. The Haida traded heavily with the Coast Tsimshian and Tlingit. With the former they traded canoes, slaves, and shells for copper, Chilkat blankets, and hides; with the latter they traded canoes, seaweed, and dried halibut for eulachons and soapberries. There was also some internal trade between Haida communities.

Industrial Arts. Wood was used for a wide variety of objects including canoes of several sizes for different purposes, totem poles, houses, boxes, dishes, and weapons. Spruce roots and the inner bark of the red cedar were used by women to twine baskets for various uses and to make spruce root hats.

Division of Labor. Labor was divided on the basis of sex and, to a lesser extent, on the basis of social class distinctions. Women gathered plant foods and plant materials for manufactures, preserved food, prepared skins, made clothing, and twined baskets. Men hunted, fished, made canoes, built the houses, and carved and painted. Both sexes collected shellfish and hunted birds. Fishing, canoe making, and carving were viewed as prestigious occupations. Slaves did much of the heavy work, although people who did not work were looked down upon.

Land Tenure. The lineage was the basic property-owning unit. Lineages controlled rights to streams, lakes, plant patches, trees, sections of coastline, and winter house sites. Lineages also owned names (personal and object such as canoe names), dances, songs, stories, and crest figures.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Haida had a moiety Structure, with a Raven and an Eagle moiety, each composed of a number of lineages. There were no clans. The lineages traced their origins to supernatural women associated with the two moieties. The lineages were usually named after the site of the lineage origin, and a few were further divided into sublineages. Villages usually were inhabited by members of different lineages, and sometimes both moieties were represented as well. Each lineage was marked by its several crests, usually animals but sometimes other environmental features such as a rainbow or clouds. Crests were widely displayedon totem poles, the body, boxes, utensils, drums, and canoes.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms followed the Crow System. Affinal kin were distinguished from consanguines.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages were arranged, often by the parents when the betrothed were still children. Polygyny was permitted for chiefs but was rare. The preferred partner was someone in one's father's lineage, and there is some evidence of bilateral cross-cousin marriage.

Inheritance. A man's property went to his younger brothers and nephews. The widow was usually left with little more than her own property. A woman's property went to her daughter.

Socialization. Girls were evidently preferred as they guaranteed the perpetuation of the lineage. Much of child rearing involved formai instruction, with boys being taught male tasks and behaviors by their fathers and mother's brothers, and girls taught female tasks and behavior by their mothers. The puberty rites for girls involved seclusion, food restrictions, and various taboos. There was no comparable rite for boys.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Although there was no ranking of lineages, there is some evidence that some lineages were considered to be wealthier or more powerful than others. At the individual level, there were three social categoriesnobles, commoners, and slaves. Nobles owned the houses, were generally wealthier, inherited chieftanships, used high-rank names, and hosted potlatches. Commoners did not have access to these signs of status. Slaves were war captives and their children.

Political Organization. There was no overarching political structure above the lineage level of organization. Each lineage was led by a chief who inherited the position through the matriline. That is, the title was passed on to next oldest brother, other younger brothers, or the oldest sister's oldest son. Chiefs made decisions regarding property use, internal Lineage business, and war. The owner of the dwelling was the house chief who managed the affairs of the domestic unit. In multilineage settlements, the "town master" or "town mother" was the highest ranking, wealthiest house chief.

Conflict. The Haida were feared warriors and fought with the Coast Tsimshian, Bellabella, and Southern Tlingit, among others, for plunder, revenge, or slaves. Internal warfare also existed.

Social Control. Social control was maintained at the Lineage, town, and household levels by the appropriate chiefs. The fairly rigid class system served to reinforce expectations about appropriate behavior.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Animals were classified as special types of people, more intelligent than humans and with the ability to transform themselves into human form. Animals were thought to live on land, in the sea, and in the sky in a social order that mirrored that of the Haida. Traditional beliefs have been largely displaced by Christianity, although many Haida still believe in reincarnation.

Ceremonies. The Haida prayed and gave offerings to the masters of the game animals and to the beings who gave wealth. Major ceremonial events were feasts, potlatches, and dance performances. High-ranking men were expected to host these events. Property was distributed through the Potlatch on a number of occasions including the building of a cedar house, naming and tattooing of children, and death. Potlatches also included feasts and dance performances, although a feast might be given apart from the potlatch.

Arts. As with other Northwest Coast groups, carving and painting were highly developed art forms. The Haida are Renowned for their totem poles in the form of house-front poles, memorial poles, and mortuary columns. Painting Usually involved the use of black, red, and blue-green to produce highly stylized representations of the zoomorphic matrilineal crest figures. The body of a high-ranking individual was often tattooed and faces were painted for ceremonial purposes.

Death and Afterlife. Treatment of the deceased reflected status differentials. For those of high rank, after lying in state for a few days in the house, the body was buried in the lineage gravehouse where it remained either permanently or until it was placed in a mortuary pole. When the pole was erected, a potlatch was held both to honor the deceased and to recognize his successor. Commoners were usually buried apart from the nobles, and carved poles were not erected. Slaves were tossed into the sea. The Haida believed strongly in reincarnation, and sometimes before death an individual might choose the parents to whom he or she was to be reborn. At death, the soul was transported by canoe to the Land of the Souls to await reincarnation.


Blackman, Margaret B. (1981). Window on the Past: The Photographic Ethnohistory of the Northern and Kaigani Haida. National Museum of Man, Canadian Ethnology Service, paper no. 74. Ottawa.

Blackman, Margaret B. (1982). During My Time: Florence Edenshaw Davidson, a Haida Woman. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Boelscher, Marianne (1988). The Curtain Within: Haida Social and Mythical Discourse. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

MacDonald, George F. (1983). Haida Monumental Art: Villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Stearns, Mary Lee (1981). Haida Culture in Custody. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Swanton, John R. (1905). Contributions to the Ethnology of the Haida. American Museum of Natural History, Memoir no. 5, 1-300.


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Haida (hī´də), Native North Americans living primarily on the Queen Charlotte Islands, off British Columbia, and on the southern end of the Prince of Wales Island, off Alaska. They speak the Haida language, which forms a branch of the family of Nadene languages (see Native American languages). In physical and cultural characteristics they are closely related to the Tlingit and the Tsimshian; the three tribes belong to the Northwest Coast cultural area (see under Natives, North American). Before the advent (early 19th cent.) of white fur traders, the Haida lived in large cedar-plank houses, fished for salmon, and hunted sea mammals; they were noted for their large and well-made dugout canoes. Their society was divided into the Raven and Eagle clans; marriage was always with someone of the opposite clan, and clan membership derived matrilineally. Their customs featured the conspicuous display of wealth (see potlatch). They then numbered some 8,000, but by 1880 disease, particularly smallpox and venereal infections, had reduced their population to some 2,000. Today most Haida are employed in fishing, canning, and logging; many have left their island homes for mainland life. The artwork of the Haida is widely acclaimed. In 1990 there were close to 2,000 Haida living in the United States and another 2,000 in Canada.

See C. Harrison, Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific (1925); P. Miller, Lost Heritage of Alaska (1967).

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Haidabidder, consider, Jiddah, kidder, whydah •bewilder, builder, guilder, Hilda, Matilda, St Kilda, Tilda, tilde •Belinda, Cabinda, cinder, Clarinda, Dorinda, hinder, Kinder, Linda, Lucinda, Melinda, tinder •Drogheda • shipbuilder • bodybuilder •coachbuilder • boatbuilder • Candida •spina bifida •calendar, calender •Phillida • cylinder • Phasmida •Andromeda • Mérida • Florida •Cressida • lavender • provender •chider, cider, divider, eider, glider, Guider, Haida, hider, Ida, insider, Oneida, outsider, provider, rider, Ryder, Saida, slider, spider, strider, stridor •Wilder •binder, blinder, finder, grinder, kinda, minder, ringbinder, winder •Fassbinder • spellbinder • highbinder •bookbinder • pathfinder •rangefinder • viewfinder • backslider •paraglider • childminder • outrider •joyrider • roughrider • ringsider •Tynesider • sidewinder

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