Haida Gwaii brothers appointed to the Order of Canada

Haida Gwaii brothers appointed to the Order of Canada

Two Haida brothers from the t’saahl clan in Old Masset were honoured with the Order of Canada on June 29.

Reg Davidson was appointed as 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 got the email about the award.

“All the things I do I do because I enjoy it. I’m not looking for awards. I mean, I’m overwhelmed that what I enjoy doing they actually give me an award for,” he said.

The prestigious designation was created to recognize people “whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations and whose compassion unites our communities,” the Governor General’s office stated in a media release on June 29.

When Robert was first appointed as a member in 1996 it was Reg who nominated him. Someone from the Order told Reg it was the first time a nomination had ever come from a brother.

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

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

Carving is a skill that has been passed on through their family. It was Reg and Robert’s father, Claude Davidson, who taught them first to carve argillite. Eventually they moved to other materials.

In 1969, Robert, 22, carved the first totem pole that the community had seen in nearly a century. Reg, who was just 14, helped and learned from his older brother.

Totem pole carving and other cultural practices of the Haida had been lost following laws by the federal government to ban them.

Before the pole was raised, elders in the community went to the brothers’ naanii’s (grandmother’s) house to practice dancing.

“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 cut holes in it. That’s what she used for her mask,” Reg said.

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

The pole raising in 1969 was a turning point for the Haida’s cultural revival.

Afterwards, Robert and Reg started to learn songs and dances from their naanii. For Reg, it meant he gained a better understanding of the purpose for his carvings.

He said his early masks didn’t fit anybody, they were just used as wall art. As he learned to sing and dance, it allowed him to understand the Haida culture more. With a new understanding, he made masks that people could use.

In 1980 Reg and Robert started what is now called the Rainbow Creek Dance group.

At first, they called themselves the Urban Haidas because they lived in Vancouver. Then, when they were hired to dance at Calgary’s Winter Olympics, the organizers asked them to change their name. It was thought people would associate them with the movie Urban Cowboy.

They renamed themselves after Rainbow Creek in their village.

One of the most meaningful projects Reg has worked on is a pole his father hired him to carve after becoming chief. It was raised in front of his father’s house and still exists there today.

Reg and Robert played a significant role in the resurgence of Haida culture and art, making growing up in Old Massett different today than when they were children.

“I hear a kid getting off the bus singing a Haida song,” Reg said.

Reg doesn’t sing as much anymore because so many people are singing now. He doesn’t feel like he needs to, he said, smiling.

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Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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