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Haida Descendant Dancers at Totem Bight
By Bill Hupe


July 18, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Totem Bight State Historical Park, where normally there is only the gentle sounds of the ocean, was alive with people and music and dance Friday. The Clan House glowed warmly with welcome as visitors, families and neighbours filed in to learn and admire the work of the Haida Dancers. This troupe is preserving the culture of the Haida peoples by teaching their dances and songs and history to their children, and to each one of us who attended this special night.

jpg Haida Dancers

Xaada Tak'anlang Haida Descendant Dancers
Photo by Susan Batho & Bill Hupe
Photo used by Permission of The Haida Descendant Dancers

The evening opened with the Haida Anthem, chanted by three men and a young boy. This was followed by a welcoming dance, where the rest of the troupe paraded into the Clan House in their colourful costumes. At the end, most of the dancers had lined up on the two levels at the front of the Clan House with their backs toward us, revealing a colourful display of family crests. A lively eagle dance followed soon, after the Haida Danceleader explained the significance of the relationship and balance of the eagle and the raven; if a song is sung about one, a song must be sung about the other to maintain the balance. This balance was in the form of a quite complex children's teaching dance, telling the story of how the raven taught its people how to search out the abundant cockles and clams and to pry the life-giving nourishment within them. One of the dancers donned a beautifully coloured raven mask in the role of the teacher.

Each piece was accompanied by native drums played by several of the clan members, young and old; the songs chanted, so easy on the ears, and with explanations between each crediting the author and saying what the song and/or dance represented. Most of the songs and dances tonight were actually children's songs. My favourite was a song for children who needed to learn respect; the audience joined in with melodramtic actions as the disciplinary character danced from child to child.

Each traditional costume, in stark red and black/white buttons, was made by family members, and the design was explained, and the significance of the crests within the individual family history. Most of the troupe were eagles, but there were also four ravens, and some eagle-frogs. The leader's hat, itself, was made by her grandmother, and had been passed down to her, as well as her own costume. In Haida families, the family crest are passed down through the female line. One dance encouraged all the women present to join in.

The costumes' dramatic colours, the music and the air of friendship made this a memorable experience, not soon forgotten.

Once a month throughout the summer, the Xaada Tak'anlang Haida Descendant Dancers will perform at the Totem Bight Clan House in the Totem Bight State Historical Park. The next dance will be Friday, August 11th from 6:30-7:30pm. Admission is free to the public and coffee and cookies may be served. The performance is co-sponsored by Alaska State Parks and Alaska Natural History Association.


Bill Hupe is a resident of Ketchikan and Faulconbridge NSW, Australia. Most of his writing is with Susan Batho (also a resident of both places). Known by most people as "The Twins", they are a writing and photographic team and specializing in photography of Alaska and Australia. Their website features some of their work, and they can be reached through susan_and_bill[at]

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