Haida Gwaii is considered by archaeologists as an option for a Pacific coastal route taken by the first humans migrating to the Americas from the Bering Strait. At this time Haida Gwaii was likely not an island, but connected to Vancouver Island and the mainland via the now submerged continental shelf.
It is unclear how people arrived on Haida Gwaii, but archaeological sites have established human habitation on the islands as far back as 13,000 years ago. Populations that formerly inhabited Beringia expanded into northern North America after the Last Glacial Maximum, and gave rise to Eskimo-Aleuts and Na-Dené Indians.
Underwater archaeologists from the University of Victoria are seeking to confirm that stone structures discovered in 2014 on the seabed of Hecate Strait may date back 13,700 or more years ago and be the earliest known signs of human habitation in Canada. Coastal sites of this era are now deep underwater.
The Settlement of the Americas coastal migration hypothesis suggests that the first North Americans may have been here as the oldest human remains known from Alaska or Canada are from On Your Knees Cave. Anthropologists have found striking parallels between the myths, rituals, and dwelling types of the Koryaks—inhabitants of the Kamchatka Peninsula—and those of the Native peoples of America’s Northwest Coast. At this time the island was twice as large as today. There is strong genetic evidence for these early people having an origin there. The Koryaks were a matrilinear seafaring people hunting whales and other marine mammals. Their god was Kujkynnjaku, the Raven. Most of the Raven myths are similar to those of the Koryak.
The group of people inhabiting these Islands developed a culture made rich by the abundance of the land and sea. These people became the Haida. The Haida were a matriarchal society – the women made the decisions prior to European discovery. The Haida are a linguistically distinct group, and they have a complex class and rank system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens.
Links and diversity within the Haida Nation was gained through a cross lineal marriage system between the clans. This system was also important for the transfer of wealth within the Nation, with each clan reliant on the other for the building of longhouses, the carving of totem poles and other items of cultural importance.
Noted seafarers, the Haida occupied more than 100 villages throughout the Islands. The Haida were skilled traders, with established trade links with their neighbouring First Nations on the mainland to California.
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