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Zacharias Kunuk’s favourite place in Canada

The Inuk filmmaker recalls his memorable first visit to the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, B.C.

  • Published Feb 07, 2017
  • Updated Oct 07, 2022
  • 352 words
  • 2 minutes
Zacharias Kunuk illustration Felicia Atanasiu Expand Image

I went to Haida Gwaii for the first time last fall and fell in love with it. I come from the Arctic, where it’s all white with snow and there are no trees. But in Haida Gwaii, everything is growing and it’s so green! Back home I know my hunting grounds, but when I went to these islands and found myself wandering through all the trees, I was at a loss.

I was there to help make Edge of the Knife, the first feature film shot entirely in the Haida languages. It’s a story from their culture about a man who survives an accident at sea and becomes known as the Haida Wildman. I stayed in a longhouse and got to see a totem pole being created for the community’s residential school memorial. It was amazing to watch that giant tree being carved. Up North, all I have to carve is soapstone! So I tried carving in wood, and did a figure of an Inuk woman with a baby on her back in cedar, which I left with my friends there.

I saw where the salmon spawn, I went clam digging, and I saw seals and killer whales. I’d seen both before, but seeing them in a new place was nice to watch. I also went seal hunting with two young men, but they didn’t have the proper guns — just a couple of high-powered rifles, which are pretty strong for a seal. We eventually shot one, and I taught them how to skin and butcher it, then we shared some of the raw liver. The Haida used to hunt seals a long time ago but they haven’t done so in many years, so they don’t know how to do it.

Sometimes, glass floats used in fishing nets from Japan wash up on the beach. They are really neat to see. I looked around for some but didn’t find any. Maybe when I go back to see the film being finished, I’ll go see the Pacific side of the islands and find one there.

— As told to Harry Wilson


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