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Bill Reid completes new totem pole

Bill Reid spent his life confronting public opinion. The artist, who was of Haida and European descent, was largely credited with inspiring a Haida renaissance with his masterful works of art. Some viewed Reid as a curiosity – an artist who navigated his way through two dissimilar worlds. Others viewed him with a more cynical eye and criticized him as a mimic with manufactured ties to the Haida community. CBC Archives explores the esteemed, influential and at times controversial career of Bill Reid.

"Keep up your strength," shouts Ernie Wilson in Haida. A large procession carries a massive totem through the village of Skidegate on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The 70-odd men move in synchronicity, keeping step with the boom of a drum. With a concerted effort they raise the pole, carved by Bill Reid, before the longhouse. A crowd of onlookers cheer as the elaborate pole named Tribute to the Living Haida is raised.

For Bill Reid, this project -- two years in the making -- is a labour of love. In this CBC Radio report, he describes his desire to return to his spiritual home and his yearning to feel closer to the Haida people. This small Haida village was once decorated with many soaring totem poles. But with time, all but one of the totems were felled because of deterioration and government preservation projects. 
• The Tribute to the Living Haida totem pole featured a raven, frog, killer whale, dog fish and three watchmen.
• Reid had initially projected a six-month timeline for completing the Skidegate totem but had to extend the deadline while struggling with Parkinson's disease. Reid was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1973.

• Never one to mince words, Reid later recalled his frustration building the Skidegate totem. As with most of his projects, Reid worked with assistants to complete the pieces. In 1983, Reid told Lloyd Dykk of the Vancouver Sun, "When I was up there to work on the poles, I almost had to tell the natives which end of the hammer to hold."

• In her book, Bill Reid: The Making of an Indian, author Maria Tippett describes how Reid attempted to lease land in Skidegate to build a summer cottage circa 1978. The village refused his offer on the grounds that Reid's lease might have set a precedent for other non-Natives seeking to move into the area.
Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: June 17, 1978
Guest(s): Bill Reid, Ernie Wilson, Dick Wilson
Reporter: Cheryl Lynn Walker
Duration: 14:18

Last updated: February 6, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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