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Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa

In BEYOND BEING SILENCED: Gyaa Isdlaa, world-famous Haida artist Robert Davidson stages a potlatch acknowledging centuries of Indigenous abuse by government and colonists, but celebrating the newfound spirit of cultural and societal renewal and reconciliation.

Robert Davidson was born in Hydaburg, Alaska in a time when the traditional law-giving social ceremony of the North Coast Native culture – the potlatch - had been outlawed by governments anxious to prevent the original inhabitants from asserting title to their land. Years later the ban was lifted, but much damage had been done. The majority of traditional ceremonial objects had been confiscated, the language and cultural practices had been heavily discouraged, the youth were on the verge of losing connection to their heritage. In 1969, young Haida artist Robert Davidson decided to carve a totem pole for his now home village on Haida Gwaii – as one last homage to what appeared to be a fading culture. The response was explosive. It sparked the rebirth of the culture, catalysing its extraordinary comeback.

Fifty years later, in 2019 Robert became aware that a number of the clans in his birth home in Alaska had lost their tribal crests – which are a fundamental part of a clan’s identity. Robert decided to re-create these crests in the form of giant wall hangings and gift them to his brother clans. To celebrate this revitalization, Robert decided to stage a potlatch in Hydaburg, Alaska. Filmmakers Charles Wilkinson and Tina Schliessler, the creators of multiple award-winning feature documentary film Haida Modern: the art and activism of Robert Davidson filmed that potlatch. The result: BEYOND BEING SILENCED: Gyaa Isdlaa.

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