"Haida Gwaii , literally "Islands of the Haida people", is an archipelago approximately 45–60 km (30–40 mi) off the northern Pacific coast of Canada. The islands are separated from the mainland to the east by the Hecate Strait. Queen Charlotte Sound lies to the south, with Vancouver Island beyond. To the north, the disputed Dixon Entrance separates Haida Gwaii from the Alexander Archipelago in the U.S. state of Alaska.
Haida Gwaii consists of two main islands: Graham Island (Kiis Gwaay) in the north and Moresby Island (T'aawxii X̱aaydaɢ̠a Gwaay.yaay linaɢ̠waay, literally: south people island half, or Gwaay Haanas "Islands of Beauty") in the south, along with approximately 150 smaller islands with a total landmass of 10,180 km2 (3,931 sq mi). Other major islands include Anthony Island (Ḵ'waagaaw / Sɢ̠ang Gwaay), Burnaby Island (Sɢ̠aay Kun Gwaay.yaay), Alder Island (Ḵ'uuna Gwaay / Ḵ'uuna Gwaay.yaay), and Kunghit Island. (For a fuller, but still incomplete, list see List of islands of British Columbia).
Part of the Canadian province of British Columbia, the islands were formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, and colloquially as "the Charlottes". On June 3, 2010 the Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act formally renamed the archipelago as part of the Kunst'aa guu – Kunst'aayah Reconciliation Protocol between British Columbia and the Haida people. The islands form the heartland of the Haida Nation. Haida people have lived on the islands for 13,000 years, and currently make up approximately half of the population. The Haida exercise their sovereignty over the islands through their acting government, the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN, X̱aaydaG̱a Waadlux̱an Naay), which aspires to independence. As recently as 2015 the Haida Nation hosted First Nations delegations such as the Potlatch and subsequent treaty signing between the Haida and Heiltsuk. A small number of Kaigani Haida also live on the traditionally Tlingit Prince of Wales Island in Alaska.
Some of the islands are protected under federal legislation as the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, which includes the southernmost part of Moresby Island and several adjoining islands and islets. Also protected, but under provincial jurisdiction, are several provincial parks, the largest of which is Naikoon Provincial Park on northeastern Graham Island. The islands are home to an abundance of wildlife, including the largest subspecies of black bear (Ursus americanus carlottae) and also the smallest subspecies of stoat (Mustela erminea haidarum). Black-tailed deer and raccoon are introduced species that have become abundant.
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 coastal migration hypothesis of the settlement of the Americas 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 the Pacific 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, the Eagles and Ravens. Links and diversity within the Haida Nation were 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.
See also: Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands and Queen Charlottes Gold Rush
The archipelago was first sighted by Europeans in 1774 by Juan Pérez, at Langara Island, and in 1778 by James Cook. In 1794, the Haida captured and sank a pair of European vessels, Ino and Resolution, that were seeking to trade for sea otter pelts. Most of the ships' crew were killed. In 1851, the Haida captured the Georgiana, a ship carrying gold prospectors, and held its crew for ransom for nearly two months.
The islands played an important role during the maritime fur trade era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During most of that era the trade in the islands was dominated by Americans. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 put an end to American claims to the islands. Following the discovery of gold in the 1850s the British made efforts to exclude whatever American territorial claims might remain. The Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands was a British colony constituting the archipelago of the same name from 1853 to July 1863, when it was amalgamated into the Colony of British Columbia. The Colony of the Queen Charlotte Islands was created by the Colonial Office in response to the increase in American marine trading activity resulting from the gold rush on Moresby Island in 1851.
No separate administration or capital for the colony was ever established, as its only officer or appointee was James Douglas, who was simultaneously Governor of Vancouver Island. In essence, the colony was merged with the Vancouver Island colony for administrative purposes from the 1850s to 1866 when the Colony of Vancouver Island was merged with the mainland, which until that point was the separate Colony of British Columbia" (Wikipedia).