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A Haida writing : about Chief Wiiaa Sparrow, Kathy Bedard

Abstract

My thesis is a life history of Chief William Matthews, the fourth and last hereditary chief Wiiaa of Masset Haida, who was also my grandfather. Of paramount value in telling his story is the significant role of my grandmother, Emma Matthews, in his life. Examining his life history and the role he played in his community and the province is significant because he lived during a critical period in the history of British Columbia. He lived in a traditional cedar plank house, reported to be the largest Haida house on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and by the time he was an elder, he was among special guests for the opening of the 1973 fall session of the BC Legislature. His life spanned a period from the suppression of the potlatch to the public rebirth of potlatch activities in the 1970s. Stories told about my grandfather are significant because of his role as a chief and because they address changes in potlatching and rank today. As a framework, I draw on ethnohistoric accounts that pertain to my grandfather's hereditary title. Anthropologists such as Stearns, Blackman, and Boelscher, who have conducted fieldwork in my community of Masset and who have worked with one or both of my grandparents, have provided rich published material for research. I had the good fortune of receiving fieldnotes produced by Boelscher, who lived and worked with my grandmother, Emma Matthews, as she carried out her fieldwork among the Masset Haida elders from 1971-1981. Nancy Turner's tape-recorded interviews with both of my grandparents from the early 1970s are also of great value to me. Finally I interviewed both family and community members about my grandparent's lives. Through the oral narratives presented here, the reader will gain a richer sense of my grandparent's compelling personalities, and to their important social and ceremonial roles. This life history account will provide a model for research and the writing of an oral history account from within a Haida genre.

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