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Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa

The Haida Potlatch. Once forbidden. Not anymore...

A printer-friendly version of this page 23 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Charles Wilkinson, Tina Schleissler
Produced by Charles Wilkinson, Tina Schleissler
Executive Producers: Robert Davidson, Tina Schliessler
Creative Producers: Sara Florence Davidson, Robert Davidson, Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

"A critical part of the conversations around historical traumas and modern day Indigenous successes." X'unei Lance Twitchell, Native Languages, Univ of Alaska, SE
World-famous Haida artist Robert Davidson was born in Hydaburg, Alaska at 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 Indigenous inhabitants from asserting title to their ancestral lands. Years later, the ban was lifted, but irrevocable damage had been done to younger generations of Haida and their connection to their heritage. Then, in 1969, a young Davidson carved a totem pole for the village of Masset in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, sparking a rebirth of coastal Indigenous culture.

Fifty years later, Davidson became aware that a number of the clans from his birth home in Alaska had lost their tribal crests: totems which are a fundamental part of a clan's identity. He decided to re-create these crests with other Indigenous artists in the form of giant wall hangings and gift them to his brother clans at a special potlatch celebration organized by Davidson and his family.

In Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa, filmmaker Charles Wilkinson gives viewers an immersive look at that potlatch, a jubilant gathering that finds the members of many Haida clans celebrating the revitalization of their cultural traditions and affirming the clans' social cohesion and responsibilities as caretakers of the land.

Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2024     Copyright Date: 2023
DVD ISBN: 1-961192-10-1

"Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa is a spirited example of visual storytelling that honors the complex meanings of the potlatch today. Following Haida artist Robert Davidson and his family's enactment of responsibilities and reciprocity inherent in the hosting of a potlatch in Hydaburg, Alaska, this film offers viewers a celebration of enduring resilience of intergenerational traditions mixed with new practices to ensure the place of the potlatch in the future."
Carmen Robertson, Professor of Art History, Chair in North American Indigenous Visual and Material Culture, Carleton University

"This is a very beautiful and powerful film that highlights the vital living culture of the Haida people. It also addresses the role of artists such as Robert Davidson in lifting up the Haida people and culture."
Maria Williams (Tlingit), Professor, Alaska Native Studies Program and Dept. of Music, University of Alaska Anchorage

"Leitmotifs of community and generosity subtly underlie this beautiful film on the Haida potlatch. Master Haida artist Robert Davidson and members of his family explain the deep meaning of this culturally essential ceremony, its profoundly enduring history, ongoing strength and, especially, remarkable art. Throughout the film, young people - like youth everywhere who live in the world of media and technology - sing and dance, wear ceremonial clothing that embodies clan history, serve food, and express cultural pride. Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa eloquently demonstrates how the values inherent in heritage and contemporaneity can coexist."
Aldona Jonaitis, Director Emerita, Museum of the North, University of Alaska, Author, Art of the Northwest Coast

"Beyond Being Silenced is an important contribution towards understanding the complexities of a Potlatch. In weaving together art, oral history and living culture, this documentary clearly communicates the roles and responsibilities of the hosts and of the witnesses of a Potlatch."
Cori Savard, Haida artist

"Through the art and cultural leadership of Robert Davidson and Terri Lynn Williams-Davidson, Beyond Being Silenced touches on the colonial history which affected our people, while showing the continued, living and breathing practice of our way of life."
Jaalen Edenshaw, Haida Carver, Canoe Builder, and Copper Maker

"This is an expertly crafted film taking on a complex subject: the preparation of the once banned Potlatch - Wáahlaal. I found the three different unfolding perspectives illuminating and engaging as they speak of its integral importance to the ancestors' way of being - that is becoming a 'new reality.' This story will lift many up."
April SGaana Jaad White, Haida artist

"Haida creativity and resilience is beautifully documented through story, dance, and song in this visually rich film that highlights a contemporary wah'laal (potlatch) meant to reaffirm Haida people's abilities to overcome historical silencing."
Jeane T'a'aw xi'waa Breinig, Professor Emerita of English, Associate Vice Chancellor of Alaska Natives and Diversity, University of Alaska Anchorage

"The Canadian and United States governments outlawed Native American languages and cultures, and for peoples of the Northwest Coast this meant a potlatch ban. Master Artist Robert Davidson explores the significance of language and cultural reclamations that have come with the re-establishment of the potlatch among the Haida peoples. This film and his carved masterpiece We Were Once Silenced are powerful statements of Indigenous power, resistance, brilliance, and resilience. The impacts of attempted genocide are hard to measure and are rarely examined publicly, which makes this film a critical part of the conversations around historical traumas and modern day Indigenous successes."
X'unei Lance Twitchell, Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages, University of Alaska Southeast

"Gyaa Isdlaa is a brilliant look into the Haida practice of Potlatch, an ancient cultural gathering tradition, still practiced today, in which Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest convey and record their histories, not only in song and dance but within the art they create. This film is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in looking further into the meaning of Haida cultural identity and exploring this rich form of historical communication through the eyes of master craftsman, Haida artist, Robert Davidson."
Seth Thomas Sutton (Odawa), Professor and Chair, Arts and Humanities, Montcalm Community College, Author, The Deconstruction of Chief Blackhawk and The Sacred Fire of the Odawa

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Canadian Studies
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... more Reviews

"With powerful and provocative interviews and footage of the potlatch, Beyond Being Silenced reveals the central work that art continues to accomplish as a medium for conveying history among the Haida Nation. As Robert's daughter Sara explains in the film, potlatches continue to serve as an 'opportunity to live our culture as opposed to just remember it.'"
Josh Reid (Snohomish), Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, Associate Professor of History, Director, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington

"Poignant...Optimistic...Beautiful scenery...Recommended for advanced high school classes or college courses in such disciplines as Anthropology, Canadian/US History, Native American Studies, Psychology, or Sociology."
Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware County Community College, Educational Media Reviews Online

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