Around the world, trees have held religious and mythic significance for eons. For the Haida, indigenous people native to Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, Canada, Kiidk’yaas was a mythic tree. Kiidk’yaas, which means “ancient tree,” was a spruce tree with a rare genetic mutation which caused it to grow bright, golden needles. This genetic mutation is called The Golden Spruce. The story of Kiidk’yaas tree tells of a young boy who disrespected nature, which caused an awful storm to plague his village. The only survivors of the storm were the boy and his grandfather.
As they ran from the storm, the grandfather told the boy not to look back at his village. The boy disobeyed, and was instantly turned into the golden spruce. For 300 years, the golden spruce stood in that exact location. In 1997, the tree was felled in what is considered an act of eco-terrorism.
On January 20, 1997, an unemployed forest ranger named Grant Hadwin purchased a chainsaw and other equipment required for felling an old growth tree. He swam across the Yakoun River, which in January was bitterly cold, and made a series of fatal cuts into the trunk of Kiidk’yaas. This would cause any strong gust of wind to fell the tree.
Following the act of killing the tree, Hadwin send a letter explaining his actions to the Haida Nation, Greenpeace, and a number of media channels. In his letter, he explained that he did not want to harm the tree, but that he killed it as a protest over what he saw as “extremists” causing harm to the planet. He wrote that he was angry at “…university trained professionals and their extremist supporters, whose ideas, ethics, denials […] appear to be responsible for most of the abominations, towards amateur life on this planet.”
On January 22, 1997, the tree fell. Many in the local community were stricken with grief over the loss of the tree, blaming themselves for not doing more to protect it. Many viewed the act as they would a local elder being murdered. Memorial services were held for the tree.
Hadwin was arrested shortly after and ordered to appear in court. He did not comply, instead declaring his intent to kayak 60 miles through the Hecate Strait. The wreckage of his kayak was found in June of 1997, but not him. No one knows what happened to Hadwin. Some think that he was murdered in revenge, or that the elements took him. Others think he may have faked his own death.
In 1977, 20 years before the tree was felled, botanists took two cuttings from Kiidk’yaas to graft onto ordinary Sitka spruce trees, which resulted in two golden saplings. These saplings were grown in the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. Following the tree’s death, the arboretum offered to give the Haida people one of the cuttings to replace Kiidk’yaas. That sapling died before it could be transported to Haida Gwaii. A second sapling still survives at UBC.
After it fell, with permission of the Haida people, 80 more cuttings were taken from the tree in order to try propagating it further. The only wood harvested from the tree was taken by George Rizsanyi and Jowi Taylor, who created a guitar named Six String Nation.
The story of Kiidk’yaas is a tragic one, but we also found inspiration in it. Our Golden Spruce collection takes its name from Kiidk’yaas. The story of one special tree being killed moved locals to grief and captured the attention of Canadians across the country. The impact of one tree can be far-reaching and reminds us of why we plant. For each item purchased in our store, ten trees will be planted on your behalf. We hope each of those trees has as much of an impact as Kiidk’yaas did.