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Lesson Plans

Bill Reid: Exploring Identity


This lesson is based on the “Celebration of Bill Reid Pole” carved by James Hart of Haida Gwaii, who was interviewed at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in February 2009.


James Hart of Haida Gwaii created this pole to celebrate the artistic leadership provided to him and many other indigenous artists by Bill Reid. Hart worked with Bill Reid in the 1980s on monumental works such as “The Raven and the First Men,” “Mythic Messengers,” and the large Killer Whale, “Chief of the Undersea World” at Vancouver Aquarium.

Two young Haida artists, Ernest Swanson and Bill Reid’s grandson, Tyson Brown, assisted Jim with the pole at his studio in Masset on northern Haida Gwaii, where he also created the Copper with the help of his son GwaLiga.

When the carving of the pole was in its final stages, it was brought to the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver where it was completed by Hart, his son, Carl Hart, and Ernest Swanson.

The pole was raised on February 21, 2008 and completed in October 2009.

The “Celebration of Bill Reid Pole” was sponsored by the Spirit of BC Commissioning Program, Province of British Columbia and Charlie and Gayle Pancerzewski (Mukilteo, WA), with a contribution by James Hart. The Copper was sponsored by Richard and Nancy Self. The pole is part of the Bill Reid Foundation Collection and is copyright James Hart 2007.

A photograph of the pole being carved by James and Carl Hart can be seen on this website, The Raven’s Call (on the “Legacy” page of “Bill Reid’s life story.”)

Other photos of the pole can be found on the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast website, at

Lesson Plan Rationale

Social Studies IRPs emphasize the necessity for students to develop a meaningful understanding of their own cultural identity and to understand how cultural identity is shaped by a variety of factors.

Visual Arts IRPs ask students to use their senses to perceive the world and respond to images and the ways in which they reflect the personal, social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which they were created.

The following lesson focuses on the life of Bill Reid, his journey as an artist, and how he connected with his cultural identity through Haida art. Students will be asked to explore aspects of their own cultural identity through a variety of media.

“The people of the Northwest Coast were rich. Their sea even richer; they were enormously energetic and they centered their society around what was to them the essence of life: what we now call “art.”

Bill Reid and Adelaide de Menil. Out of the Silence. New York: Harper & Row, 1971, p.80. (Out of print)

Lesson Goals

Through this lesson students will:

  • become familiar with Haida culture
  • explore their own cultural identity using symbols
  • explore artistic expression as a reflection of society
  • explore the development of individual and group identity
  • become aware of the cultural expressions of the Haida through Bill Reid’s work
  • become aware of contemporary Aboriginal artists

Learning Outcomes

Through this lesson students will:

  • understand the importance of art to the Haida
  • use critical thinking to explore their own culture and the Haida culture, and how important information and stories are expressed through art and cultural objects in both.

Lesson Plan Activities Summary

The lesson plan includes 7 activities. Except for the assessment, each activity will require one or more lessons:

  1. Introduction and Assessment
  2. A Closer Look at Bill Reid: Biography and Quotes
  3. Totems and Traditions
  4. Haida Crests and Identity
  5. Expressing Identity: Style, Materials and Design
  6. Assessment: “I Know/I Wonder”
  7. Assignment: Celebrating Identity

Preparation for Lesson

  • Review the information in The Raven’s Cry website including the virtual gallery, and web and print sources listed in the Resources section of this lesson plan.
  • Prepare “I Know/I Wonder” worksheet.
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