The Unfinished Story

Adapting a story

Artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas brought his own artistic and cultural vision to the story in creating the animation for "The Raven's Call." Compare it with the original text.

The Raven’s Call

Original short story

Bill Reid - 1996

There is displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Toronto, a carved heraldic column originating from Tanu, a Haida village located on Tanu Island in the South Moresby Archipelago of Haida Gwaii. The crest figures depicted from top to bottom are as follows: a Horned Owl, three Watchmen, a Raven, a Cormorant, a Killer Whale and a Beaver.

In the deserted village of Tanu, two soul-mate Ravens, not just any Ravens but the great Ravens like those who have always influenced the destiny of Haida Gwaii and whose very shape could change in one scarcely visible shudder, from the star’s suspended shadow to that of a little crooked man, are, as they always, were, looking for food. Momentarily separated from each other in their quest, one Raven hears a sudden, strident and loud rifle shot, which to his trained ears carries the unmistakable message of food. His great wings, galvanized into a downward course, head in the direction of the shot while his loudest cry rang through the air to inform his mate of the prospect of food.

Sure enough, there on the beach was the sleek blood-stained carcass of a two-year-old deer.

The call was carried away by an incoming westerly wind that channeled the echo through the air across Canada, up to the ROM, and reached the Raven on the pole. All of a sudden, all the carved creatures became animated by a new vibrant type of life: birds fluffing their feathers and stretching their wings, tails of mammals flipping and dusting off their long mummy-like immobility. Suddenly, by a rare silent consensus, the creatures, feeling the urge to go home, climb down from each other to leave by the Museum front door, just as the guide was escorting the last visitors out of the building.

They journey through their own distinct, private route and means of locomotion: the mysterious Horned Owl flying at night: the Watchmen using modern transportation of other choice; the Cormorant flying above lakes and oceans, meeting at times the Killer Whale; the Beaver following the river networks. The Raven, transforming himself as he pleases, reserves many surprises as to the way he is going West. Their long and adventurous journey ends up in Tanu and, at the exact spot where once they stood, they climbed on top of each other again, recreating the house frontal pole they once formed.

But the village is deserted, in ruins, covered by exquisite deep moss. What happened?

From the height of the pole, their vision is restricted to a wide sea vista, and they decide to climb down and explore Haida Gwaii to find out what happened. They discover that things are worse than they thought: more deserted villages all around; no more proud houses, just little imported dwellings; no more big dugout canoes, but noisy little vehicles which make their way through a haze of chemical smoke; no feverish activity on the beach with men steaming canoes, building plank houses, carving poles, and no women cleaning and smoking fish, digging clams, gathering berries, weaving mats: no children playing on the beach and watching. They hear about drugs, alcoholism and suicide.

It is undecided at this point if the creatures will return to the ROM and resume their place, just before the guide closes the door, or if they will find hope for a better world in Haida Gwaii. However, as always, the hero of our story is the formidable Raven who makes things happen. We count on him for the ending.?

Story dictated to Dr. Martine Reid, and reproduced with her permission in Bill Reid by Doris Shadbolt, 1998: 190-91.

Photo: Bill Reid, c. 1972

Bill Reid, c. 1972

“Bill was very fond of this story. The characters are not just any characters. The Raven, especially, is the mythic cultural hero -- a trickster who likes to play games -- and in so doing changes the destiny of the world. Here in this story, his call resonates in the other characters' consciousness, forcing them to wake up. It will be up to them to decide their destiny.”

Dr. Martine Reid
Vancouver, BC, 2009

Adapted script for animation

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas - 2008

A tall ship crosses the Hecate Strait on an old map showing Haida Gwaii. The ship arrives at night in the village of Tanu.

The full moon highlights Tanu. The village is very quiet.

Narrator: “This is the story of The Raven’s Call, and of an old pole from a village in Haida Gwaii.”

Close up of pole. Two men in top hats with a swede saw are cutting it down.

Narrator: “For more than a hundred years, the pole watched the comings and goings, the joys and the sorrows of this village.”

A raven at the top of the pole sounds the alarm. We pull back to see the entire village in the moonlight with the two men sawing the bottom of the pole.

Narrator: “One year a group of strangers came into the quiet village and took the pole away.”

The pole falls backwards as the raven takes flight revealing the full moon.

Narrator: “Although the years passed, some things stayed the same.”

Two ravens play on the base left from the pole. Then one raven lets out a loud “Caw!” The “Caw!” vibrates the air as it travels over the Hecate Strait and then quickly across Canada.

Sound: “Caaaaawwww!”

EXT. DAY/ A generic museum

Medium long shot pans into glass door in front of which a guard is standing.

Narrator: “Then one day, in a museum far across the country....”

Inside we see the Tanu pole as the camera pans towards it. Electric shocks seem to run through it as the eye of the figure on top starts to blink.

The museum guard talks on his radio as the air vibrates in the museum through the doors behind him.

A huge gust of wind blows the door closed startling the guard. The pole behind the guard is now gone.



We get a glimpse of a grain tower as the train roars by.

Close up of train: The camera pans right across the windows.

Narrator: "Now things had obviously changed a little over the years."

We see the Watchman playing cards with Cormorant. Cormorant motions through animation to "Go fish!"

Sound: Clatter of wheels.

In the next compartment big Orca is asleep leaning against the car window. He is snoring away. We see Owl is squashed against the window by the sleeping Orca.

Train whistle sounds. Pull back to see train moving over mountains. Dawn is coming.

Train Announcer: "Attention passengers. Our next and final stop is Prince Rupert."

Camera pans left to silhouette of ferry boat on the ocean

Ferry Announcer: "We're going to be docking in Skidegate real soon."


Pan left to show the silhouette of a pickup truck driving into the village. A raven sits on top of one of the village poles. The sky is getting brighter.

In the foreground at bottom left we see a pod of orcas are swimming and leaping in the ocean.

Sound: outboard motor.

In the foreground at top right a boat is speeding along, the Haida Gwaii Watch No. 1. It eventually speeds past the frame and reveals Tanu.

Raven is flying into Tanu all the other members of the pole are hanging on.

Medium Long shot

Our characters land with a thud in Tanu, initially landing on top of each other in a pole formation, but tumbling off from the impact of landing.

Narrator: “Come on. Everyone get in your places. Stop fooling around!” ordered the Watchman.”

“I think I’m going to take a long swim,” said Killer Whale.

“Did you see that boat?” asked Cormorant. “That looked like fun!”

“Hang on a minute!” exclaimed the Watchman. “It’s our job to be a pole. Not just anyone gets to stand on guard for heritage and traditions.”

“Not to mention we look pretty good,” chimed in Owl. “I like it when people admire me. I want to go back to the museum.”

“We look good right here,” argued the Watchman.

“It was cool driving the train,” Beaver objected. “I don't want to be stuck holding someone’s butt up in the air. I’m going back to the train!”

Throughout the foregoing we see the characters arguing as described.

Narrator: “The argument grew more and more heated until ...”


We see Raven in the foreground on a tree branch. He flies down to land on the stump where the pole once stood.

Narrator (as Raven): “Hey, we can figure this out!”

The stump and Raven become the period in a giant question mark as the story ends.

Photo: Michael Nicholl Yahgulanaas, 2008

“Here is a story close to Bill's search for a place straddling two cultural lineages. It's easy for guys like us with a genetic claim to Haida and Canadian heritages. The challenges are laid out reasonably clearly and there are always occasional reminders from Federal and Provincial policies in case we get self-satisfied. Pity those who, before they even get to face their challenge, must first identify it.”

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Vancouver, BC, 2009

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