Who was Bill Reid?

Bill Reid's journey


Photo: Gold bracelet repousséd and engraved with Haida Wolf and Raven design

Bill Reid
Gold Bracelet
Wolf and Raven Design
22k gold, repoussé, engraved, textured
5.87 x 6.35 x 5.24 cm
Private Collection
Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum
Photo: Paul Macapia

Photo: Bill Reid at Lyell Island logging protest 1987

Bill Reid at Lyell Island logging protest, wearing his pendant with his Wolf crest
Lyell Island, Haida Gwaii
Photo Courtesy The Vancouver Sun
Photo: Ralph Bower / The Vancouver Sun

Although Reid remembered visits from his mother’s relatives as he grew up, he never thought of them, or himself, as being Native. He remembered, however, his aunts wearing gold and silver bracelets engraved in the Native (Haida) style. Curious about his mother’s side of the family and his Aboriginal heritage, since his father was rarely there to talk about his, he began his own journey of discovery, to Haida Gwaii. This quest began when he was 23 years old and ended only when his ashes were scattered and interred, in 1998, in his grandmother’s village of Tanu.

All of Bill Reid’s relatives on his mother’s side were Haida. His mother, Sophie Gladstone, was born in Skidegate, in Haida Gwaii. Her mother, (Bill’s grandmother), Josephine, was born in Tanu, a small Haida village in the south of Haida Gwaii. His grandfather was Charles Gladstone (1878-1954) of Skidegate.

Traditional Haida people believe that their original ancestors were mythic characters, animals or supernatural humans. And, traditional Haida society was organized according to two main groups (or moieties): Ravens and Eagles. People were either Ravens or Eagles by birth. Ravens had to marry Eagles and vice versa.

Bill’s mother was a Raven. In Haida society, all her children would also be Raven. So, while talking about Bill Reid’s (collective) identity among the Haida people, he was a Raven. Being a Raven entitled him to wear certain crests and names associated with them, which were inherited through the female line. One of the crests of Bill Reid’s mother’s family was the Wolf. So, among the Haida people, Bill Reid was a Wolf from the Raven moiety.

Photo: Close-up of Bill Reid's yew wood pendant with Haida Wolf design

Bill Reid
Wolf Pendant (pendant detail)
Yew wood, haliotis shell, paint, copper tubing, gold, leather thong
8.3 cm H x 7.1 cm W
Collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada
Photo: Kenji Nagai

Photo: Bill Reid with his sculpture “The Raven and the First Men” at UBC MOA 1980

Bill Reid and "The Raven and the First Men" Sculpture, 1980
Work shown:
Bill Reid, "The Raven and the First Men," 1980
Yellow cedar, laminated and carved
1.88 m H x 1.92 m diameter
Collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada
MOA #Nb1.481, 689/1
Photo: Bill McLennan, UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada