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Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa cover image

Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa 2023


Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Charles Wilkinson and Tina Schleissler
Directed by Charles Wilkinson and Tina Schleissler
Streaming, 23 mins

College - General Adult
Art; Native Peoples; Sociology

Date Entered: 05/13/2024

Reviewed by Erica Swenson Danowitz, Chat Reference Librarian/Contractor: PA Chat with a Librarian; Research Librarian: Paratext; Retired Reference Librarian, Delaware County Community College

In Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa viewers have the opportunity to view a potlatch held in Hydaburg, Alaska and hosted by members of various Haida clans. A potlatch is defined as a ceremonial feast, a social event, or a celebration (such as a wedding) practiced by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in North America. During potlatch ceremonies participants might either distribute or destroy property to display wealth or boost status. This short documentary offers information related to the potlatch and how the Haida people on either side of the American/Canadian border have restored many of their traditions despite years of repression and being silenced. It features the Haida artist, Robert Davidson who has helped advance Haida culture and tradition for decades through his art.

In 2000 Davidson carved a totem pole as a testament to the mistreatment suffered by the indigenous people of the Pacific North Coast at the hands of colonial settlers who banned the potlatch in the late nineteenth century. In 2018 the artist crafted a totem pole called “Beyond Being Silenced (Gyaa Isdlaa)” which represented a newer, more positive reality which included hosting the potlatch featured in this film. Davidson also recreated tribal crests for various clans in his native Alaska that had been lost. These beautiful crests are displayed during the potlatch ceremony in Beyond Being Silenced. This title includes interviews with Davidson and his family in which they discuss the significance of the potlatch, a concept difficult to comprehend even amongst the Haida people as it had been outlawed for decades. They emphasize how the potlach brings out history, maintains traditions, and serves as an opportunity for the Haida to live (and learn about) their culture. Oral histories are shared at potlatches, and they provide an opportunity for all generations to represent or demonstrate who they are.

This film acknowledges the traditions found in Haida culture and has numerous potlatch scenes that include individuals gathered together in native clothing or dressed as local animals. The potlatch participants come from multiple generations. They sing, dance, chant, and celebrate the event with food. One moment in the film shows potlatch attendees recording traditional dances with their iPhones. This juxtaposition of modern technology with centuries-old traditions gives the film both a poignant and an optimistic feeling. Beyond Being Silenced also has beautiful scenery of Pacific Northwest sunsets and nature settings including a moment on a prawn fishing boat.

The filmmakers have explored Davidson and his art in earlier films such as 2020’s Haida Modern and 2022’s Gyaangee: Beyond Being Silenced. This film provides a continuation of these earlier stories and ends positively. Beyond Being Silenced: Gyaa Isdlaa offers a variety of formats and licenses that can include public performance rights. It is available to stream on Docuseek and is recommended for advanced high school classes or college courses in such disciplines as Anthropology, Canadian/US History, Native American Studies, Psychology, or Sociology. The film is short enough to be weaved into lesson plans or assigned as homework in these subject areas.

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