Renowned carver adopts solar power as clean-energy alternative to diesel on not-so-sunny Haida Gwaii

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Over the years, Masset, B.C., master carver Jaalen Edenshaw has advocated for clean energy use on the archipelago, a region that is disconnected from B.C. Hydro’s main electricity grid and mainly reliant on diesel.

Since last October, the Haida carver has been teaming up with brother Gwaai to carve a totem pole in honour of Kaay’ahl Laanas hereditary chief Watson Price (Gaahlaay) at a workshop in Masset powered by 18 solar panels that can generate as much as 40 kWh of electricity a day — enough to fully charge a small electric car.

Edenshaw, a member of the Ts’aahl Eagle Clan, is renowned for his traditional creations, including masks, canoes, and 13-metre high red cedar totem poles that are on display in galleries around the world.

This week, Twitter Canada released an emoji that Edenshaw had designed for National Indigenous History Month.

LISTEN | Jaalen Edenshaw talks about his Twitter emoji project for National Indigenous History Month:

Radio West6:12Haida Gwaii artist and carver Jaalen Edenshaw has a new emoji available now on Twitter as part of Indigenous History Month

Haida Gwaii artist and carver Jaalen Edenshaw has a new emoji available now on Twitter as part of Indigenous History Month

He is also a director with the Swiilawiid Sustainability Society, a non-profit group based in Haida Gwaii pushing for alternatives to diesel as the region’s main energy source.

Haida Gwaii has been receiving provincial funding since 2019 to develop alternative energy, including wind and solar power. In January, the Skidgate First Nation received $800,000 in equity funding from the B.C. government to finance the First Nation’s solar farm project and the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital’s heating project.

Edenshaw spoke to guest host Bill Fee on CBC’s Daybreak North about why he decided to carve his work at a solar-powered workstation in a region that is not exactly the sunniest place in the province.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.


Why did you decide that the workshop would be solar-powered? 

There’s been news for talks about how we’ll get off of diesel, but a lot of different plans are still in the works.

In the state that we’re in right now with this world, every level of government has to step up and do something. But in the meantime, we can’t just sit back and wait for that — we got to put our money where our mouth is and try to set an example of what we want to see. 

Haida Gwaii isn’t always bright and sunny. How did you find the panels have been performing with the variable weather that you often see?

At some point during the day, it’s creating quite a bit of energy, and over the last month and a half, we’ve been producing quite a bit more energy than we’re using.

Jaalen Edenshaw says the solar panels at his workstation could generate as much as 40 kWh of electricity a day. (Submitted by Gwaai Edenshaw)

How does it feel not to be relying on diesel for the power that you need to do your work? 

We all still have a reliance on driving trucks on diesel to work, so there’s still a lot of way we have to go, but it’s good that I’ve taken one little step anyway. 

What kind of effect do you think it will have in the community and potentially with other carvers on Haida Gwaii?

Generally, people on the island want to get off the diesel generation and diesel generators. I am seeing more sorts of solar panels and different things going up around town. It’s exciting to see certain things happen like that. 

LISTEN | Jaalen Edenshaw says he hopes his workstation can set an example for more solar-powered facilities on Haida Gwaai:

Daybreak North6:50Carving out a sustainable future

Haida artist Jaalen Edenshaw speaks about the decision to use solar power in his workshop


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