Stolen Spirits of Haida Gwaii

by Kevin McMahon
A documentary about the journey of the Haida people to bring home skeletal remains that were stolen from their villages a century ago.
2004  ·  1h14m  ·  Canada
About the Film

After the Haida were forced, by disease, to abandon some 35 of their ancient villages, their islands became a paradise for the relic hunters of the early 20th century, greedy for the totem poles and masks that were – and are – desired by museums all over the world.

Unbeknownst to the Haida, these adventurers also dug up graves and looted mortuary poles, taking away hundreds of skeletons to be used in a bizarre and ultimately futile scientific quest. Not until the early 1990s did the young people of Haida Gwaii learn that the remains of their ancestors – along with more than 100,000 from other tribes — were in museum basements. When they found this out, they decided to do something about it.

STOLEN SPIRITS OF HAIDA GWAII follows the Haida through a fascinating process of relearning their culture and an incredible journey which takes them to Chicago and, ultimately, to a reconciliation with the descendents of the scientists who robbed the islands’ graves a century ago.

Upcoming Screenings

Stay tuned for upcoming screenings!

Festivals and Awards
Canadian Association of Broadcasters - Aboriginal Programming, Gold Ribbon Award
Gemini Awards, Winner: Best History Documentary Program
Gemini Awards, Winner: Best Direction in a Documentary Program
Rigoberta Menchu Montreal First People's Festival, Grand Prix
Kristina McLaughlin & Michael McMahon
Sound Editor
Soundtrack Composer
Kevin McMahon
About the Director

Kevin McMahon

Kevin McMahon has directed more than 20 documentaries, including nine features, and produced dozens of hours of non-fiction television. His work focuses on environmental themes, viewed explicitly – in subjects like Niagara Falls, the cod fishery and nuclear weapons – and obliquely – in stories about the guru Marshall McLuhan; Haida and Inuit communities; or the nature of human intelligence.

Known for bringing unusual perspectives and personalities to documentary, Kevin has collaborated with many, including journalist Peter Mansbridge, cellist Yo Yo Ma, rock musician Gord Downie, performance artist Laurie Anderson, comedian Mary Walsh and actress Sarah Polley. He has filmed in some of the world’s wildest places, including the Sahara, the deserts of Jordan and Iran, the north Atlantic, Canada’s maritime coasts, the boreal forest and the high Arctic. Kevin’s recent projects include co-producing and writing In Search Of A Perfect World, about global human rights, and co-producing and co-directing the 12 hour documentary series Equator: A New World View, a Canada-German co-production that looks at climate change in the tropics.

Kevin’s latest feature documentary is Borealis, an exploration of the boreal forest made in collaboration with TVO, the National Film Board of Canada, Japan’s NHK and ARTE/ZDF in Germany. He also recently wrote and co-directed The Polar Sea, a 10-hour multimedia adventure for ARTE/ZDF and TVO. Among many awards, Kevin is the recipient of the Earth Prize from the Tokyo Film Festival and the designation of Canadian Eco Hero by the Planet in Focus film festival.