Donnie Edenshaw (Gaju Xial) has lived on Haida Gwaii for his entire life. He comes from a large family of carvers, including his father Jim Edenshaw, his brother Freddie Wilson and his brother-in-law Sean Brennan.
Donnie artistic expression started at the age of three when he started to participate in the traditional dances.This he credits to his intimate knowledge of the Haida dances, songs and stories that surround him. Everything he creates as a visual or performing artist is his personal and cultural testimony to a whole constellation of visual and linguistic realities that have culminated following centuries of Haida thought and life.
At the age of 10, Donnie started to construct his own art. It started with him producing simple sketches of his father’s Argillite pieces. Once he became familiar with the forms, he moved onto actually carving the soft black stone. He training was watching his father, and then later he participated in Christian White’s apprenticeship program. After mastering Argillite he moved his artistic expression onto carving wood and ivory, and then to gold and silver jewelry, making his artistic abilities stretched onto numerous mediums.
Donnie credits both of his parents for his development in art. In particular, Donnie’s father encouraged him to develop his own style, to progress the Argillite craft and take his art to a new level.
“I am glad both of my parents are Haida. My mother and father kept me going. They taught me the real stuff and supported me doing art. They kept it fun, but they also impressed upon me that carving would be something useful in my life. When I was a teen, carving gave me a reason to be home, a reason to develop as an artist. There were valuable lessons and because of them I am a carver, a singer, and a dancer.
There is something about being Haida. By comparison to other nations, a lot of people know about us. While other people have adopted Haida Gwaii as home, I’ve lived here all my life. All I do – the art, dancing and singing – is what I have to do. It is a responsibility to show people what we have. Just as I continue to learn about my culture – I have to teach others as well. “
A devoted environmentalist and promoter of Haida culture, Donnie looks forward to the day that great longhouses will line Haida Gwaii beaches as they did more than a century ago.