Haida Manga


Aboriginal Times


Self Portrait by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
One needn't be a high-powered business guru to succeed in the export industry - just ask Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, who values artistic challenge far above sales charts and market analysis.

That's not to preclude success, though - in the past two years, his sales have grown from zero to 100,000 units, earning him top-three ranking (August 2006) in Japan as an art importer.

"The Canadian market has developed a sense of familiarity about its consumption of Indigenous Identities," says the B.C. artist. "Copying the current formulae to replicate some degree of commercial success as an indigenous artist is not a creative challenge. Reaching outside the familiar is a higher risk but the intellectual and, perhaps economic returns, are great."

He says his art expressed his story - not history.

"That strangely contorted term 'traditional' does not reflect my understanding of the potency and expansiveness of my Haida heritage," he explains. "I don't recall my great-grandmothers or my uncles mumbling mantras of traditionalism as a way to stifle change, growth or expression. I watched them innovate and adjust practices to achieve a greater sense of accomplishment. The Canadian colonial experience is amongst us and its limitations and expectations become part of the landscape in which we measure our successes. That we have actually survived the experience is a measure of our quiet strength.

"I give voice to our resilience through my art, a practice that I measure against a personal standard called UP: Undiluted Potential. I do this because I can."

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas in Aichi, Japan
(Photo: L. Rieb)
He freely admits to limited business skill, trading instead on a winning [sic], delighting in the surprising rewards that present themselves along his career journey such as mentoring Japanese readers in elements of Haida thought. And he loves a challenge.

"The doorways are fairly narrow. I must rely on the active engagement of foreign players in most aspects of product design and distribution," he says, adding, "New markets are already developing both domestically and in Europe, and I have plans to expand into Korea."

For exporter Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, the business pays the bills, but the art is all.