Haida Gwaii: The Board Game

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This article was featured in this month’s Northword Magazine.


Navigating turbulent seas in search of fish; warring with neighbouring families and villages; displaying your wealth and power through totem poles and potlatches. These are just a few elements of everyday life for the pre-contact Haida people, and now the inspiration for a Haida Gwaii strategy board game.

Nang K’uulas, or Patrick Shannon, developed the first version of his Haida Gwaii game during while staying on T’aanuu, a Haida village site in Gwaii Haanas, as part of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen program. Watchmen spend months at a time in the park, where there is little connection to the outside world other than the people who come to visit.

“Being immersed in a place that your family once lived and being surrounded by the energy of all those that came before, truly rooted me for the first time in my life,” says Shannon.

Without the distractions of internet, TV, or cell service, Shannon spent much of his time delving into the cabin’s library, learning more about the history, stories, and the many villages that once dotted every shoreline of Haida Gwaii. This newly-gained knowledge inspired Shannon’s creative side. “By sunset, in my sketchbook, I had the beginnings of a board game.”

With little to work with by way of materials, Shannon gathered up what he could find around the cabin to develop a first edition. A single pencil, an empty cereal box, a repurposed deck of cards, a stack of leftover pamphlets from 2013’s legacy pole raising, and rocks were used for the original game pieces. “On several occasions, I had to barter with visitors for more supplies,” says Shannon. “It made me feel very old school Haida.”

Once construction was complete, Shannon began beta testing with his fellow Watchman Nick Gladstone. “I knew that if he got bored, then I better make the game better,” says Shannon. Through these early trials, the game evolved into a fully-fledged Haida Gwaii strategy game.    The game, called by its working title, “The Village People,” is built around the traditional practices and ways of life of the Haida people, and uses a board directly inspired by Haida Gwaii’s geography and waterways. Players begin the game as a Haida family in a time before contact, and start with a randomly selected village. The goal of the game is to become the most respected family by trading, expanding your villages, building longhouses and totem poles, gathering resources, warring, and potlatching.

It’s been two years since Shannon sketched out the original prototype at T’aanuu, and in that time it has been played over 25 times. “Each time the game has been played, it’s evolved,” says Shannon. “Input from other players, unexpected scenarios, and donated game pieces have shaped it into something that is just so cool to play, and it gets better each time.”

As the game evolved, Shannon has explored its potential as a teaching tool for schools and the general public alike. With hopes to one day develop the game in partnership with Haida Gwaii language authorities, the game could be a beginner’s gateway to the Haida language. “I would also like to provide information on historic villages, highlighting the clans and history of each place,” he says.

“The Village People” will continue to be tested until the mechanics are fully worked out, and then Shannon is planning to self-finance and produce a limited run of copies to go to schools, and be made available for purchase.

“I just want to complete it and see how the response is from the community,” says Shannon. “Making sure that it’s respectful and supported would be vital if I were to ever go larger with it, but the potential is there.”

— Pete Moore

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Haida Nation Feature

This past week I’ve been honoured by the Haida Nation who have featured me in their Haida Laas (national journal), the original article can be found here.


When you see Nang K’uulas “The Boss” Patrick Shannon in his hometown of HlGaagilda Skidegate, he has an easy stride that oozes confidence. But that was not always the case, he says, while on the phone from Toronto, one cool morning, this November.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged,” he said, about his very early years on Haida Gwaii. But that changed when he returned home after an extended time in Vancouver attending high school, graduated on Haida Gwaii, and went back to Vancouver and immediately went to work in the film industry, learning and teaching himself the skills he needed while working on various media projects. On his return home, he found a lot more people involved in the culture and language, and, in very public and innovative ways. And, it was then he reconnected with his family, culture, and nature.

He laughs when asked what he does? “Even my parents don’t know what I do but they are proud of me,” he said. His success has piled up but not through easy means, he has hustled, suffered, and worked hard to become an artist, filmmaker, photographer, and graphic designer.

The city still shows through in his dark-rimmed glasses, groomed beard and his fashion sense. Nang K’uulas is fun, personable, and passionate about what he does and the world is noticing and he’s taking it all in – slowly and methodically. Behind his style is a well-crafted creative and socially conscious mind, filled with intent and a desire to collaborate and make meaningful connections with others.

“I’m surrounded by all of these amazing people and artists,” he said. That community and Nang K’uulas’ natural networking paid off in Toronto where he has just finished a short video and photo shoot for an Indigenous fashion line.

It is through connections like these that he heard about an opportunity with the Canada Council. The Council was sponsoring five artists from Canada to attend The Salzburg Global Forum as part of 50 Young Cultural Innovators gathering from around the world.

Nang K’uulas made the cut and ended up in Europe ensconced in a rococo-style 18th-century castle at Scholoss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria.

The Salzburg Global Forum is held over five days and provides innovators with opportunities to network with other global leaders and creators, develop their entrepreneurial visions, expand their skills and to push boundaries. This project is in the fourth year of a 10-year initiative.

The coolest thing that happened in Salzburg, Nang K’uulas said, besides being at the film location for the Sound of Music, was on the front lawn of the castle. There he taught a group from around the world the Haida national anthem, also known as the Lyell Island song.

“It warmed my heart,” he said, hearing the different voices ringing out over the well-groomed gardens in a faraway place. The group later grew to over 50 voices singing in the palace and he says he felt the solidarity and pride of those in attendance. “It was amazing,” he says, breathless, and still in awe of the moment.

Nang K’uulas is no stranger to winning awards and he encourages youth to be part of the art circuit – he mentors and involves young artists in his digital and print design, and photography and video production work. He does workshops in rural and urban areas from Skidegate to Vancouver, to Toronto, and beyond. His annual gig with the Haida Gwaii Youth Assembly is always engaging and goes a long way to fostering a love of technology and the arts in the youth.

His past awards include 2013 – Emerging Innovator, Project Gwaii (Ashoka Changemakers and American Express); 2015 – Social Innovation Finalist, Project Regen (Futurpreneur Canada, Thrive North Business Challenge); 2015 – Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, EVIL Patrick by Design (BC Aboriginal Business Awards).

Nang K’uulas hopes to create change and increase capacity among the younger generations of up and coming entrepreneurs in order to move his home from an extraction based economy to a more creative force.

“We have so much potential on Haida Gwaii, and in Canada, North America and the world,” he said. To prove his point Nang K’uulas is using all of the support and mentoring he has been given and paying it forward by inspiring people who wish to do extraordinary things with their brains, body, and spirit!

– Rhonda Lee McIsaac, Haida Laas