Totem's historical timeframe begins on the morning of April 29 1792, when a special Mass was being held inside a small Gothic church near the waterfront. For God and country and a stipend, they were to set sail aboard the HMS Discovery, under the command of George Vancouver.
After navigating the Galleon infested waters around South America, Discovery was to rendezvous with the HMS Chatham, a Brigantine, and proceed north in the wakes of Captain James Cook, who had gone in search of the Nortwest Passage before his ill fated expedition to the Sandwich Islands, where he'd stared death in the face and lost.
Sailing the Inside Passage proved spectacular and when they came upon a village comprised of large cedar longhouses where totems stood akin to sentinels, they dropped anchors. To add panache, flags were raised in a regalia of colours.
For the Natives, the sight of two vessels with tall ascending masts was one to behold. Since weakness defies naught, they dressed into their ceremonial costumes as a way to impart the traits of the characters upon the wearers. For those who wore the imagery, hoped to become one.
With theatrics that imbued no fear, the Natives closed the circle around the ships, and as the crew listened to their sonorous chanting, they watched the aquiline figure of the lead canoe flap its wings with great force against the bow as they crossed each quadrant. The sound resonated like a thunderclap.
The water lapped at the ships like a cat to milk, thus facilitating the encounter. As the Harbinger, the Thunderbird was the first to come aboard and as he put a foot on each rung, he shook his feathers while opening and closing his beak. His coloured eyes opened and then shut to display a gleaming copper sheath before reopening to reveal the wearer's eyes.
The enigmatic figure proceeded to dance in a ritualistic fashion, sometimes clapping its wings on the wooden deck as if to cause thunder. Then as suddenly as he'd started he stopped. Standing with its wings tucked in, he proceeded to let out a cathartic cry as the Chief climbed aboard.
The man was enrobed with animal skins embellished with bas-reliefs on thin red cedar boards. The pictures were carved and painted, denoting a variety of figures. His headdress was that of the Raven, while the front of his épaulettes depicted the Thunderbird and the Eagle. His shins were protected with wooden strips, while skulls that portrayed the victims of his clan hung upside down from his waist. Vancouver thought of him as a living pictograph.
Unknown to Vancouver, a dastardly deed was perpetrated by Fire Iron, the ship's friar and his cohorts prior to their leaving the region. He turned a religious excursion into a bloody crusade. The repercussion of that event unleashed the tentacles of fate to reach far into the future, because of a symbiotic event that took place presently.
The West Coast Natives are portrayed as being more than Indian villages. They were a Nation with a pantheon of Gods, art, and architecture that was larger than life.
"Totem" is set on Haida Gwaii, the Charlotte Islands, in British Columbia. Although it delves into the supernatural, it's as a function of their past. It is what guided them then, and what makes them wonder now.