Ya’Ya (Charles Heit), Gitxsan Nation. Ya’Ya was born 1957 in Kispiox, BC. In 1970, Chuck Heit was introduced to the art of carving wood by his uncle, Chief Walter Harris. Shortly thereafter, he was accepted at the Gitanmaax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art and Design. By the young age of eighteen, Heit had gone from student to teacher. While teaching, he remained apprenticed to his uncle, working on large commissions; 30- 45 foot poles, panels and house posts.
In 1986, Heit and his mother were commissioned to create a Button Blanket, which was displayed at Expo ’86. Two years later, Heit and five other carvers were commissioned to carve the posts and beams for a longhouse on the nearby Kitwanga Reserve. Soon after, at the Vancouver Art Gallery Exhibition, titled Topographies, Heit’s Chief’s Chair was one of the most outstanding works. More recently, his work has been featured in exhibitions by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the American Federation of Arts in New York.
In his own words: “I began carving at a place called K’san in nearby Hazelton. I started an apprenticeship with my uncle that lasted about 4 years, also studied at K’san’s ‘Kitanmax School of Northwest Coast Indian Art’. I continued my apprenticeship at the same time. When I graduated from the art school, they hired me as an instructor I was 18 years old. Right from the start my uncle had me working on some of his many large commissions; And when I won my own commissions, I could only think of getting my uncle Walter to help me and he did so very happily and proudly ‘World Artists Symposium’ in Toronto. K’san wuz a great place to learn but I wanted to spread my works around. I started selling my carvings in Prince Rupert and then I moved to Vancouver for a couple of years.”
“When I got homesick I moved back to my Kispiox village. A while later I got invites to go to Ottawa and show them all how I can carve at the Canada Canoe Festival. On the way home the plane stops in Vancouver and I meet Robert Davidson. He wants me to help him with some big totems. So me and Reg Davidson started a 2 year ‘apprenticeship’ with RD. We made two 30-foot totems and a 50 -footer. All 3 ended up in Toronto. We also made masks for Roberts dance group. Next Robert wants my help with some more large totems for Pepsi Art Gardens in NYC? I wuz working on those until my uncle Walter called me and asked me to go to Ottawa with him to carve a 40 foot totem for Canada Day. So I quit working for RD and moved 3000 miles away. After helping my uncle, I stayed in the east and worked on a few of my own commissions, including a large blanket for Expo 86. About a year later I got invites to the ‘Native Business Summit’ in Toronto. I met some stone carvers from Six Nations Reservation. So I moved there with Benny Thomas and Vince Bomberry and they showed me all about rock carving. When I got lonesome for home I started heading west. Back to Kispiox. The centre of the world. I came home and briefly retired from the starvin art business. I got fattened up by hunting and fishing. That’s when I noticed my Gitxsan jungle wuz disappearing fast, so I got involved in LAND CLAIMS. Delgamuuk vs the Queen. I became a computer expert working with g.i.s. mapping equipment. I wuz also a teaching a few computer courses at the same time. Then one day I started carving again, I got invites to participate in an art show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. That was called ‘Topographies’ I made a real nice Chiefs chair for them to show the world. (This chair and another are both now on display at K’san) One summer I worked with my cousin Earl Muldon in nearby Kitwancool village. We were makin full size duplicates of some of the very best old totem poles in the world. I got to do work on three large poles that year. Real totems for real people. I continued to enter art shows in Vancouver and even made it onto the cover of two catalogs. Then I finally got to do a big carving that would stay in my own village. A large wall panel for our new school. Now that’s my favourite carvin!!?!!”