Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 20, 2009

The Haida Heritage Centre: A First Nations Historical and Heritage Destination

Throughout the world there is a renewed interest in the art, artistry, wisdom, and pragmatism of aboriginal peoples. The Haida of the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada are no exception.

As many nations begin to refocus and re-orient their societies, especially in terms of the challenges inherent in their physical environments and the growing urbanization of human communities everywhere, governments and non-governmental organizations are rediscovering and reaffirming the interdependent relationships to land and sea that “First Peoples” have always had.

Overview of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay

With emerging worldwide interest in West Coast Indigenous cultures, the new Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay (formerly spelled Qay’llnagaay) opened its doors to the general public on July 1, 2007 for its “soft opening preview season”. Visitors from all over the world have enjoyed a preview of this internationally significant showplace, and are giving rave reviews to this celebration of the living culture of the Haida civilization.

Chief Councillor of the Skidegate Band, Willard Wilson, announced the Grand Opening Ceremony for the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay would take place on Saturday, August 23, 2008. The Centre fulfills a dream of the Haida people for the past 40 years to share their living culture with the world.

The events which took place at the Opening included a clan parade, launch of the 3 new Haida canoes, the Official Ceremony, the raising of 2 new poles (the Heart of Canada Pole by Reg Davidson and an ancient pole originating from Skedans), Haida singing and dancing, and the Haida Play, Sinxii’gangu.

Stately Totem Poles and Much More

Six monumental totem poles representing the southern villages of Skidegate, Chaatl, Cumshewa, Skedans, SGang Gwaii, and Tanu, stand like sentinels in front of the Centre and are the works of artists Norman Price, Garner Moody, Guujaaw, Jim Hart, Tim Boyko and Giitsxaa, respectively. The 53,000 sq. ft. Centre resembles a series of longhouses, connected by interior walkways and atrium space. The design creates the feeling of a traditional Haida Seaside village and is similar to the general appearance of the village of Kaay Llnagaay or “Sea Lion Town”, which once occupied this location at Second Beach.

Components of the Centre

The Haida Heritage Centre encompasses the expanded and revamped Haida Gwaii Museum with its many exhibits, artefacts and audio-visuals, including a specially commissioned video about the Haida culture – “From the Time of Foam Woman”. Other exhibits deal with Contact and Conflict, the matriarchal society, the Potlatch, the repatriation story, as well as the Tree Gallery and Natural History exhibits. Apart from the museum, features of the Centre include a gift shop, canoe house, carving shed, performing house , The Bill Reid Teaching Centre and a small café. The Centre also houses the Parks Canada offices of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

Inside the Centre in the Pole Gallery are three ancient poles raised in January 2007. They are the Shadow House Pole from Tanu, The House with Fire Always Burning Pole from Tanu, and the Beaver Memorial Pole from Skidegate. These poles were carved in the 1870s and 1880s. The Trading House or Gift Shop promotes the work of local artists and artisans and offers a wide selection of Haida art, argillite carvings, silver and gold jewellery and paintings, along with fine books, and some T-shirts and souvenir items.

The Canoe House is home to the Loo Taas, a 50 foot Haida war canoe, carved by the late Bill Reid for Expo ’86 and paddled from Vancouver to Skidegate, as well as the newer fibreglass version, the Loo Plex. Hazel Stevens, matriarch of Bill Reid’s clan, named it Loo Taas (“wave eater”).

The Performing House is designed after a traditional Haida longhouse fitted with a central fire pit, dugout house pit-style seating, and large two-beam style Haida architecture. The traditional setting is ideal for storytelling and Haida song and dance performances.

The Eating House offers an insight into the gathering, preparation and preservation of traditional foods and will also offer Haida cuisine along with popular snacks and other light meals. Food displays such as “Our Food is our Medicine” show the dependence on food to address health issues.

The Carving Shed is a space available to Haida Carvers working on larger monumental projects such as canoes and totem poles. Last year the Carving Shed was used to carve three Haida dugout canoes from start to finish. These were the first canoes carved in Skidegate in over 20 years, since Bill Reid carved the Loo Taas. The Haida dugout canoes were carved by: Guujaaw with apprentices Jaalen Edenshaw and Tyler York; Garner Moody with Matthew Ridley and Burt Crosby; Billy Bellis with Tyson Brown and Robert Vogstad.

The Bill Reid Teaching Centre is the educational component of the Centre and includes classrooms for a wide variety of educational opportunities and studios for fine arts instruction. There is a partnership with Northwest Community College to develop some specific courses, workshops and programs to be taught at the Centre.

The Haida Heritage Centre has two meeting rooms/classrooms suitable for rental for workshops, meetings, classes and presentations. The 4,800 sq. ft. indoor amphitheatre, the Performing House, is also available for presentations, ceremonies, weddings, and other special events. This venue has already hosted wedding receptions, welcoming ceremonies and slide show/video presentations. The Vancouver Opera’s presentation of a West Coast take on Mozart’s The Magic Flute was performed here.

The Haida cultural renaissance can be witnessed inside and outside the Centre. Throughout the Centre almost $250,000 worth of contemporary Haida artwork can be viewed and compared to the works of master craftsmen from the past. Visitors can experience the continuum of all aspects of Haida art including canoes, coppers, argillite, totem poles, bentwood boxes, button blankets and jewellery, along with the styles and techniques of weaving and textiles. The Haida Heritage Centre is a showcase for the past, present and future of Haida art and culture. Hosting Special Events

The Haida Heritage Centre has already hosted some notable events. From June 24 – 28, 2007, the Centre was the Haida Gwaii headquarters for the highly regarded adventure race, Raid The North Extreme, with 23 teams of racers from several countries. The Centre also hosted events, which are part of the annual Skidegate Days celebration, including the Totem-to-Totem Marathon race in July 2007 and July 2008.

♦ In September 2007, the Centre hosted the American Indian Institutes’ Circle of Elders from different reserves in the U.S. and Canada. They met for workshops, discussions and meals.

♦ A special art exhibition “Plants and Animals through the Eyes of Haida Gwaii” ran from June 21 to July 31, 2008. It opened on National Aboriginal Day (June 21) and featured the wonderful work of local artist, Jonathan Bourque.

♦ On July 30 and 31, 2008, the Centre hosted a fashion show in the Welcome House. The show featured elegant fashion designs by famous Haida designer, Dorothy Grant.

♦ Sinxii’gangu (Sounding Gambling Sticks), a Haida play was performed at the Centre in May 2008 and was performed again on the evening of August 23, the Grand Opening. It is an original Haida language play by Jaalen Edenshaw and Gwaai Edenshaw. Original songs are by Vern Williams Jr., Gwaai Edenshaw and Nika Collison who also doubles as the choreographer.

Community Economic Development is a Benefit of the Centre

Well-known Haida leader and recent Order of Canada recipient, Miles Richardson, heads up the operations of the Centre. He notes the significance of this project for the Haida community of Skidegate, “This is really a new beginning – the Centre is the cornerstone for expanding the local economy beyond traditional resource extraction activities such as forestry and fishing to include the tourism and hospitality sectors.”

Skidegate Band Chief Councillor, Willard Wilson, stresses that “The Centre is an opportunity for the current younger generation of Haida to step up to the plate and make their mark in the world as they share their culture with visitors and members of their own community. We encourage everyone to tell their friends and relatives to come to Haida Gwaii and enjoy our renowned Haida hospitality while they visit our new Centre.”

Chief Wilson also notes “This wonderful Centre is the culmination of 15 years of planning and development work. The Skidegate community as a whole has played key roles throughout the process and the Centre is a reflection of our rich heritage, how we live today, and what the future holds. We are pleased to see young people from our community intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the complex and its programs.”

General Information

The Centre is clearly a “must-see” on the list of today’s international travellers. A variety of accommodations are available in nearby Queen Charlotte including small inns and lodges, motels and B&Bs. For information contact the Queen Charlotte Visitor Information Centre at 250-559-8316, e-mail: info@qcinfo.ca or checkout their website at www.qcinfo.ca.

♦ In the summer the Centre is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Parks Canada provides daily visitor orientations and evening presentations about Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in one of the classrooms at the Centre.

♦ Getting to Haida Gwaii is easier than you may think. Daily non-stop flights from Vancouver are offered by both Air Canada Jazz (2 flights in the summer) to Sandspit and Pacific Coastal Airlines to Masset. From Prince Rupert, BC Ferries offers several sailings each week and North Pacific Seaplanes has one or more flights each day.

♦ Hours at the Haida Heritage Centre from June 12 to September 18 are 10 am to 6 pm daily and from September 19, 2008 to April 30, 2009 are 11am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday.

♦ Admission fees (include both the Haida Gwaii Museum and the Haida Heritage Centre) are $12 adults/seniors, $9 for students and ages 13-18, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free for children under the age of 6. There is also a Family Rate of $50 for a maximum of 6 people.

♦ Guided tours are also available for an extra fee and you should allow at least 1 hour and 15 min. for the tour. Tours take place daily at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm beginning in the Welcome House. Visitors are given a detailed tour of the 6 poles, the Carving Shed, Canoe House, Performance House and Eating House. These informative tours cover a wide range of subjects relating to Haida culture, Haida Gwaii and Kaay Llnagaay. Throughout the tour there are opportunities for questions and dialogue between the guides and the public. The natural beauty of the site and the warm setting of the Centre provide a comfortable place for visitors and locals to interact. The guides’ laid back natural approach and cultural knowledge allow for an open honest exchange of cultures.

For more information on the Haida Heritage Centre, go to www.haidaheritagecentre.com or e-mail info@haidaheritagecentre.com. Telephone: 250-559-7885 or Fax: 250-559-7886

Photograph courtesy of and copyright of The Haida Heritage Centre

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