Through not only the display, but also the production, of traditional artwork, the Haida Heritage Centre is truly a living museum, perpetuating culture. See how this multi-function facility teaches community members old and new skills with which to build a new and brighter future.
Haida Gwaii … “Islands of the People”
For over 12,000 years Haida people have inhabited these islands and developed a culture made rich by the abundance of land and sea.
The Haida are a linguistically distinct group, with a complex clan system, and world-renowned artistic tradition.
During initial contact with Europeans, the Haida population fell from tens of thousands to about 500, through diseases like smallpox.
Today, there are 800 Haida living in Skidegate; all of whom are members of clans with their own chiefs, crests, stories and histories.
And it is here, in Skidegate, that Haida history and culture is being shared with the rest of the world.
In the summer of 2007, the Haida Heritage Centre at Qay'llnagaay opened.
“The purpose of the Heritage Centre I think is … its primarily a community facility … that it's here for us to tell our own story from our own perspective, and show that we're still a living culture, show that we're still alive. So we still carve poles, we still do our art, we still dance and sing and take out the canoes.”
The 46,000 square foot facility is a series of longhouses connected by interior walkways, and fronted with six traditional totem poles, representing 14 clans.
Each longhouse is named for its purpose …
From the Greeting House, where visitors are welcomed upon entrance …
…to the Saving Things House, where displays of Haida art and culture dating from pre-contact times to present day are showcased.
The museum not only displays Haida culture, it perpetuates it …
… the Heritage Centre is a living museum.
… a multi-function facility, where you'll find artists working, and passing their knowledge on … and students who are learning new skills and trades …
“Well … I'm working on a 30-foot totem pole, … It's just a collaboration of stories, of Haida legends that I've enjoyed … so I put frogs throughout the totem pole and I put a bear on here, killer whale, shark woman … and a raven bringing the light to the world is one of my favorite stories, so I put it on there …
“… I teach my artwork in order to keep my culture alive and make sure the next generation has something to understand who they are.”
The Loo Taas canoe, made by world-famous Haida artist Bill Reid, is kept in the carving shed and canoe house. It is paddled every year in races and on special occasions.
Most importantly, the Haida Heritage Centre is a place to honour and pay respect to the Haida ancestors; many whose remains rest here. For decades, the Haida have been painstakingly going through the process of repatriation, or bringing back ancestral remains.
“A bentwood box is taking a straight piece of wood, and cutting some grooves in it, and putting it on a steamer, and bending it, so it's one piece of wood made into a box … the boxes traditionally, they were to bury ancestors in …
“It was just about a dead art until repatriation came along, and we had to learn really quickly … how to make a bentwood box.”
Whether at the Heritage Centre or in the community, Haida culture is alive in Skidegate.
At the Haida Language Immersion Centre Elders spend countless hours recording their traditional Haida language, to leave a permanent record for future generations.
… and at a community dinner, traditional and contemporary Haida culture blend seamlessly in an evening of feasting, singing and dancing for young and old alike.
Haida pride permeates every aspect of life here … on ‘the Islands of the People'.