The Haida Heritage Centre needs your help

I have worked in a few different positions with the Haida Heritage Centre and Gwaalagaa Naay Corporation over the past year. In that time I have fallen in love with the Haida Heritage Centre- everything that it is and everything that it has potential to become.

This place is magical.

Through the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay we celebrate the living culture of the Haida. Through our language, art and stories we share our relationship with the land and sea- that which shapes, nourishes and sustains us.

Kay Llnagaay protects and fosters Haida culture by reaffirming our traditions and beliefs, encouraging artistic expression, and serving as a keeper of all that we are. Kay Llnagaay is a place for the Haida voice to be heard. This is our gift to the world.

Kay Llnagaay guu Xaaydas Giinaa’ah ‘Laana gud uu Xaaydas giinaa’ah xaaynang.ngas t’alang Gaad ts’adsdll dii. Tl’l ‘waadluxan gud ad Xaaydas giinaa’ah Gii Gihl tllgaay ad siigaay Giisda id xaaynang.nga.  Kay Llnagaay guu Xaaydas Giinaa’ah ‘Laana Xaaydas giinaa’ah kyang.gaay ‘laa ga, ga stlinlas ging haajang. Kay Llnagaay guu Xaaydas Giinaa’ah ‘Laana Xaayda kil guudang.nga Gas ga. Aaw gina Tllgaay K‘aaysguuxan tina t’ang isdas iijii. 

I have struggled over the past year to understand why this amazing place doesn’t seem to receive the support I believe it deserves. I think there are some misconceptions about the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay both on and off Haida Gwaii.

I am writing this blog out of frustration and out of the desire to change peoples perceptions of the Haida Heritage Centre.

One of the biggest mis-understandings, even within our own community, is that the Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre are one and the same. We are two completely separate organizations. We come together and support each other, we work together and yes- we are in the same building, but we have different mandates and separate finances. The Haida Heritage Centre is essentially the landlord and partner to the Haida Gwaii Museum. The Museum is located within the Haida Heritage Centre. The Heritage Centre also houses Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve offices and the offices of many other organizations. We rent space for events such as weddings, conferences, cultural lectures, post-secondary classes and workshops. Our main revenue comes through private tours, rentals and admissions to the Museum.

As a non-profit organization we struggle to find ways to staff the centre. During the off-season we have a skeleton team of a receptionist and a janitor, we hire tour guides for private tours. In the Summer we generally have a fairly large staff of high-school and university students. All of these positions are grant dependent. We are lucky enough to be supported by the Young Canada Works and Tricorp programs. Where possible our receptionists and mentors are also paid through grants. These grants help us to keep our doors open and provide employment, without them we would likely have one employee, no programming, no tours and no special events.

I find it very interesting how people perceive things without looking any deeper. We see the Haida Heritage Centre as this award winning Cultural Centre. When you hear the term “award winning” you immediately think of money. We are housed in a state of the art longhouse building and when people walk in they see a different kind of wealth- they see this incredibly rich culture. This building is 50,000 square feet- as the landlord, the Haida Heritage Centre is responsible for heating and lighting this magnificent space.

The Haida Heritage Centre has formed connections throughout the world through the work of people who believed in its potential. These connections have afforded us opportunities for media coverage that has in turn brought people through our doors and led to nominations for the awards that we have received.

Because of a limited advertising budget most people find out about us through our continual work with Aboriginal Tourism BC or by word of mouth and by seeing us in some form of media. Haawa to every travel writer who has come here and written us a review that brought people through our doors. Haawa to every person who has written us a review on trip advisor or told their friend to come visit.

This is where our support comes from- we aren’t big budget but we have big hearts.

Every-time I would come to Haida Gwaii as a kid the Museum was one of our first stops. My family and I would spend hours looking through the objects and examining the poles. When the Heritage Centre opened its doors that experience became so much better and more complete. It is easy to spend a full day exploring the Haida Heritage Centre and the Haida Gwaii Museum, taking in all there is to see and experience. I have noticed that a lot of locals don’t come to visit us, they don’t buy tickets to our fundraisers or show up to our events. I’ve thought about why this is and about how I could get them to come through our doors. I’ve witnessed these same people show tremendous support for our partner organizations and this has led to more confusion.

Why don’t they support us?

This is a question I have struggled with – the only thing I can think of is that they don’t understand how much we truly need their support. I find this heart-breaking. I have read so many documents from the planning stages of the Heritage Centre and been overwhelmed with the amount of work that went into building this place. It was said to have been the dream of the Haida people. I don’t want to see that dream fail. Not in my lifetime. When I get frustrated or feel overwhelmed in my job or upset that the Haida Heritage Centre does not receive the support I believe it deserves I turn to those planning documents. I have the original objectives of the Haida Heritage Centre taped on my office wall.

I also love to refer to our guiding values and statements:

The Kay Llnagaay Experience: The Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay has been a dream of the Skidegate community for over 40 years. Many dedicated hours of work by many people are finally bringing this dream into reality. The Kay Llnagaay Centre is a place for the Haida voice to be heard, a meeting and gathering place, a place of inspiration and sharing; a place to learn, teach, and work in ‘our way of life’. It is also a place to share with the world- to communicate who we are, what Haida Gwaii means to us… and to keep in mind that we do have secrets.

Vision Statement: The Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay will be a well-governed, self-sufficient cultural K’yuu (pathway to another world) celebrating Haida Gwaii and the timeless Haida Culture, sharing with the world in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.

Haida Values– The following values are the basis of the Haida way of life, and will thread through out the stories and experiences shared at the Kay Llnagaay Heritage Centre.

  • These lands and waters of Haida Gwaii give us our lives
  • Supernatural is natural, it is a part of our daily lives
  • We are a living culture- we’ve always been here and always will be
  • We cherish our families, communities and all life
  • Language, oral traditions, family crests, songs, and dances express and record who we are
  • We have our own laws and protocols, thousands of years old which give order and reason to our way of life
  • Our main law is respect for all life

Kay Llnagaay Values Statement

The Kay Llnagaay Heritage Centre Society believes in:

  • The strength of the Haida people. That strength comes from a respect for the earth and our people.
    Reaching out to partners to carry out our mission.
  • Honouring our ancestors by teaching our children where we come from. By passing on our Heritage we preserve and protect who we are.
  • Sharing our history, our beliefs and our way of life with the world.
  • Telling the story of our people through our art, language and oral traditions.
  • Conducting all aspects of the Kay Llnagaay operation with integrity, respect and the highest of ethical standards.
  • I want to see the same kind of enthusiasm, hope and work put into keeping our doors open as was put into opening them in the first place.

Instead of supporting the Haida Heritage Centre I have seen some locals dis-respect this incredible place. I have seen things left behind, food smudged into our chairs, tables, and carpets, things broken and not reported and rules disobeyed. It has made me and my co-workers angry to see this place treated that way. We as Haida Gwaii-ans set an example for how our visitors should behave. In my humble opinion, yahguudang or respect is not too much to ask.

When I first began as a receptionist at the Heritage Centre we were given a No Alcohol Policy to enforce. This policy was enacted because a cultural centre, a hub of cultural values and teachings is not the kind of place where alcohol should be consumed. Why should we as this amazing platform for the future be moving backwards? Addictions in First Nations communities have been and continue to be the cause of so much hardship. There are rental venues within a couple of kilometers of us that allow alcohol consumption. I never thought I would see this policy disrespected or questioned, but I have. When I heard that people didn’t understand this policy I was incredibly disheartened. We need to move forward and allowing alcohol to be served in a cultural institution, in my opinion, is a step backwards. Please understand that our policy is not personal, it is because of a history of abuse, cultural suppression, loss and addiction.

I apologize if I am ranting. I guess I just don’t understand. I don’t understand when locals complain about paying admission to support us and dis-respect our policies.

Do they want us to fail? Am I being ridiculous? I don’t know.

I have felt this blog coming for a long time. It may seem like I am complaining. Like I’m begging for money or donations. But that’s not it at all.

Of course, I want to see you buy tickets to our events, come out and support us at our fundraiser concert on August 14th and the 7th annual Kay Anniversary on August 15th. But more than anything I want this place to be respected for all that it is and all that it has potential to be- I want people to understand and support our goals.

I hope that things change, I hope that my fellow Haida Gwaiians begin to understand and support the values and beliefs of the Haida Heritage Centre.

I believe in the Haida Heritage Centre’s ability to become the cultural hub of Haida Gwaii and I think you should too.

Haawa for reading.

Blog written by: Michaela McGuire, Project Officer for Gwaalagaa Naay Corp. (Haida Heritage Centre Management) & Intern Curator for the Haida Gwaii Museum.

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