There’s a Haida saying, Sing ‘waadluxan gud gina sk’aadga gii gang, which means learn something new every day. “I learn something I didn’t know about my culture every single day I work here,” says Raven Ryland in her role as Cultural Ambassador at the Haida Heritage Centre.
Located at Kay Llnagaay or “Sea-Lion Town,” an ancient village site in Haida Gwaii, the striking Haida Heritage Centre is a dream-come-true for the Haida people. In 2001, before construction of the centre began, six poles created by master carvers and representing six of the southernmost villages in Haida Gwaii were raised. Those six villages are Skidegate (Hlgaagilda), Ts’aahl, Cumshewa, Skedans (K’uuna), SGang Gwaay and T'aanuu. The site immediately began attracting visitors and media attention from around the world.
Inspired by the structures that once hugged the shore in the ancient village, the stunning oceanside centre opened its doors to the public in 2007. Today, the centre is made up of a series of longhouses that accommodate the Haida Gwaii Museum, Performance House, Carving Shed, Canoe House, Bill Reid Teaching Centre, two multipurpose classrooms, a spacious Welcome House area, Eating House and a gift shop.
Weaving, Pole and Canoe tours offered on site feature stories that highlight the past, present and future of the Haida people. Visitors learn about the significance of poles, the importance of repatriating human remains to ancestral lands and the impact of the small pox epidemic of 1862, when the Haida population dropped from 10,000 people down to 600. Future goals at the centre include expanding an exciting Artists-in-Residence program as well as creating a cultural camp for local youth that would help them connect back to their land and culture.
Raven Ryland says she and other staff are guided by the centre's mission statement which reads: “Through the Kay Llnagaay Haida Heritage Centre we celebrate the living culture of the Haida. Through 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 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.”