Museum: Eating and Performing Houses

More pictures today from the Haida Heritage Centre, moving northward from the Welcome House of yesterday’s post.  Ga Taa Naay is the Eating House and holds the cafeteria (pictured above). Gina Guuahl Juunaay is the Performing House and holds a performance centre configured like an old style house with a sunken floor – these house depressions are still visible at some of the old villages, like the second image in this post of mine from SGang Gwaay in June. Both of these houses, like the others, has a pole in front. I finally found the information I knew must exist about the poles (in a less than obvious place) and so can include that in this post too (I will edit yesterdays post and insert the relevant information there too).

I don’t have an interior shot of the Ga Taa Naay (it was closed when we visited this time), but in the corridor next to it, I did take a picture of some of the traditional food on display including salmon, beach asparagus (Salicornia), berries, clams and other food, so that will stand as the view of the interior. I have eaten at the cafeteria, and the food is good – unlike some institutions that you want to avoid this place serves decent fare, though sadly no beach asparagus that I could see.

Ga Taa Naay pole detail – Grizzly Bear


The pole in front of this House represents the village K’uuna Llnagaay also known as Skedans. It was carved by 7idansuu (Jim Hart) which gives another connection for me to archaeology as his son Gwaliga has been working on the archaeology projects in Gwaii Haanas the past couple of years when I have volunteered there. And, his assistant Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas did some of the seminal work on culturally modified trees 30 years ago, work that I followed up a year or two later with some studies along the Yakoun River. So, this house has these faint personal connections for me, which makes it all the more interesting. Below is the information from the Haida Heritage Centre website, which for me does not display properly using either of  two different browsers, so I am including it here next to pictures of the pole so you can see the figures and their descriptions in one place:

Location: Ga Taa Naay – Eating House
Carver: 7idansuu (Jim Hart)
Clan: Sdast’aas
Assistants: Wade Collinson, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

The figures from bottom to top:
Xuuajii or Grizzly Bear
• Two-Finned Killer Whale
Maat or Mountain Goat
• Xuuya or Raven
Kung or Moon with Taawla or Rainbow and Kwiiawah
or Cumulus Cloud
Gina Ga ga kyahts’as or Watchmen

Looking south from Gina Guuahl Juunaay the Performance House


Gina Guuahl Juunaay is to the north of the Eating House and represents the village of Hlkinul Llnagaay or Cumshewa. There were very low light conditions inside it, and uneven light too, so my pictures required quite a bit of processing, a kind of processing I have not mastered yet and it shows. But you will get the idea I think. There are two oval doors to the outside on either side of the pole which must be to allow traditional performances and practices to occur when the space is being used for formal cultural practices. Below is the information from the website and one of the things it demonstrates is the formidable abilities of many of the Haida leaders – this pole is carved by Guujaaw who wears many hats, including being elected as President of the Council of Haida Nation for many years now and thus the political leader of the Haida in their dealings with government and industry. If only more nations had highly accomplished artists as their Presidents, the world would likely be a better place.

Location: Gina Guuahl Juunaay – Performing House
Carver: Guujaaw
ClanGaagyals KiiGawaay of Skedans
Assistant: Reg Davidson
Apprentices: Gwaai Edenshaw, Wayne Edenshaw
and Jason Watts

The figures from bottom to top:
ChaaGan Xuuajii or Sea Grizzly (with Human)
Hiilanga or Thunderbird transforming into Human
St’aw or Owl
• Guud or Eagle with Hlk’yann K’uust’an or Frog
Gina Ga ga kyahts’as or Watchmen with SGaana
or Killer Whale

Curtain near the performance space


This is one of a series of eight posts about the Haida Heritage Centre, the others can be found through this link.


To open larger versions of the images below, click on any one of them, use the arrows to  navigate and escape to return to this page.



Canon 5Dii, Nikkor-N (pre-AI) 24mm f2.8 lens (except food shot – Canon 50mm f1.4 lens), ISO640 out of doors, ISO1250 indoors (except food shot ISO100).


16 thoughts on “Museum: Eating and Performing Houses

    • Hi Karen – I am glad you react to it that way,
      For me such feeling arise partly from the context of Haida culture reasserting itself on the islands. The kids that grow up with this kind of thing surrounding them are going to be feeling that their culture is not only fine, but something to be proud of.
      Sadly, Canadian institutions in the past did not have pride and interest and acceptance and tried to bring the Haida and other First Nations down to their level.


  1. Pingback: Museum: Canoe House, Bill Read Teaching Centre, Carving Shed « burnt embers

  2. This is a photographer’s paradise and you’ve done an excellent job, documenting the art which incidentally I love. We have an Eagle bought in Nanaimo that still hangs in our dining room. The two images that really stand out today are the second and fourth of the larger images. Very different in presentation and processing but equally effective.


    • Thanks so much Andy. It is great art, and these poles are carved by some of the best artists. We have a Tahltan bear mask in our dining room. I also very much like the textiles – it was one of the great things about going to the potlatch was to see all the different forms of art being worn and danced – so many people have wonderful things to wear on special occasions.


  3. The poles are very interesting to me because I just finished photographing some from the RMSC collection recently. The largest was about 10 feet tall and is on display, but there were several smaller ones as well. They were all carved from Northwest Coast tribes and all were in beautiful condition, not being subject to outside elements. They’re all beautifully creative and very expressive. Nice shots, btw, too.


    • Hi Ken – that is very interesting. Ten feet is getting to be a substantial pole for a distant collection.

      Are they all wood, or are some argillite (a black stone that only the Haida had in the right form for carving)? Is there an online catalogue at the RMSC where more information can be found?


      • All of the poles I shot were wood, some painted, some natural. After all the articles are shot and the files are edited, I make jpgs for the catalog and then the Museum places them on line. However, it could be months for the photos to go online and if some of the items are re-patriated, they may never go on line. I’ll find out more about that process later.


    • Me too! They are fabulous works of art by some very talented artists. Totem poles is a misnomer that I think arose from some of the totemic carvings in the south Pacific. These are crest poles – the chiefs that erect the poles, carve them, or commission them can only have crests on them that their clan has the rights too. So, these poles are much more like a Coat of Arms among European nobility – they tell a story, signify history and assert rights that go with that history, and so on. They are imbued with a great deal of meaning.


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