On Saturday May 14th, under sunny skies, hundreds of spectators celebrated the Grand Opening of the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Centre and Bald Eagle Preserve Visitor Centre, amidst some of the most spectacular scenery in Alaska.

The cultural heritage centre was built to house treasures of the Tlingit People, and is a treasure in and of itself. Situated in Klukwan, just north of Haines Alaska, on the shore of the Chilkat River in the shadow of the majestic Chilkat Mountains, the modern structure rises up like a longhouse of old to welcome visitors to the treasure trove inside.

In 1949 a dream to build a museum that would attract visitors to Klukwan was born. Lani Hotch, the executive director of the non-profit society that runs the cultural heritage centre first heard about the project in the late ’70s. Hotch was instrumental in gathering the funds required to make the building possible and fulfilling the dream that started decades earlier.

“(The idea) is to preserve, share and perpetuate the Tlingit Culture,” Hotch ways.

The cultural heritage centre includes the Bald Eagle Preserve Visitor Centre, as well as a classroom, office space and museum work space and a gallery.

“It provides a safe place to store and display clan treasures, such as clan owned crest objects,” Hotch says.

Inside the main gallery, a sculpture called The Ever Present Spirit that Resides Within Everything, Through Everything, Even in the Heart of Glaciers keeps watch over the world famous Whale House, consisting of the Rain wall screen, and four carved  house posts as well as other exhibits below. The sculpture welcomes visitors with arms flung wide and multi-coloured face. It is poised above a cultural landscape map that illustrates the ancestral boundaries of the Tlingit.

The sculpture is similar in appearance to the clan crest found on the lower panel of the Whale House exhibit.  The colours represent both the splendour of the aurora and the dancing colours of glacier ice. The headdress is a pair of hands that resemble feathers as well as glacial seracs, and signifies the calving of glaciers.

The sculpture was created by David Svenson, a neon artist from California. Carved from red cedar, with a face of cast glass, the sculpture gets its colourful face from strategically placed neon tubing.

The main gallery includes a variety of interesting displays, including photo montages and interactive computer displays, and the whale house.

The Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Centre and Bald Eagle Preserve Visitor Centre is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on Sundays.

This is an ideal place to learn about Tlingit culture, view interesting and beautiful artifacts and learn about the bald eagles who congregate along the river by the thousands in November.

For more information contact Lani Hotch at 907-767-5505 or go to JilkaatKwaanHeritageCenter.org