Big House opening on Oct. 13, 2019. (@HeiltsukBH/Twitter)

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years on B.C. central coast

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Chief Coun. Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation says it’s hard to put into words the excitement and emotion she feels at Sunday’s opening of the first ceremonial Big House in the territory in modern history.

The last Big House in the First Nation’s territory along the B.C. coast was destroyed 120 years ago and the community has been planning and fundraising to build a new one for decades.

The opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events like potlatches and the naming of babies, which had previously been held in a community centre, she said.

“It feels great, it feels surreal, it feels sometimes like a dream,” Slett said in an interview.

The community kicked off five days of celebration in Bella Bella on Sunday and expects as many as 2,000 guests to join them from as far away as New Zealand.

Gvakva’aus Hailzaqv, or House of the Heiltsuk, took 18 months to build and is constructed entirely of red and yellow cedar from the territory, including eight-ton and four-foot-wide logs with wood that was locally sourced and milled.

Indigenous artists have been working for 10 years to design, carve and paint four house posts that tell the origin story of the Heiltsuk people.

William Housty, cultural adviser on the project, said the opening is an important step toward cultural revitalization, following a history of oppression.

“Missionaries claimed that the (last) Big House was blown down in a storm. But none of our people ever believed that because they chose that area to live in because it was so well sheltered from the storms,” he said.

The Heiltsuk believe the missionaries knocked down the last Big House in their efforts to assimilate members of the First Nation, he said. It would be part of a series of efforts to erase Indigenous culture that also includes a federal ban on potlatches between 1880 and 1951.

Guiding builders on the construction of the Big House presented some challenges, considering no one was around 120 years ago to see the last Big House for themselves. But Housty said the First Nation has maintained a strong oral tradition that tracks the role of the Big House, supplemented by written accounts by fur traders, missionaries and others.

In one account, he said, the Big House is described as a living space. The rafters and house posts serve as the ribs and backbone of the structure, the front of the Big House is its face.

“It had the same sort of qualities we do as human beings,” he said.

The new build also breaks from the historic Big House in some ways, including measures to meet provincial building codes. It has about triple the capacity, with seating for up to 800 people and space for 1,000 if people stand.

“There’s a sense of pride knowing the dreams of so many ancestors are now being lived by our generation, people like my late grandfather who always talked about the Big House and how important it was aren’t here anymore,” Housty said. “Now we’re living their dreams.”

The total budget for the project was about $7 million and was backed by funding from other levels of government, including $2.5 million from the federal government. But members have also contributed, collecting donations at just about every potlatch and feast over the decades since the project was first imagined, Slett said.

“Going forward it’s a symbol of our strength and our resilience as people. I know it’s just going to make us stronger,” Slett said.

By Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

UPDATE: ‘Hold and secure’ at Elgin Park Secondary lifted

‘No evidence located to substantiate a threat,’ says Surrey RCMP

KPU’s Cloverdale campus to host open house Nov. 20

Registrants have a chance to win prizes if they sign up early

‘It felt good’: Milestone cross-country win for Fleetwood Park’s Jaiveer Tiwana

After winning the boys provincial championship, he’ll compete for a national title on Nov. 30

Fairs and markets aplenty in Delta this holiday season

Looking for artisan goods, baked treats and hand-crafted gifts? We’ve got you covered.

Funicular or affordable housing? City of White Rock to ask for input from residents

The city has between $7.78 and $14 million to spend on capital projects

B.C. to restrict nicotine content, bring in 20% tax on vaping products

Province will also restrict candy and fruit flavoured vaping products to adult-only stores

Union ‘not at all’ optimistic that transit strike will resolve before full work stoppage

Overtime ban could disrupt 10-15 per cent of bus service in Metro Vancouver

‘It’s been 12 years’: Father of murdered B.C. real estate agent pleads for mayor’s help

Lindsay Buziak was stabbed to death on Feb. 2, 2008 in Saanich. Her case is unsolved.

B.C. woman sends fight to reduce preventable medical errors to Victoria

Teri McGrath and South Okanagan senior’s centre members presented 150 signature petition to local MLA

B.C. First Nation Chief Ed John faces historic sex charges

John served as minister for children and families under then-premier Ujjah Dosanjh

Yelling at your dog might hurt its long-term mental health: study

Researchers find dogs trained using negative reinforcement are more ‘pessimistic’

Community uses loophole to paint 16 rainbow crosswalks after B.C. council says no

So far 11 rainbows are painted and five planned, all since council denied the first proposal in September

Adoption centre closes despite effort to save it; B.C. left with two agencies

Choices Adoption and Pregnancy Counselling in Victoria was set to close in April

Most Read

l -->