The Heiltsuk (Haíɫzaqv) Nation is celebrating the opening of their first Big House built on their traditional territory in 120 years this week.
The Heiltsuk Nation encompasses 35,553 square kilometres and is mainly centred on the community of Bella Bella (traditionally the village of Waglisla) on Campbell Island.
The Big House is a gathering place that the Nation says will bring neighbouring nations and guests together to potlatch, celebrate and share their culture.
“Moving forward this ceremonial house will be a place we name our babies, celebrate marriages, mourn our lost loved ones, and transfer the rights and privileges of Haíɫzaqv governance from one generation to the next,” the Heiltsuk Nation said in a statement.
Opening ceremonies and celebrations are taking place over five days, with neighbouring nations and guests coming from as far away as New Zealand. As many as 2000 are expected to attend.
Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett states, “it is a privilege to be apart of this process to know that we are building a legacy that will stand for another 700 generations. The big house is the heart of the Haíɫzaqv Nation.”
Construction of the Big House took 18 months and exclusively utilized red and yellow cedar from Heiltsuk Territory. Four house posts for the building were started in 2009 and were carved and painted by Indigenous artists.
The completed Big House is 86 feet across and 32 feet high and can seat up to 800 people.
“The Big House is a sacred place,” said Megan Humchitt, Councillor with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council. “It is a place where our ancestors come down from the spirit world and they are among us, and we move between worlds during the potlatch. The Big House is a place that’s for Haíɫzaqv. It’s a Haíɫzaqv place.”