Long ago, the Huu-ay-aht first ancestors “came down” from the heavens to their territory to live amidst the many animals and creatures, whom they treated as equals. The first man, named Nutchkoa, and the first woman, Ho-miniki were deities. Cedar carvings of these first ancestors were placed in front of the ha’wilth‘s (chief’s) house in the Huu-ay-aht village at Kiixʔin to welcome all visitors. These first ancestors reflect our history, and tell of the ancient and strong connections that exist between our people and nature.
The ancestors also illustrate the Huu-ay-aht principle of Hišuk ma c̕awak (“all is one”), and the essential natural balance of the world. For Huu-ay-aht, the connections between people, nature and the spiritual world are clearly evident and very strong. The sky, sea, forest, mountains and earth are said to be inhabited by supernatural creatures such as the Thunderbird, Giant Sharks, and the ya’i spirits of the mountains. Tribal and family histories recount numerous adventures of our ancestors’ encounters with such creatures, where they received spirit powers and treasures — that have since been passed down through many generations.
Over the centuries our ancestors grew strong and came to number in the several thousands. They learned from keen and patient observation of the natural world. This traditional wisdom was accumulated by our Ha’wiih (chiefs), who were responsible for the welfare of their people and for the stewardship of the abundant resources in their domain.
Unfortunately, a series of diseases, brought by colonizers during the late 1700s and early 1800s, killed nearly 90% of the Huu-ay-aht. At one point, they numbered less than 250 people. Since then, the Huu-ay-aht have faced many difficulties and challenges, and have struggled to survive and maintain the ancient and proud traditions of their ancestors. Today, we live in a world that is greatly changed from the world of our ancestors.
Hišuk ma c̕awak describes the essential balance of nature, or the “web of life”. Many Huu-ay-aht histories tell of the complex and strong relationship between humans and all of nature. In keeping with these traditions, the Huu-ay-aht, once again a self-governing First Nation, practice forestry for themselves through the Huu-ay-aht Development Corportation (HDC). Timber is harvested in an ecologically and culturally sensitive manner, and patches of culturally modified trees (CMTs) are left along with parts of the original old-growth forest. These act as cultural and biological legacies. Disks are cut from CMTs that are harvested for use in research to determine the type and age of the original cultural use of the trees.