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If you were raised outside Treaty Settlement Lands (TSL) or are curious about Huu-ay-aht traditions, these are some frequently asked questions about cultural practices that we have gathered from other citizens. P

Please click on each question to get the answer. There is also a button at the end of the text to take you back to the top of the page. Topics 12 to 15 are independent subpages:

1) What is Eagle Down used for?

Eagle Down is used for cleansing. Down is a layer of fine feathers under the exterior feathers on a bird. First Nations use Eagle Down in ceremony to cleanse or seek success for the important business that is going to happen. For instance, on April 22nd, 2015, it was used as part of the official inauguration of Paawats Port Alberni. It is also used at potlatch to cleanse the floor before a function. Cleansing ceremonies are done as preparation for the good work in progress. Another example of cleansing is when getting ready for a potlatch. Quu-us perform ʔuusimč (prayer) in the river, at sunrise. Praying and cleansing, thanking Naas (the Creator) for the day and helping them to go through it well.

When the House of Huu-ay-aht was opened, 26 people were prepared for the occasion. Some may have noticed the black marks on their faces. This meant they had done the procedures of cleansing for the day. They had let go everything negative that might have been happening in their lives at that point. The black marks are made of ashes. The chiefs and their head singers or speakers are the only ones allowed to apply it. Coal and Vaseline are mixed to make it. When the dancers go home, they must wipe it off and burn the tissue or cotton pads used for that purpose.

People who perform Eagle Down ceremonies ideally complete this process as well. Otherwise, if they know the culture and live their lives in a good way, they can help. Once someone has been marked, he needs to stay until the end of the event. He cannot touch his face either.

According to Antonia Mills in the book “Eagle Down Is Our Law: Witsuwit’en Law, Feasts, and Land Claims” (1994, page xiii), this ceremony gives First Nations optimism. The feather cleansing can be performed only by people with a good reputation and who are culturally knowledgeable. It has been usually done by men, but Huu-ay-aht is slowly incorporating women nowadays.

2) What is Regalia?

Regalia means all our traditional outfits, i.e. hats, shawls, cedar dresses and headbands. Anything that is worn in ceremonies and cultural functions.

3) When is it appropriate to give it as a gift?

You can give regalia away any time. Usually, if you are going to ask about a cultural topic, to be taught about something, you bring a token of your appreciation to say thanks, whether is a jar of fish or regalia.

Other non-Huu-ay-aht people can buy them as souvenirs, always bearing in mind that they must be handled with respect.

4) What does a shawl represent and how do I care for it?

  • The shawl is part of the regalia worn to dance.
  • To wear it, wrap the length of the shawl around your body, tie the neckline and tuck both sides in the middle with a safety pin.
  • The design represents the family/house to which the person belongs to. You have to ask the head of your house for your design.
  • Shawls are usually black. However, they can be white, blue, or red.
  • Among our citizens, designs can include i.e. thunderbirds, bears, wolves, eagles or whales. They are sacred animals and deserve respect.
  • Make sure there are not decorations hanging or loose threads on your shawl. They can cause an accident.
  • When you dance, you are bringing the design to life with every movement.
  • A shawl must never be left unfolded on chairs or the floor.
  • Whenever you take it off, you must fold it carefully, keeping the design inside.

5) What is dancer etiquette?

Dancers should not wear their shawls until the time to dance comes. You must remove your shawl when going to the washroom or doing other activities such as taking pictures or eating. Dancers must take the shawls off their shoulders and carry them in one arm. Shawls are only worn behind curtain or on the dance floor.

  • While dancing in a potlatch, dancers preparing to dance should not be noisy or chat among themselves unless they are guiding inexperienced dancers through the upcoming steps.
  • Dancers must not wear street shoes.
  • It is forbidden to chew gum.
  • They must not touch their faces, make funny gestures or play with their hair.
  • If you have anything in your shawl or regalia hanging, you must check before dancing, because there are liability issues associated to accidents. If something falls off and someone else picks it up, the person might ask the family to correct it by paying a fine. The person whose regalia it fell from will get up and give a loonie or toonie to the host.
  • Two chiefs (Hawiih) or their wives can declare that there was a mistake and challenge it by requesting either an apology or another party.
  • If a dancer requires use of a walker and or have any mobility or health challenges, it is best to attend dance practice so that we can plan how the performance will be modified to accommodate your participation. HFN must always consider liability issues when planning any activity.

6) Dancing, singing and drumming

Dancing, singing and drumming are healthy, help to overcome trauma, increases your energy and gives you a sense of belonging. It is a way of regaining yourself and your cultural identity.

Children begin learning at Conception. Singing and drumming are introduced before children are born. They hear it while in the womb. Women who are expecting a child, however, must not dance. During functions, spiritual beings are called and bad energy is swept from the floor. Babies are so pure and susceptible that there is the risk of losing them to the spirit world. It is the responsibility of the grandparents to take care of children and determine what they are good at. If they are good singers, they will be encouraged to sing.

When Huu-ay-aht Singers/Dancers are invited to perform at any function including another Nation (i.e. Tseshaht), you can dance or sing. For instance, a person with a Huu-ay-aht father and Ditidaht mother may join Huu-ay-aht or Ditidaht. It is always good to ask for permission first to avoid embarrassing your family. With the dinner song, many women stand up to dance to honour previous relationships or because their children and relatives have ties with other Nations.

Huu-ay-aht like to encourage people to join them in dance (e.g. staff). Historically, Huu-ay-aht people travelled as far south as California and north up to Alaska and that implies that many people may unknowingly have something from Huu-ay-aht in their DNA and feel connected (Hišuk ma c̕awak).

7) Can I dance at home or only during practice and events?
You can practice at home. Please take into account that when you participate in an event knowing that singers do not have the right to use a song, it is inappropriate. You are only allowed to use a song when you have permission to do so. That can be granted once, be unlimited or just for a certain period. It is up to the chief (Haw̓iih) that owns the song. When a song is composed, it is made for and given to chief (Haw̓iih), only he can give permission for his song to be used.

8) How do I get a name?

Naming ceremonies happen when you appear to be in a new stage of your life. Names change with age, i.e.: babyhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. Relatives suggest the name change and the ceremony is performed by the head of the corresponding house. When enough people have asked for their names, he will either put on a dinner or a potlatch. He needs members of the community to witness the naming.

Each house has a certain amount of names available. They will select an appropriate one. If they do not know anything about the person requesting a name, because he or she comes from another place such as Calgary, they will ask questions to family members about his or her personality, activities, likes and dislikes.

Citizens can also take over a name after someone has passed or changed his. Remember to inform the relatives of the deceased and the head of the family prior using it.

9) What is a family house and who can inform me about which house I belong to?

A house is composed of several families whose lineage is associated to one of the hereditary chiefs. These chiefs are called the “Haw̓iih Council”:

  • Derek Peters (ƛiišin) –  ʔApwinisatḥʔ house
  • Jeff Cook (Yał luu a)- Yaałuuwaštak̕amałtḥ house
  • Phyllis Williams sitting in for daughter Victoria Williams (ʔuutstuʔaksa)- ƛamahuus house
  • Andy Clappis (Ciicaacistuł) – Kuukw’iis house
  • Tommy Happynook (hiininaasim) – Čačaaḥsiʔas house
  • Alec Frank (ƛaacmiik) – Maatsaas house
  • Theresa Nookemus – Ḥaw’eḥtak’amłatḥ house

Please contact the head of your family to obtain guidance on the subject. If you need to contact your head of house and do not know who they are or how to contact them, please call the office and we would be happy to assist you.

10) What is the difference between a potlatch and a potluck?
A potlatch has been used for different ceremonies such as coming of age for girls (first menstruation) and boys, celebrations of life, naming, handing down of a seat, wedding anniversaries, etc. A potluck is unofficial and more about people meeting and bringing different dishes to share.

11) Who were the wolves and why did they used to go to an island?
The wolves were young people with a special talent for ceremonies. Once they were identified, they were taken to an island until they received a song from Naas and came back home.

The wolves are not used very often. They are very sacred. They participate in certain ceremonies. For example, taking a person of high standing who has died to the graveyard.

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2 thoughts on “Culture

  1. This is amazing! Thank you so much for the brief run down. I had so many question answered that I’ve had no idea where to even begin asking. I’m 28 and just getting in touch with our culture and it’s nice to know what is and isn’t embarrassing for my family. I look forward to learning more and hopefully one day coming home to meet with my people and see our traditions in real life. I’ve always felt the calling to dance and learn to dance But I’ve been held back at other tribes jam practices or pow wows and this now makes sense, it was my ancestors guiding me in making the right decision to represent our house respectfully. I would love to learn about traditional regalia made for children especially little boys under 10 and girls that have already became of age (11-13)Is there a certain style for women as well in regards to ribbon skirts and jewelry? The closest I’ve been to any Salish culture is learning the culture of the Tulalip people which i appreciate but I know we have our own traditions I need to learn and pass down.

  2. Thank you for creating and sharing this information. As one who was born away, it helps much. The title of the page reads “Language & Culture”, but I didn’t find anything about learning Huu Ay Aht language. Could that resource be shared too?

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