Vancouver Island lies along Canada’s West Coast, and is famous for its lush and abundant rainforest. The Pacific coastline of Vancouver Island is also renowned for the unique culture and traditions of the Nuu-chah-nulth speaking First Nations (formerly known as “Nootka”) who have flourished here for thousands of years. It is one of the world’s richest coastal temperate forests, featuring towering hemlock, balsam, spruce, cedar and fir trees nurtured by the warmth, fog and rain of Pacific Ocean currents, and fed by countless rivers and streams flowing from majestic snow-capped mountains.
The traditional territories, located between Bamfield and Port Alberni, of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, encompass some of the richest portions of this remarkable environment. Islands, bays, beaches, streams, rivers, and vast forests, hills and mountains, all form part of this remarkable landscape.
The Huu-ay-aht First Nations have a long and proud history in our traditional territories. Our history extends back to the beginning of time, and tells of many great people, adventures, traditions and deeds.
In the past, our ancestors drew all they required from nature’s abundant bounty. Offshore, the ocean supplied halibut, cod, snapper, herring and other fish, as well as seals, sea lions, and whales. When the tide was low, mussels, clams, chitons, urchins and more would be collected and eaten. On land, many plant foods, including a wide variety of berries would ripen and be gathered. From the summer through late fall, five species of Pacific salmon returned to their spawning rivers, where our people went to the rivers to catch, smoke and dry the fish in preparation for the coming winter. Throughout the year, land mammals, including elk, deer and bear, were hunted for their meat and fur. We lived in close harmony with nature and drew all we required for living from what nature provided. Today, we continue to believe in a close relationship between the spiritual and natural worlds.
Fundamental to understanding our culture is the concept of the Ḥaw̓iiḥ and the hahoulthee. The Ḥaw̓iiḥ (chiefs) are responsible for the welfare and well being of their hereditary lands, the hahoulthee (chiefly territories), and for the extended families of which they are leaders. The current Tayii Ḥaw̓ił (head chief) of the Huu-ay-aht is Tl’iisin, Chief Derek Peters.
Our histories relate that we have occupied our territory since time began. According to one Huu-ay-aht account, the first man and the first woman appeared in the Huu-ay-aht domain where they “came down” from the heavens. The first man to appear was a deity, and his name is “Nutchkoa”. Carvings of the first ancestors were placed in front of a Ḥaw̓ił’s house in the Huu-ay-aht capital at Kiixʔin (see picture). The first man, Nutchkoa, is carved with his arms outstretched, watching for the Huu-ay-aht at the beginning of time and beckoning them home. He is ready to haul up their canoes and invite them inside for a great feast and potlatch. At that time, the Huu-ay-aht were part human and part bird. The woman’s name is Ho-miniki and she originated in the moon. She married one of the great Huu-ay-aht ancestors named Shewish, long ago.
In the Huu-ay-aht way, these carvings represent all our Ḥaw̓iiḥ and ancestors, and portray many things. These first ancestors reflect our history, and embody the ancient and strong connections that exist between the Huu-ay-aht and all of nature. Huu-ay-aht stories tell of how the spirits of humans are still closely related to the spirits of many other creatures.
The ancestors’ carvings personify the Huu-ay-aht Ḥaw̓iiḥ, people, and their traditions, as they extend a welcome to honoured guests to their territory. These carvings were erected at Kiixʔin, around 1860, to welcome visitors from the Makah Nation to Huu-ay-aht territory. These massive carved figures now grace the main entrance to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, where they still serve their traditional purpose of welcoming guests.
Kiix̣in (pronounced “kee-hin”) is the site of the ancient capital of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. It is the only known site on the southern coast of British Columbia that contains the undisturbed, standing remains of traditional longhouses of a First Nations’ village. Located on the coast at the former IR#9 (Keeshan) on the southeast shore of Barkley Sound between Bamfield and Cape Beale, the site has four distinct archaeological sites: the main village of Kiix̣in, including the standing remains of eight house; the fortress site; a small midden; and a midden with remains of three houses. The Huu-ay-aht moved from Kiix̣in in the 1880s, and the village has been untouched ever since.
Kiix̣in was officially designated as a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1999.
We are in the process of developing plans to allow tourism to Kiixʔin and it is under consideration for commemoration as a heritage site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Visitors to Kiix̣in will enjoy a unique experience.
Please see the Huu-ay-aht Development Corporation’s website for updates concerning cultural tourism programs at Kiix̣in.