Tour helps move Kiixʔin restoration project forward

Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territories encompass some of the richest parts of Vancouver Island. Nestled along the coast line past Bamfield lies one of Huu-ay-aht’s most important historic sites – Kiixʔin.

Together with Parks Canada and the Huu-ay-aht Development Corporation, Huu-ay-aht First Nations is moving forward on a plan to protect, enhance and share this amazing piece of history. On Wednesday, a group, led by Huu-ay-aht citizen Stella Peters and organized by Elected Councillor Sheila Charles, toured the site and discussed future plans for it.

Kiixʔin is sacred because it is the site of the ancient capital of Huu-ay-aht. According to Huu-ay-aht’s ancient stories, the first man and first woman were dropped from heaven. The first man to appear was a deity named Nutchkoa. The woman was Ho-miniki, and she originated from the moon. She married one of the great Huu-ay-aht ancestors named Shewish.

Carvings of these first ancestors were erected in 1860 and stood proudly for decades in front of the Ḥaw̓iił house in Kiixʔin. These welcoming figures are now in the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria where they still welcome visitors in the traditional way. Replicas stand proudly welcoming people who come to the House of Huu-ay-aht in Anacla.

The Huu-ay-aht are believed to have moved from Kiixʔin in the 1880s, but it remains an important cultural site for the Nation. The welcoming figures were brought to the museum in 1911, and little has been done to the site since then.

Kiixʔin is believed to be the only site on the Southern coast of B.C. that contains undisturbed, standing remains of traditional First Nations longhouses. It is made up of four archaeological sites: the main village of Kiixʔin, including eight longhouses; the fortress site; a small midden; and a midden with remains of three houses. In 1999, Kiixʔin was officially designated as a National Historic Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is now in the process of developing plans to open the site to tourists interested in learning about local First Nations history and culture. But before they do that, it is important to ensure that the proper steps are taken to preserve the site.

The culturally significant area now has a trail leading to it, and so it is now more easily accessible by people. The group on the tour agreed that it is important to start planning because, as soon as people start arriving, the Nation needs to take steps to protect the site.

One of the main discussion topics was the creation of a boardwalk and viewing platform. The platform would be above the site and would allow people to see the remains of the longhouses without entering them. The boardwalk would then lead them around the site, still keeping them from actually entering the sensitive area. It was also mentioned that having a boardwalk around the site would strengthen the message that the area deserves respect as a sacred site.

The group also talked about the idea of creating a replica of the longhouses further down the beach. This would allow visitors to look at the authentic site, but also experience what the houses were like at the time.

There was some debate about whether efforts should be made to preserve what remains of the original longhouses, but most agreed they should be left in their original state and allow nature to take its course. They also agreed that much of the undergrowth could be removed so that the long beams and the corner posts could be more easily viewed.

In order to further protect the site, guardians would live at the site, much like at other parks. The group also said they would consider installing some kind of electronic monitoring, so the guardians can tell when someone enters the site. They would like to offer guided, interpretive tours, as well as interpretive signs for people who wanted to explore on their own.

Everyone agreed that before anything is done plans have to be put in place. They stressed the importance of making sure the site is ready for visitors before they welcome them.

The next step for the group is to review studies that have been done in the past, as well as looking at plans that have been discussed since the project first surfaced as an idea in the late-1990s.

Funding for the project would come from Parks Canada, with Huu-ay-aht First Nations matching their contribution. Also, the Opportunity Development Agreement signed between Huu-ay-aht and Steelhead LNG includes a commitment of $25,000 from Steelhead LNG toward the preservation of Kiixʔin.