Heiltsuk Opens Historic Big House

Today is the official opening with blessing ceremony of the Gvákva’áus Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk big house) named by Chief Marilyn Slett in Bella Bella (Waglisla), British Columbia.

This five day event is a momentous occasion of celebration with over 3,000 guests who will join in ceremony, song, witness dancers, and a feast of coastal delicacies to experience the power of a people in their rightful place.

Members of the community worked 10 hours a day, six days a week to complete the painting that fronts the big house, which is 32 feet high x 82 feet wide. The logs chosen for this project were all hand picked and locally sourced.

While watching the progression of the big house, Chief Slett felt it came with a deep emotional impact and that the external transformation reflected a deeper renewal for both herself and the community.

Contributing to this project was Phil Gray (Tsimshian/Cree) as well as Christian White (Haida) whose commissioned totem pole will be unveiled tomorrow on October 14th, 2019.  Although the Haida and Heiltsuk once warred against each other, eventually they made peace with a treaty, and the Haida gave them a right to dance what they called ‘the Haida dance’.

As “the heartbeat of the community“, the big house is central to many important life events, such as naming ceremonies, weddings, transfer of power, or naming ceremonies, which are oral traditions essential to keeping the culture alive.

Elder Liz Brown shares: “Our ancestors believed that there were three values that Heiltsuk hold in order to be a really good community.  The first one is to be respectful, the other one is to share what you have with each other, and the last one, is to work together.  And those values brought us to where we are today.

The Gvákva’áus Haíɫzaqv signifies a changing future for the Heiltsuk people – a future that is empowering and well-earned.

For more details, view the story video here.


Excerpts courtesy of the The Narwhal.