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New website re-awakens thousands of years of Heiltsuk Nation voices

January 25, 2019
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A new website that illuminates thousands of years of Heiltsuk Nation voices and history is the result of more than eight years of collaboration between the Heiltsuk people, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria (UVic), the Hakai Institute, and producers from Greencoast Media.

Húy̓at: Our Voices our Land” (www.hauyat.ca) uses video, photos and stories to present an engaging overview of Heiltsuk connections to Húy̓at (How-yaht), one of an immense network of culturally important landscapes in Heiltsuk territory on the Central Coast of British Columbia. It is where the Heiltsuk have lived for millennia, learning from and caring for the land, plants and animals on which they depend.

From mountaintop to ocean floor, the Húy̓at website project documents the history of the Heiltsuk by integrating ethnoecological, archaeological, anthropological and audio-visual knowledge and techniques.

The archaeology and media team at work. Photo courtesy Nancy Turner.

Students from SFU and UVic collected much of this knowledge during archaeological digs and surveys.

SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky, academic lead for the project, says it grew out the community’s desire to document their connection to their lands and seas for their own communities and for others. The website’s integrated approach aligns with Indigenous worldviews, which see connections among people and their history that move fluidly across boundaries of space and time.”

Hauyat Bay Island. Photo courtesy Mark Wunsch-Greencoast Media.

Many Heiltsuk elders today say they have profound memories of their time growing up in Húy̓at—where they could freely be Heiltsuk outside of the oppressive time spent in residential schools and away from the watchful eyes of Indian agents and other forces of assimilation in the community.

“Heiltsuk identity is embedded in the songs, language, place names, oral traditions, ceremonies, archaeological sites and memories of Húy̓at,” says Lepofsky.

Says Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett, “With this publicly accessible website, we’re sharing our inseparable connection with our homelands as it holds true for all First Nations up and down the coast. We believe the Húy̓at website will become a great resource for schools and for people who are interested in better understanding First Peoples’ culture.”

The website is featured in an exhibit in SFU’s Bill Reid Centre on the Burnaby campus. As well, the Heiltsuk have placed a large touch-screen featuring the website in the Community School in Bella Bella where many Heiltsuk live today. You can also visit the website at www.hauyat.ca.

An aerial photo of Hauyat Bay. Photo courtesy the Hakai Institute.