Several giant cedar logs were blessed with eagle down by hereditary chiefs from Heiltsuk (Bella Bella) Nation at the Pioneer Log Homes of B.C. site at Sugar Cane this week.
The logs are being used to build a traditional Big House, which the Heiltsuk have not had in their community on B.C.’s mid-coast since before contact.
“It has been a dream of our older chiefs to have a Big House built for the nation and now we are living that dream,” Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt said as he and the chiefs toured the Pioneer site.
“To see it come to fruition is an incredible inspiration. There’s a lot of emotion here today.”
Dressed in full regalia, cultural advisor Williams Housty opened the blessing ceremony Tuesday, explaining that eagle down is one of the Heiltsuk’s sacred items used to bless people and places.
“Whatever eagle down touches, it will give power and strength coming from the great eagle,” Housty said, recalling that one of the former chiefs reminded them to make sure and bless everything when they began building the Big House so it would have a long life.
Pioneer Log Homes founder Bryan Reid Sr. said the Big House is the first thing his company is building for the Heiltsuk and the fact members of the community travelled all the way to Williams Lake was significant.
“This is quite the occasion, having them come here to bless the logs,” Reid said. “Three years ago they had a ceremony with me in their community. It was quite emotional.”
All of the logs were harvested in Heiltsuk territory in an area that was a sacred site on the inner coast at Spiller Inlet, Humchitt said.
Hereditary Chief Ken Campbell said his community’s young people are also excited about the Big House.
“Right now we use our community hall for all the things that we will be doing in the Big House, such as potlatches, marriages, adoptions and celebrations,” Campbell said, noting the new building will have two entrances — the traditional round hole at the front and big doors at the back.
Heiltsuk Tribal Council member Pamela Wilson said the community is self-funding the building of it, and one of the projects supporting it was an historical timber sale by the nation.
“Under our negotiations with the federal government we also received a contribution in good faith in relation to reconciliation,” Wilson said.
The tribal council as elected leadership works in collaboration with the hereditary chiefs, recognizing as a community they need to be united, explained.
“Our hereditary chiefs are our true stewards of the land and they governed prior to contact,” Wilson added. “That attitude and integrity of our relationship has made us very successful as a nation.”
Pioneer master builder Joel Roorda is overseeing the installation of the project and is working with a two-man crew.
Roorda said the logs will be transported on a 53-foot trailer, down the Bella Coola hill, and then barged north to Bella Bella, which will take a few days.
Wilson and tribal council member Trevor Hall presented Williams Lake Indian Band elder Virginia Gilbert with a gift as she gave them a traditional welcome to WLIB territory, said a prayer for them.
Housty said building the Big House is a big step for the Heiltsuk.
“A lot of them had a rough stretch with the residential schools and a loss of language, but our culture’s finally starting to come back,” he said. “When we have this structure built in our community we will have a place we can call our own where we are free to practice our culture our community can flourish again.”
A foundation for the Big House is being poured this week in anticipation of it being erected in early June, Wilson said.