Historic House of Numst’ in Bella Coola Valley to be restored

The House of Numst’ in 1982. (Photo submitted)The House of Numst’ in 1982. (Photo submitted)
Eliza Saunders took this photo of the original celebration. (Eliza Saunders photo)Eliza Saunders took this photo of the original celebration. (Eliza Saunders photo)
Tina Clellamin, Karen Anderson and Peter Siwallace participated in the building of the House of Numst’ in the late 60s. It is now scheduled for a major restoration. See story continued on pages 4 and 5. (Banchi Hanuse photo)Tina Clellamin, Karen Anderson and Peter Siwallace participated in the building of the House of Numst’ in the late 60s. It is now scheduled for a major restoration. See story continued on pages 4 and 5. (Banchi Hanuse photo)
The opening of the House of Numst’ was written up in the Williams Lake Tribune on April 15, 1970. The caption on the photo reads “Unmistakably Indian from here to Timbuctoo.” (Williams Lake Tribune file photo)The opening of the House of Numst’ was written up in the Williams Lake Tribune on April 15, 1970. The caption on the photo reads “Unmistakably Indian from here to Timbuctoo.” (Williams Lake Tribune file photo)
Peter Siwallace, one of the original builders, at the site. (Nuxalk Radio photo)Peter Siwallace, one of the original builders, at the site. (Nuxalk Radio photo)

One of the Bella Coola Valley’s most iconic landmarks, the House of Numst’, is slated for renewal thanks to the hard work of Nuxalk Radio.

The society obtained a grant to fund the comprehensive restoration project, and, once complete, it will act as Nuxalk Radio’s new home and also as a “Nuspkwnsta” (leaders gathering place) for the Stataltmc (hereditary leaders).

“The capacity of Nuxalk Radio to expand is limited by its current setting,” explained Nuxalk Radio manager Banchi Hanuse.

“Right now Nuxalk Radio operates out of a small, old trailer. There is simply not enough space to hold additional staff members let alone meetings, which is a significant constraint for the operation and expansion of the radio.”

Located on the townsite reserve, the House of Numst’ is a historic building originally constructed in 1968 with the intention of revitalizing Nuxalk culture.

Often photographed by tourists and locals, it is an old longhouse with cedar plank siding painted red. The mouth of a tall totem pole acts as the doorway and tells the story of Nusmata, the place of origins.

Inside, two more totem poles hold up the roof. The current building was originally built 52 years ago with funds raised by the Nuxalk youth group.

At the time of its construction, Nuxalk language and culture was not actively shared due to the oppressive impacts of residential schools.

The then-youth — who today are respected elders (surviving members include Tina Clellamin, Peter Siwallace, Horace Walkus, Karen Anderson) — sought to reclaim their culture and re-establish their roots, where few resources in this regard existed.

A Nuxalk carpenter was hired to lead the project and the totem poles were built by four Nuxalk carvers, all now deceased.

“The meaning of Numst’ is “House of Stories,” explained elder Karen Anderson. “I think it’s important we recognize this.”

The building is a replica of the House of Nusmata that once stood on the shore of the Bella Coola River at the village of Q’umk’uts.

The House of Nusmata belonged to Waxit Pootlass, the Staltmc (hereditary chief) who brought the Nuxalk people together after the smallpox epidemic of 1862.

This historic leader is widely recognized as being instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Nuxalkmc (Nuxalk people) as a Nation and as a people.

“It is the explicit goal of this project to link past and future cultural traditions, upholding Nuxalk culture and practices for the well being of Nuxalk people and Nuxalk territories,” said Hanuse.

“It will be led by the radio society, whose mission is to promote Indigenous language use and fluency; contribute to Nuxalk well-being; and provide information regarding Indigenous identity, history and culture.”

In a newspaper article published in the Williams Lake Tribune April 15, 1970, the author listed the carvers as Willie Mack, David Moody, and Orden Mack and said the purpose of the building was “to stop Indian culture from slipping away.”

Peter Siwallace was one of the original youth who worked on the building in 1967.

He said the group was approached by a local artist who had created a mini replica of the original building, and had obtained the material from Numst’. Siwallace and his peers went and gathered more material from Numst’, and the project began to take shape.

“We were called the Young Peoples Union and we met every Monday,” said Peter Siwallace.

“We grew larger and we needed a place to call our own; we had no place to come together. We had this idea to build a building and under Godfrey’s [Tallio] leadership we all volunteered our time; we did not get paid.”

Siwallace said the group of youth went around and fund raised by washing windows and vehicles to raise money for the construction. They also wrote letters to community businesses for donations.

The group also wrote a letter to the Department of Indian Affairs, who had an office in Bella Coola at the time, asking for a donation but they did not respond until two weeks before the building was slated to open for the first time, sending the group a $500 cheque.

“Horace [Walkus] was the president at the time and he took it to our attention and asked us what we wanted to do,” Siwallace recalled.

“We asked them from day one and they did not respond to us so we all voted to reject that cheque. We took a stand.”

The original group was also supported by Kiaros, an initiative focused on “ecumenical movement for ecological justice and human rights,” in particular Indigenous rights, which is still active today.

Since its inception in June 2014, Nuxalk Radio has trained youth and adults and facilitated countless capacity-building conversations, fostering invaluable connections in the community.

In addition to promoting local organizations and community events, Nuxalk Radio provides extensive language and cultural content.

“Restoring the House of Numst’ is not simply a renovation; it is a representation of where the community has come from, what it values, and most importantly, where it is going,” said Hanuse.

“The House of Numst’ project is a revitalization of Nuxalk culture, of Nuxalk pride, and ultimately, an uplifting of the Nuxalk community.

“This iconic building continues to represent the foundations of Nuxalk cultural resurgence. Given that almost all historic buildings in the territory have been lost, its presence in the community remains a potent connection to our heritage.”

Elder Tina Clellamin said they knew the House of Numst’ was abandoned and is grateful for the plans to restore it.

“The restoration means so many things; if we lost it we lose acknowledging our ancestors, carvers, the builders and the youth of the day. It’s got a lot of history.”

Because of the history and significance of the current House of Numst’, Nuxalk Radio will be working on community engagement as the project moves forward.

“The station is currently working on establishing an advisory committee who will inform the project process from inception to completion, liaise with the community, and provide community leaders with timely updates,” said Hanuse.

“By housing Nuxalk Radio operations, this project will uphold the vital role this community institution plays in local knowledge transmission, enabling Nuxalkmc to facilitate educational opportunities for community members.”

Siwallace said the building brings back strong memories and he’s happy the restoration project is moving ahead.

“I worked hard on it in the late 60s,” said Siwallace “I drive by there and look at it and memories come back to me. I’d like to see it resurrected again to make use of. I’m excited that it’s going to get used again.”

Bella Coola

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