Camp Pachena Bay, Learn at 5500 year-old Kiixin village
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As you set up camp on Vancouver Island's west coast, or walk any of the island’s many beaches or forests, do you wonder about the first people to set foot here? Ask yourself: how much of what is around us do we overlook by virtue of that which we do not know?
These rich, living coastlines and tranquil rainforests are situated within the territories of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people, home to one of the oldest heritage sites in Canada: the Huu-ay-aht Nation’s ancient Kiixin Village site, estimated to be at least 5,500 years old.
When you camp on these lands and wander these trails, you are following in the footsteps of the first inhabitants. With this realization comes the desire to learn about the history here, a process that will enrich your experience of place and instill a deeper awareness and perspective. Such is the opportunity offered by the Huu-ay-aht people through a Kiixin tour.
Learn the stories of the Huu-ay-aht nation through Kiixin Tours
Beginning in Bamfield - an approximately two hour drive from Port Alberni - the tour takes visitors through the past and present, and offers a glimpse of a more sustainable future. Guided by traditional knowledge keepers Stella Peters and Wishqii, the experience is firmly rooted in the cultural and spiritual relationship between the nation and the land.
“It's truly a chance to go on a journey with our ancestors - a journey through time,” says Wishqii. “In this tour, not only do we unveil some of our ancient spirit history, but we also examine and look at the history from the perspective of an Indigenous Canadian.”
Both, but particularly the latter, are incredibly important at a moment in time wherein there is an increasing awareness of the acknowledgement and respect for indigenous land rights.
As Wishqii often remarks, this is an opportunity to experience Huu-ay-aht history from Huu-ay-aht people, or, in other words, “from the inside looking out.”
Genevieve Huneault, who joins me on the tour this afternoon, reflects on her experience: “Learning to decolonize and better understand the place that I live, work and play on is an extension of learning what this place means to the first people and how I can adopt some of that world view in respecting the land."
"To see people so connected to the land is really inspiring. It’s educational, it’s fulfilling spiritually, and that’s how I see it.”
Newly implemented this year, the nation has made it easier than ever to access the tour in the form of a shuttle that runs between the Kiixin Village trailhead and the Pachena Bay Campground, which is owned by the nation and is a breathtaking destination in and of itself.
Comprising over 100 camp sites, offering amenities including hot showers, washrooms, and firewood stations, and connecting visitors to experiences ranging from stand up paddle boarding to whale watching, Pachena Bay is the perfect basecamp from which to explore all that Bamfield has to offer.
Not to mention - and this is important - a trip to Bamfield provides an experience analogous to that of Tofino, Ucluelet, or any of the other top destinations on the Island, but without the crowds.
This affords an experience that is far more tranquil and secluded, wherein you can have a less mediated and more direct engagement with the land.
Together, the Kiixin tour and the Pachena Bay Campground come to form an experience that is both mentally and spiritually nourishing. In one word, and above all else, they offer visitors perspective - the perspective to comprehend the scope and complexity of the reciprocal, long standing relationship between the Huu-ay-aht people and the land they have stewarded for thousands of years - and their own positioning as guests on said land.
WHEN YOU GO
To plan your trip to visit Bamfield:
- Visit the Kiixin Tours website to reserve a tour
- Book a campsite for the Pachena Bay Campground
- For those who prefer indoor comfort, Huu-ay-aht owned Hacas Inn is also an option.
Getting to Kiixin
Note that driving to Kiixin involves a gravel logging road for about two hours from Port Alberni; a 4X4 vehicle with solid tires is recommended to make the trip.