Experience Kiix̣in, a west coast First Nations “dream come true”
Tour the 5000+ year-old Kiix̣in Village site, with Kiix̣in Tours, for a transformative west coast Indigenous cultural experience with Huu-ay-aht First Nations on Vancouver Island. #indigenouscoastbc #kiixintours
Huu-ay-aht First Nations territory, BC — When Wišqiimit’i was given his name by his aunt in 2008, it marked a transition for his role within Huu-ay-aht First Nations, on Vancouver Island’s west coast. His new name carried with it the corresponding title of “speaker” for Huu-ay-aht First Nations, including Kiix̣in National Historic Site—a weighty responsibility.
Located in Bamfield on Vancouver Island, Kiix̣in is the only known First Nations village on the southern coast of British Columbia where elements of traditional longhouses still stand.
Most other sites along BC’s coast have been disrupted by development and modern logging practices, but Kiix̣in remains untouched.
NOTE: Highway 4 accessing Port Alberni is open but traffic is slow as repair continues (TransBC road advisory info). Estimated time for complete re-opening is mid-July. Check DriveBC.ca for more updates.
WATCH: touring the ancestral site of Kiix̣in Village
It was only fitting then, that Wišqiimit’i—who more commonly goes by Wišqii (pronounced “Wish Key”)—started leading the Nation’s cultural tours through Kiix̣in Village in 2017. (In Nuu-chah-nulth, Wišqiimit’i translates to “don’t say anything out of line.”)
Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1999, Kiix̣in offers a rare glimpse of the intergenerational housing Huu-ay-aht families used to live under. This ancient site now acts as a portal through time, allowing Nuu-chah-nulth members and groups of visitors the opportunity to connect with Huu-ay-aht’s traditional way of life, collectively.
To reach Kiix̣in Village, your tour weaves through intact old growth forest and out to a stone pebbled beach marked by jagged rocks. It’s a journey Wišqii takes groups of visitors on at least four times a week.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he says. “My day job benefits my cultural duty and my responsibility to my people. I get to practice and rehearse what I want to teach every day.”
On a Kiix̣in tour, Wišqii uses archeological evidence and oral history to demonstrate Huu-ay-aht’s relationship with cedar and how his ancestors selectively harvested trees to build their longhouses and dugout canoes.
Book now! Kiix̣in Tours run seasonally, until Sept 4, 2023. Individual, group and corporate tours available.
“We have a responsibility to take care of the resources that take care of us,” he says.
One of the ways this was practiced was through building techniques that allowed the materials to be absorbed back into nature, Wišqii says.
Standing next to a giant Sitka Spruce on the edge of the beach, he pointed to the tree’s flared trunk. Wišqii accredited its uncommon feature to the fact that it started to nurse on top of one of the cedar house beams.
With the extra advantage of height and no competition for light, Wišqii said the tree began to grow “really big, really fast.”
“We understand that it is just a matter of time before Mother Nature takes back our village,” he says.
As the 51-year-old walks through the Kiix̣in Village, he says he can feel the presence of his ancestors.
It’s a feeling Maria Clark echoed after experiencing the tour for the first time, along with a group of colleagues from across Vancouver Island's tourism sector. A member of the neighbouring Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and assistant general manager at Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort, she says connecting with her ancestors and oral histories provides her with a sense of identity that she lacked growing up.
“That’s why it’s so special that [Huu-ay-aht] has been able to form an interpretive tour,” she says. “When you get to see and hear the stories, it engages people and educates them on our Indigenous history. Our people were here prior to contact and they lived whole and rich lives in intergenerational homes.”
As Clark stood at the sites of the former longhouses, she said she tried picturing them still standing and imagined the potlatches that were held inside their walls.
If Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation could put together something similar, Clark said “it would be like a dream come true.”
While Wišqii said he looks forward to the day when there’s a whole team of tour guides to collectively tell Huu-ay-aht’s story through song and dance, he said he doesn’t mind being a one man show for now.
“I’ve always been a teacher and I’ve always been an interpreter,” he said. “As opposed to telling someone else’s history, now I get to focus on my own history and my own people.”
When you go
Kiix̣in Tours run seasonally until Sept 4, 2023. Book your tour now.
take the Horseshoe Bay Ferry to Nanaimo
drive 2h to Port Alberni on BC-19 N
take the Trans-Canada Hwy/BC 1 N to Nanaimo,
then drive 2h to Port Alberni on BC-19 N
from Port Alberni:
take a left at the fork in the road by the tourism information centre and follow it to the lights, then turn left onto 3rd Avenue, then left onto Ship Creek Rd. then for 1hr 53 mins. Follow Ship Creek road, which turns into Franklin River Road, then turns into Bamfield main Rd to Bamfield. *hint: follow the yellow kilometre signs along the way.
planning your trip
Keep following the #IndigenousCoastBC Coastal Route, and connect to Tla-o-qui-aht owned Tin Wis Resort, and Secret Beach Campground and Kayak Launch, for more west coast First Nations adventures.
Read more about the Kiix̣in experience
Want to learn more? Read on for more on the Kiix̣in experience, and other Vancouver Island Indigenous experiences on the west coast.