Huu-ay-aht’s Kiixin Tours: Resilience in the face of Radical Change
"What does it mean to be Huu-ay-aht? It means to be resilient."
These words, spoken proudly and resolutely by Kiixin tour guide and cultural educator, Wishkii, take on a dually profound meaning considering the sociopolitical context of Canada, and the many injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples. It's a complex intersection to navigate, but it's one that the Huu-ay-aht approach with determination, caution and adaptability.
Navigating the pandemic was yet another challenge. When travel restrictions were implemented in 2020, operations halted on the nation's Kiixin Tours, and are only now returning. But, true to their resilient nature, the hosts of Kiixin took this as inspiration to innovate, blending traditional storytelling with modern technology to create virtual tours alongside their in-person experiences.
Now, as of spring 2022, visitors can once again book a Kiixin tour to the territory's primordial forests and sprawling beaches to Kiixin Village, where the Huu-ay-aht people have lived for over 5,000 years.
Kiix̣in Tours Tell Story of Huu-ay-aht Nation
Watch this video and see the proof of how the Huu-ay-aht are embracing new ways to tell ancient stories, and why you should experience the tour in person - bookings open April 15, 2022.
"It almost seemed eerie," says Stella Peters, recalling the summer of 2020; "there were no boats in the harbour, not even any kayakers going around. It was so quiet and still around here."
During the temporary measures, Stella and Wishkii weren't idle. Throughout that summer, the two guides took to social media to share images and videos of the village site as a means to engage those at home. The results arising out of their work includes the introduction of a new tour experience and an updated social media presence.
Approximately four hours long, a Kiixin tour affords an opportunity to learn about Huu-ay-aht history and culture in a dynamic guided experience. In both physical and virtual form (through social media), the value of such an exchange cannot be overstated, especially if you are a guest on Indigenous land.
Songs and stories—deeply profound and full of meaning, and handled with immense care and respect—are generously shared with participants. Given that many songs and stories belong to and are performed only by certain families, this opportunity is invaluable. Equally as significant is the fact that the histories and stories being shared come from an internal perspective.
Tour Kiixin for new perspective
"[It's] from the inside looking out," Wishkii says, "not the outside looking in and saying 'this is what may have been or could have been or should have been.' This is actually our own experience and we're sharing our history."
The "outside looking in" has for far too long been an encroaching and yet prevailing framework from which to codify and define Indigenous experience and being. The "outside looking in" is what made way for an unsubstantiated, supposedly objective moral, ethical, and cultural authority.
It is upon such a recognition that one comes to understand the full worth of what is on offer through a Kiixin tour—and that is the reclamation of autonomy and the opportunity to take part in this reclamation while becoming educated in the process.
Looking forward into the future, considering the capacity for meaningful engagement and growth, the two guides beam with enthusiasm and excitement.
"We're eager to be hosting again because that's always a goal of our people and our nation—to be good hosts especially when you come to our historic site. So, I'm just looking forward to that opportunity again. I think it's a good opportunity for growth, you know, what direction can we take this next?"
When You Go
Kiixin is just outside of Bamfield BC along Vancouver Island's West Coast.
Getting to Kiixin
Note that driving to Kiixin involves a gravel logging road for about 1.5 hours from Port Alberni, a 4X4 vehicle with solid tires is recommended to make the trip.
Staying in Bamfield