Huu-ay-aht’s Kiixin Virtual Tours: Resilience in the face of Radical Change

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"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. Thousands of unmarked graves have been uncovered at former residential school grounds across the country, conflicts persist over land rights and old growth forests. 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, which saw visitors through the territory's primordial forests and sprawling beaches to Kiixin Village, where the Huu-ay-aht people have lived for over 5,000 years. But, true to their resilient nature, the hosts of Kiixin took this as inspiration to innovate, blending traditional storytelling with modern technology.

"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 in 2021; Kiixin Sunset and an updated social media presence.

Discover a Kiixin Sunset Tour, located on Vancouver Island's West Coast

Approximately four hours long, a Kiixin Sunset, or their regular tour afford an opportunity to learn about Huu-ay-aht history and culture in a dynamic guided experience. In both physical and virtual form (through socail media), the value of such an exchange cannot be overstated, especially if you are a guest on Indigenous land. 

Huu-ay-aht mask, Kiixin historic site.
Photographer: Jaiden George
Traditional Huu-ay-aht mask

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. 

"[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—and that is the reclamation of autonomy and the opportunity to take part in this reclamation while becoming educated in the process.

House of Huu-Ay-Aht, Bamfield, BC.
Photographer: Jaiden George
House of Huu-ay-aht, just outside of Bamfield, BC

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?" 

Discover Kiixin- just outside of Bamfield BC along Vancouver Island's West Coast

When You Go

NOTE: 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. 

Stay at the Hacas Inn or Pachena Bay Campground - both Huu-ay-aht First Nation Owned

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