Touring Kiixin at Sunset Opens Eyes and Minds
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There are times in your life that you immediately feel the energy of place and sense the importance. This was the feeling that came over me as I followed our guide Stella Peters on our hike to the capital settlement of Kiixin. The cultural roots of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation go back 5500 years here, the last of its kind still standing across southern BC.
Kiixin Tours is a way for you to learn through guided tour of the past, present and future history of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, upon land unchanged in an ancient old growth forest protected by the rugged, rocky coastline of Vancouver Island opening to Barclay Sound.
We met with Stella Peters and Wisqii, Huu-ay-aht Traditional Knowledge Holders, at the edge of an old growth forest at the end of a paved road just south of Bamfield. Under the canopy of a cedar shelter they taught us the history of Kiix̣in Village and Fortress National Historic Site of Canada.
We looked at many drawings as Peters explained what life would have looked like in the 19th century. How the longhouses were tucked high above the beach in the protection of the forest that provided the resources for life to flourish here. How the rugged rocky coastline created a natural fortress with a large rocky massif creating a high ground to see all that lay before the village.
We followed Peters under giant trees and along cedar boardwalk. At times as we hiked through the lush forest, we stopped to appreciate the towering spruce and cedar trees that have towered overhead for centuries.
Stella stopped us, as the sound of crashing waves could be heard in the distance, to show us the culturally modified trees. We saw trees cut down by hand tools hundreds of years ago as well as the signs of cedar bark stripping, vital resources to the Huu-ay-aht village way of life both then and still now.
It was not much further when the forest opened to an unforgettable display of natural beauty. The Pacific Ocean crashed upon the rocky outcroppings that buffered the sandy beach we were standing on. The beach area lay in a half circle with the forest and rocks forming what felt like a protective embrace. To our left tucked into the forest behind the shadow of the strategic Fortress rock Stella led the way to the last standing longhouse settlement of its kind remaining anywhere in southern coastal BC.
As Stella brought us closer to the past I asked her how long she has been sharing her knowledge of Kiixin and Huu-ay-aht culture leading tours. In her 36 years, she said, “Each time I come back I feel a little bit closer, even more connected to our history and culture that was almost taken completely from us in Canada.”
The reality of this weighed on me. I recalled seeing a similar longhouse at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, vestige of an ancient past, but now here was the real thing standing before me.
Tool markings could be seen still vividly on the house poles that were still standing. Whale bones still sitting on the ground in the center of where the structure once stood. The forest that provided the raw materials to create this mighty village was now coming full circle. Moss, salal, ferns and natural forces of decomposition and age took their toll, welcoming the wood structures back into the earth.
After our tour of the village site we walked north along the beach to sit and relax, allowing the awe of the site to sink in. For this visit today though it would be special as our tour was taking place during the evening and we would be experiencing sunset. Stella herself mentioned that she had only seen the sun set on Kiixin a few times. With this in mind, we appreciated how special a moment this was and expressed our gratitude to share the time with her.
Wisqii (pronounced Wish-Key) would now share with us the sacred songs and drumming of the Huu-ay-aht while the women joined with ceremonial dance. One of the songs he highlighted saying, “This song highlights our travels from tribe to tribe as an ocean going tribe, we would learn and share what we learned from others through these sacred songs”.
I’m still trying to digest the experience of Kiixin and the knowledge shared with us during our tour by Stella and Wisqii. I genuinely have tried my best to share the energy I felt through my words and photos to friends and family, but this is truly an experience that can only be felt and understood by doing so in person for yourself.
WHEN YOU GO
Kiixin Tour’s 2021 season is now open and accepting bookings for a complimentary site tour. The Kiixin Sunset Tour starts July 16, so reserve your spot today! Learn more here.
When visiting Bamfield on your #IndigenousCoastBC trip to Kiixin for a tour there are several options to make it an overnight and extend your stay. Visitors can choose to stay in more creature comforts at the Upnit Lodge or the Hacas Inn. For those wishing to be a little closer to nature the Pacheena Campround is a great option for camping.
- Great meals and snacks for your visit or taking in any of the regions activities can all be found with a visit to The Market & Café.