When I met up with councillor Megan Humchitt — at a very special screening of RAVEN’s Heiltsuk documentary at VIFF — she explained that, between meeting with federal officials and pushing for a Heiltsuk-run Indigenous Marine Response Centre for her community, she’s getting prepared to dance in the Big House.
This week, Humchitt and the entire Heiltsuk Nation will be converging on the central coast community of Bella Bella to open a grand hall. The mural-festooned cedar Big House will sit at the heart of community as a triumphant marker of resurgence and resiliency.
Musing on what her presence as a Big House dancer would mean to her grandmother and great-grandparents, who fought and worked so hard to keep culture alive through the dark days during which potlatches were banned, Humchitt fights back tears. “It’s such an honour. It’s something I wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was a girl, yet I’ll be there. I’ll be dancing.”
RAVEN has been involved with Heiltsuk Nation since 2014, when we worked together on the Pull Together campaign to stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. That victory was short lived: just weeks after the courts quashed the pipeline’s approval, the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground, leaving Heiltsuk’s fishing grounds devastated by spilled diesel.
I travelled to Bella Bella in the aftermath of the spill and found that, though the community was reeling from the fallout of a mis-managed spill response, they were also working to revitalize Indigenous legal frameworks, engaging youth in deep cultural and language immersion programs, and honing a vision of the future grounded in respect for all of life, and honouring of all relationships.
Together with Megan, we made a film chronicling how, though the Nathan E. Stewart sank, the Heiltsuk are rising.
Intended to educate and inspire, “Raven People Rising” has been screened across the country to raise funds in support of the groundbreaking legal challenge Heiltsuk launched in the wake of the spill. Not only does the court case demand compensation for the damage done, it also breaks new legal ground in asserting Aboriginal title to the seabed and foreshore in the spill area — a legal precedent that would be a gamechanger for all coastal communities.
There will be many gifts exchanged in this week’s opening of Bella Bella’s Big House. I’ll be there, sending back stories and photos every day. I’m also working with RAVEN to muster a significant contribution to Heiltsuk’s legal challenge.
As the Big House comes to life, will you be part of raising $10k as an act of reconciliation and redress? This will be the RAVEN community’s gift during this historic week. Let’s be part of history: donate now.
Director of Communication, RAVEN