The Heiltsuk Cabins Project is one of the earliest initiatives of Qqs Projects Society. It began as a way of creating a Heiltsuk presence back on the land, encouraging families to spend time in their traditional territories, and force outside users to acknowledge the Heiltsuk connection to areas of non-indigenous use.
The Heiltsuk model of traditional food gathering and teaching is centred on the idea of family camps. Families would spend substantial periods of time at traditional camps, harvesting and preserving foods and resources with a framework of intergenerational knowledge-sharing. It followed the old ways of family leadership and the transmission of family history, and ensured that specific groups sustained their connection to important sites and helped to protect and maintain them.
As the town of Bella Bella became the sole centre of Heiltsuk occupation in our territory, interest in far-flung family camps began to wane. With the increasing cost of fuel and resources, few people were able to enjoy extended stays in their traditional harvest areas. The intergenerational living and teaching was lost. However, the model was never lost, and many families sought solutions to the challenges of access and personal costs associated with living on the land for periods of time.
The Heiltsuk Cabins Project was a direct response to that demand. We began to build and rebuild camps in key locations throughout our territory, using locally-milled lumber and resources to erect cabins at traditional family camp sites. The construction became a training opportunity, and we employed young Heiltsuk people to gain skills in construction that they could bring back to their community. Engaging local people in the building of the cabins helped to convey a feeling of ownership to them, connecting them with places that would prove to remain important to them long after the construction projects were completed.
Subsequently, the use of the cabins has been demonstrated amply even by unexpected user groups. In addition to families, the camps are often occupied by Heiltsuk commercial groups (like clammers), as bases for food gatherers, as emergency shelters, and as important spaces for social programs (like community-run camps) and restorative justice initiatives (as centres for individual isolation).
There continues to be exciting momentum to build more cabins in more areas as safe havens, family camps, and opportunities to engage with the land base and resources in important ways. The cabins already in existence continue to be well-used, and have become an important part of the Heiltsuk identity and connection to the land and traditional harvest areas.
Many of the families and user groups that have developed special connections with certain cabins have taken it upon themselves to oversee their maintenance and upkeep. Qqs projects holds ultimate responsibility for the state of the cabins, but we encourage users and user groups to help maintain them by noting their condition, making small repairs and letting us know when you see serious problems.
The cabins are available free of charge to all Heiltsuk people. Commercial users must pay a daily rate toward the upkeep of the cabins; however, this situation is rare, and is superseded by Heiltsuk use and intent. All users should ensure that they leave the cabins in good condition, removing all food and replacing any firewood used during their stay. We have never charged for emergency use of the cabins, but we do request that all users, within their capacity, leave the cabins in better condition than they found them.
If you would like to use one of the cabins, please contact our office for information on location and availability.
The Heiltsuk Cabins Project is an ongoing initiative, and we are always collecting donations of funds and resources toward the building of new cabins in our territory, and the maintenance of old ones. If you’d like to make a donation, or have a creative idea for generating funds, please contact us today!