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In the past, the ancestors of the Heiltsuk people occupied over 50 villages across their territory. Presently, the Heiltsuk territory extends from the southern tip of Calvert Island, up Dean and Burke Channels as far as Kimsquit and the head of Dean Inlet to the northeast, and up the Mathieson and Finlayson Channels to the north. The territory is “located at the heart” of the largest intact old-growth forest in the world, the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear Rainforest was officially recognized by the Government of British Columbia in February 2016 and is Canada’s contribution to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC), a unique indigenous forest conservation initiative established in 2015 which now includes 16 of the 52 Commonwealth nations.
The Heiltsuk Nation is First Nation government with a Chief councilor and Councilors. The nation has a Tribal office also known as the “Band Office” that handles all of the administrative work for the Heiltsuk First Nation, including: Finance, Municipal, Housing, Government, Tribal Council and Membership.
The Heiltsuk practice a system of governance based on their ǧvi̓ḷás (customary laws). They see the Gvi’ilas, the laws of their ancestors, as the paramount principle that guides all resource use and environmental management. The Haíɫzaqv (governing body) is comprised of an elected Chief & Council, who make decisions in collaboration with the Yíṃás (hereditary Chiefs). For the past decade, the Haíɫzaqv, along with other coastal First Nations, have strengthened the connections between community, environment, and economy. They have remained steadfast in their conviction that the environment shouldn’t be sacrificed to build a healthy coastal economy. The Haíɫzaqv have led the way in Land and Marine Use Planning.
The Heiltsuk have been sharing their experience of regaining management of their territory and the revitalization of their culture for many years. After 120 years, in 2019 the Heilsuk Nation opened their Big House, which has sparked even greater efforts to revitalize culture.