The Heiltsuk First Nation lives in the village of Bella Bella (Waglisla), located about 160 km north of Port Hardy and about 120 km west of Bella Coola. The Heiltsuk traditionally occupied 21000 square km of land and sea on B.C.´s coastal Inside Passage. Bella Bella is the Government name for the community, Waglisla is the largest of the 23 reserves set aside in 1913 for the exclusive use of the Heiltsuk. The village located on Campbell Island is amalgamated from all Heiltsuk tribes who occupied numerous large winter and spring villages and associated campsites spread throughout this traditional territory.
There are approximately 1500 residents in Waglisla. The primary industries for the Heiltsuk economy are forestry and seasonal fisheries including shellfish, groundfish, herring, salmon and other marine resources. For many decades, Heiltsuk people have had a thriving fishery to rely upon with employment in commercial fishing, fish processing, and a salmon hatchery. Due to dramatic changes in the fishery in the past several years, the entire fishing-based economy is now extremely fragile and threatens this traditional way of life.
There are many artists in the community that does quite nicely with the tourist trade and Eco-tourism is gaining popularity with the great bear forest being the biggest draw. The chance to see a spirit bear is very exciting to these new breed tourists. Whale watching and diving are two other burgeoning industries that are becoming common in the area.
Basketball is easily the most popular recreational pastime in Bella Bella due to its all-year-round playing season following the construction of the new Community Hall. The men and women travel year-round to numerous tournaments along the coast. The Charles Moody Memorial presents its annual tournament locally every January. Charlie Moody is my wife’s grandfather.
In 1993, My family and l traveled to Waglisla for the Qatuwas, a gathering of the peoples of the canoe. People arrived from as far away as Alaska and California, people arrived by canoe in the thousands. The gathering was 7 days long and each night there was a feast presented by one of the nations gathered there, followed by traditional dances telling stories of days gone by. The nation doing the feast danced all night, sometimes the nights would go until daylight with dancing still happening, it was incredible.
On the last night, at the end of the traditional dancing, a huge dance screen was set up and much music from the hit TV program was there, playing modern dance videos and music, this was for the youth in the village. It was quite surreal as most of these youths were still in their regalia, but now we’re dancing to modern music and songs. Hundreds of teenagers, in regalia, dancing to the likes of Peter Gabriel and Tom Petty, l will never see something like again.