The Koeye (K’way) watershed is located about 30 miles south of Bella Bella in Fitz Hugh Sound in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Today, there are about three hundred of us gathered on the sandy beach to witness the opening of the Koeye Big House that has been built over the last four years. The seemingly simple cedar building that we are celebrating is adorned with beautiful red and black wolves and grizzly bears painted by Heiltsuk artist Martin Campbell, and smoke rises from the roof joining earth and sky. The house will be used to teach the youth at Koeye about the songs, dances and ceremonies of the coastal people from this area, and it will be available for community gatherings.
As boats come into the bay and the crowd gathers, we chat and visit, and I marvel at the kids playing in the frigid water. Soon, the crowd parts to allow the chiefs to walk down to the water’s edge and welcome other chiefs and guests coming in by canoe. The chiefs are cloaked in intricate button blankets and short-tailed weasel pelts cascade down their backs. The sounds of drums and singing voices mingle with the surf.
Once the canoes of the visiting chiefs have backed into the beach in a symbol of peace, it is time to cut the cedar bark across the Big House door and enter.
Wood smoke tickles my nose as I stand in the doorway and make one full turn to my left. “As we enter this house, we turn to remind ourselves that here, we are entering a different world,” says William Housty, son of Marge Housty and Larry Jorgensen, and our master of ceremonies for today. There are posts carved with totems, a sand floor and wood smoke rising through the roof. As all of us settle onto wide wooden benches, the drummers gather around the log drum, the chiefs and elders sit down in the front row and sunlight squeezes between the wall planks.
Over the course of the day we listen and watch speeches, dances and singing. This is a different world, and tears come to my eyes when I watch the chiefs bless the house with eagle down, the fine feathers clinging to their forearms. I am amazed at the power of the young men who address the crowd in the Heiltsuk language, and I feel wonder and respect when the kids from the youth camp are called up and recognized as “the heartbeat of Koeye”.
I know that each of us on the beach would have a different story to relate from July 29, 2006. Mine revolves around hope and resilience and learning that one lies within the other. Thank you to the people of Koeye.
July 29, 2006
From the Koeye Big House