The design for this striking block was created by artist Bernard Windsor. His sister, Mavis Windsor, lent her artistic talent to the project by bringing the design to life through appliqué. She used contemporary fabrics in the well-recognized red and black colours of coastal ative groups. Representing the four main tribes of this Nation, are traditionally inspired images of the Raven (with the straight beak), the Killer Whale, the Wolf, and the Eagle (with the curved beak). All four are joined together in an eternal circle.
The Heiltsuk people were formerly known as the Bella Bella Indians, Kwakiutl or Northern Kwakiutl. Archaeological evidence suggests the Heiltsuk have occupied land on the central coast of British Columbia, above Vancouver Island, for at least 10,000 years. Their traditional territories cover 22,200 square kilometres (13,800 square miles) of land and sea. They lived mainly in villages and seasonal campsites throughout this territory.
Before European contact, the Heiltsuk population numbered around 20,000. During the 18th and 19th centuries foreign diseases, combined with drastic social and economic changes, exacted a heavy toll on the Heiltsuk, who came perilously close to extinction. Today, the Heiltsuk people number 2,000 and continuously nurture active participation in maintaining their rich heritage to preserve it for future generations. The Heiltsuk language Hailhzaqva, part of the Wakashan linguistic family, is now being taught to children in school.
The Heiltsuk believe in the Chief Above, the Creator of the Sun, and hold great respect for the Bukwus, spirit-men who lived in the forest. Spirituality is interwoven and inseparable from the daily routines of life. The spirit of art, too, is inextricably connected to the Heiltsuk culture. Ironically, there is no word for “art” in their language, for it is an essential part of Heiltsuk identity.
Both historical and contemporary artists are known for their traditional button blankets. These garments are adorned with designs created by sewing dentalium and abalone shells onto red stroud material, which is then appliquéd onto dark wool blankets. These are still worn on ceremonial occasions, such as the potlatch, a celebration which was revived following a government ban invoked in 1884 and only rescinded in 1951.
In the twentieth century, the Heiltsuk were pressured by missionaries and government officials to abandon their traditional beliefs and practices. These attempts at assimilation included the forced removal of children to residential schools. Despite these adversities, the Heiltsuk never gave away their Aboriginal rights or land title. Today, members of the community are working to preserve their lands, language and vitality of their culture.
Sponsor: Heiltsuk Women's Council | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Flickr