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‘It’s a symbol of our strength’: Heiltsuk open first Big House in 120 years

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Chief Coun. Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation says it’s hard to put into words the excitement and emotion she feels at the opening Sunday of the first Big House in the territory in modern history.

The last Big House in the First Nation’s territory along the B.C. coast was destroyed 120 years ago and the community has been planning and fundraising to build a new one for decades.

READ MORE: B.C. chief says a single major oil spill could ruin her nation’s economy forever

The community is kicking off five days of celebration in Bella Bella today and is expecting as many as 2,000 guests from as far away as New Zealand to join to attend.

The Big House took 18 months to build and is constructed entirely of red and yellow cedar from the territory, including eight-ton and four-foot-wide logs with wood that was locally sourced and milled.

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Indigenous artists have been working for 10 years to design, carve and paint four house posts that tell the origin story of the Heiltsuk people.

Slett says the opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events like potlatches and the naming of babies, which had previously been held in a community centre.

“Going forward it’s a symbol of our strength and our resilience as people. I know it’s just going to make us stronger,” Slett said.

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