Heiltsuk oral tradition states that the original Heiltsuk ancestors were set down by the Creator in various areas in the territory now referred to as the Central Coast of British Columbia, before the time of the great flood. An archeological excavation and study of ancient remains based in a Heiltsuk Village site of Namu in the 1960’s and 1970’s concluded that the history of the Heiltsuk go back as far as 11,500 years.
We affirm Gvi’ilas, the laws of our ancestors as the paramount principle to guide all resource use and environmental management. According to Chief Moses Humchitt, Gvi’ilas refers to our “power” or authority over all matters that affect our lives. It is a complex and comprehensive system of laws that embodies values, beliefs, teachings, principles, practices, and consequences. Inherent in this is the understanding that all things are connected and that unity is important to maintain.
Gvi’ilas has been described as the ethos of our people: “Gvi’ilas not only governed our relationship and responsibilities to land and resources, but also social relationships and obligations with respect to lands and resources. For example, take a little and leave a lot; dispersed and varied resource harvesting obligations to share and support family and community; obligations to care for the resource; seeing all aspects of harvesting, from the taking of the resources to the methods used, as a gift of the Creator.”
Furthermore, Gvi’ilas governs our relationships with both the temporal and spiritual worlds: “Relationships with and use of natural resources were rooted in a value system that ensured sustainability and respect. It was believed that all living matter had a spiritual essence that was respected, and interconnectedness was understood. Each family was given responsibility over specific land and water bases. Sustainable use and management was enforced by certain practices and teachings. Plants were gathered in a specific way. The first salmon caught was blessed with ritual ceremony that acknowledged its sacrifice and need to give sustenance to our people. Communication with the spirit of the land, sea and its life forms was common through respect and prayer.”