The traditional territory of the Heiltsuk is on the central coast of British Columbia near the town of Bella Bella, including many islands, inlets and valleys. In the Northwest Coast Hall, the Heiltsuk culture is grouped within the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw culture because they speak a related language. But the two are distinct nations.

Population: 2,245 (as of 2014)  Language: Hailhzaqvla







FROM THE COLLECTIONS: Heiltsuk Chief of the Ghosts mask

Chief of the Ghosts mask

With his cratered face, Qomisila, Chief of the Ghosts, is a frightening figure from a Heiltsuk story. He materializes in the forest, dances around a fire, then sinks into the underworld. When a dancer wore this mask to reenact Qomisila’s story, he’d insert different mouthpieces to mimic the emotions of his audience. Drag the slider to see the mouth change.

This mask is from Heiltsuk territory on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada.

AMNH 16/4731 and 16/4805, acquired 1899






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Future Ecologists

Yáláthi (Goose Island Archipelago), British Columbia

Students from several First Nations whose territory lies in the Great Bear Rainforest participate in the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) program. The initiative aims to connect young people to nature in their aboriginal territory. Here, biologist Diana Chan of conservation organization Pacific Wild discovers an octopus at Cágvaís, or Cockle Bay, while Bella Bella sixth grader Jayden Newman looks on.

Image credit: J. Gordon-Walke








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Ancient Footprints

Calvert Island, British Columbia

People have lived along the Northwest Coast for thousands of years. In 2015 archaeologists unearthed new evidence impressed in clay—a dozen human footprints that may be more than 13,000 years old. 

Image credit: J. Silberg

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Heiltsuk oral history documents their ancestors in this area, which is in Heiltsuk territory. If further research confirms their age, these footprints would be the oldest ones known in North America.

Image credit: J. Silberg

Two men stand on a platform that extends from a wooden fence across the river.

Take No More Than You Need

Koeye River, British Columbia

In 2013, Heiltsuk community members constructed this sockeye salmon weir across the Koeye River. The first weir built in more than a century, the fence-like structure allows Heiltsuk ecologists to tag and count salmon caught in the weir in order to harvest sustainably.

Image credit: W. Atlas



See more from the Museum's collection of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw objects, which contains some Heiltsuk items.



Image credit for lead photo: W. Atlas