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Imagining a thriving housing landscape with Nuxalk members in Bella Coola, BC

Rebecca Rogerson bylineI took a break from my regular duties with our Climate Innovation team recently to support Ecotrust Canada’s Indigenous Homelands Initiative. On May 6, Ashli, Kia, Shannon and I hopped in a rental car and hit the dusty road to travel the six hours from Williams Lake, BC, to the traditional territory of the Nuxalk Nation on the Pacific Coast of BC. For three days, we collaborated with Nuxalk Nation staff and community to learn how we can help advance their housing and governance priorities.

Approaching the Coastal Mountains from Central Interior BC. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)
Approaching the Coastal Mountains from Central Interior, BC. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)
Horses in the Central Interior of British Columbia.
Horses in the Central Interior of British Columbia. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

The journey from Secwepemc to Nuxalk territory – Williams Lake to Bella Coola – was one for the books. We drove with care and admiration, pulling over occasionally to marvel at the beauty of the Central Interior of British Columbia and its vastly changing landscapes. We passed herds of wild (we think!) horses set against snowcapped mountains, eagles soaring through wildfire-affected forests, and bears grazing on patches of roadside grass. Perhaps the most heart-rate-inducing moment of the trip was driving down “The Hill” to Bella Coola. (Thank you, Shannon, for your bravery in taking the wheel!) Any fright was well worth it, as the reward at the end of the dirt road was the entrance into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Grizzly bear along the highway going into Bella Coola, BC.
Grizzly bear along the highway that leads into the Nuxalk Nation, Bella Coola, BC. (Kia Dunn/Ecotrust Canada)

We started the week with a full day of thought-provoking meetings centred on governance. We then headed over to the community hall, where we set up for the main event: a community housing workshop built around our Indigenous Housing & Homelands Governance Toolkit. This workshop was the first of several community engagements aimed at identifying the community’s top housing priorities, which will become the backbone of Nuxalk’s new holistic community-based housing strategy.

Ashli Akins, Director of the Indigenous Homelands program, helps facilitate a community housing workshop with the Nuxalk Nation in May 2024.
Ashli Akins, Director of the Indigenous Homelands program, helps facilitate a community housing workshop with the Nuxalk Nation in May 2024. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

By the time the workshop started, the hall was filled with 64 community members eager to join the conversation and share their own values and principles related to housing. Participants were offered delicious locally made chili and bannock, while Ashli and Kia facilitated an interactive workshop. When it came time to discuss values and principles, the room was abuzz with thoughtful conversation. We heard stories from community members who illustrated the profound impact housing has on their quality of life – for better or for worse. Some spoke of challenges: the urgent need for climate-appropriate housing, the importance of having consistent support to fund and implement projects, and the need to prioritize quality in construction and materials. Participants imagined what a thriving housing landscape could look like, such as yards to grow food and raise animals, houses spacious enough to live intergenerationally and comfortably, and housing appropriate for all members of the community so that no one is left behind.

Bus shelters with designs by local artists can be found throughout the Nuxalk Nation community, Bella Coola, BC.
Bus shelters with designs by local artists can be found throughout the Nuxalk Nation community, Bella Coola, BC. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

Throughout the week, Nuxalk’s Economic Development Coordinator Carrigan Tallio spoke of Stl’mstaliwa: a Nuxalk concept that translates to “the full human experience” — a word we heard proudly echoed by many community members and leaders alike and saw featured on signs in the Band Office and across the territory.  The intention is that  Stl’mstaliwa is something every Nuxalkmc (Nuxalk people) deserves — and that it is the community’s and Nation’s collective responsibility to support each Nuxalkmc to achieve their Stl’mstaliwa. It is evident that the values and principles voiced by community members during the workshop are couched within the larger concept of stl’mstaliwa; housing does not exist as a silo, but as a part of a much broader living ecosystem built to support and uphold community.

A sign seen at the Mount Stupendous Viewpoint, outlining the importance of Stl’mstaliwa - created by the Nuxalk Nation’s Ancestral Governance Committee.
A sign seen at the Mount Stupendous Viewpoint, outlining the importance of Stl’mstaliwa – created by the Nuxalk Nation’s Ancestral Governance Committee.

After spending a week on the road with the Homelands team, I couldn’t help but reflect on the connection between Carrigan’s words and the Homelands team’s holistic approach to achieving their vision. At the end of the day, it’s not just about housing, it’s about something bigger. We are working toward removing barriers that prevent community members from being able to return to, and thrive in, their homelands. We left the workshop feeling heartened by the conversations, and excited to be working toward a shared vision with our Nuxalk partners.

The sputc pole had recently been dressed in new regalia made from cedar when we visited the Nuxalk Nation, in Bella Coola, BC, in May 2024.
The sputc pole had recently been dressed in new regalia made from cedar when we visited the Nuxalk Nation, in Bella Coola, BC, in May 2024. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

After the workshop, we took some time to soak in the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest in Nuxalk territory. We were lucky enough to spend time with Nuxalk’s charismatic and hilarious Engagement Ambassador, Jerrel Nelson, who guided us through a trail to sacred petroglyphs, sharing stories and wisdom, and more than a few jokes (learn more about Jerrel’s work here). We then linked up with Tim Hans, Asset Manager, and Courtney Elliot, Nuxalk Housing Manager, who toured us around prospective sites for new community housing developments. It was inspiring to imagine a thriving housing landscape with them before our departure back up the epic hill.

Timothy Hans, Asset Manager for the Nuxalk Nation, give the Ecotrust Canada crew a tour of the community, discussing plans for the future.
Timothy Hans, Asset Manager for the Nuxalk Nation, gave the Ecotrust Canada crew a tour of the community, discussing plans for the future. (Shannon Lough/Ecotrust Canada)

We left the territory tired but joyful, with a deep appreciation for our partnership with Nuxalk, and to all our Nuxalkmc hosts, who treated us with abundant generosity and warmth. Our journey ended back in Secwepemc territory — at midnight, staring into the skies as the Aurora Borealis danced above us.

Approaching the Coastal Mountains from Central Interior BC.
Aurora Borealis from Williams Lake, BC. (Kia Dunn/Ecotrust Canada)