The Heiltsuk (also Bella Bella) are a Indigenous First Nations of the Central Coast region of the Canadian province of British Columbia, centred on the island communities of Bella Bella and Klemtu. The government of the Heiltsuk people is the Heiltsuk Nation. Its largest community is Bella Bella.

Culture and History

The Heiltsuk are comprised of the descendants of a number of tribal groups who came together in Bella Bella in the 19th Century and came to be called the Bella Bella Indians. They generally refer to themselves as Heiltsuk. As with many other Nations on the coast they were subject to drastic population loss as a result of introduced diseases and heightened military conflicts during the fur trade era.

Heiltsuk culture has been and is known for its ceremonial, military and artistic skills. As the fur trade began they also became known as skilled traders. Highly skilled in canoe making and later ship building, a number of trading schooners were made in Bella Bella by the canoe makers who had learned to make western style vessels. For a time they acted as middlemen in the fur trade, benefiting from early access to guns. The traders complain in some of their records of the Heiltsuk being hard to trade with, passing off land otter skins for sea otter, demanding extra large blankets, then cutting them to standards size for re-trade and sewing the extra pieces together to make more blankets.


The Heiltsuk language is part of what is called the Wakashan language family. Related to other languages in the group as French is to Spanish, the Heiltsuk language is similar to wuikyala (Oowekyala and Kwak'wala languages and are part of the Northern Wakashan language group. Heiltsuk and Wuikyala are both tonal languages, which Kwak'wala is not, and both are considered dialects of the Heiltsuk-Oowekyala language.

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