Duke and Duchess welcomed by Heiltsuk Nation in rainy Bella Bella

Royals take in culture-sharing ceremony, visit to elders' lodge and youth centre, and dedicate Great Bear Rainforest

Prince William and Kate receive blankets as gifts during the Heiltsuk Nation welcome in Bella Bella.

The Heiltsuk Nation focused on their youth, environment, and indigenous sovereignty when welcoming the Duke and Duchess to Bella Bella on Monday, as part of the couple’s week-long tour of B.C. and the Yukon.

Tour organizers had to change plans several times because of the heavy rain. Their float plane tour of the Great Bear Rainforest and a boat ride around the bay had to be cancelled.

But ceremonies carried on inside the community hall with a cultural welcome presented by the Heiltsuk youth.

William and Kate took time to meet each of the hereditary chiefs, shaking hands and speaking with each in turn as they entered the hall.

The Heiltsuk youth shared several dances and songs with the couple, who were joined by by Premier Christy Clark, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon, and the federal minister of justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

In a candid moment, Kate was swarmed by young children after the dance. She appeared to enjoy every moment of it, engaging directly with several of the young girls who came up to see her.

Traditional protocol of the Heiltsuk Nation entailed the presentation of gifts to the royal couple and dignitaries. The Duke and Duchess were wrapped in traditional blankets before receiving several items; their favourite appearing to be traditional blankets and vests for their children, and a drum for Prince George.

In a moving speech closing the ceremony at the hall, Heiltsuk hereditary chief Edwin Newman presented a staff given to the Heiltsuk by Queen Victoria, and spoke of his community’s resilience, sovereignty, and ties to the land.

“We own this land. Every bit of it,” Newman stated. “This staff represents that we are a sovereign nation, and this is the message I am passing to through your Royal Highnesses. Our minds will never change about our ownership of this land.”

The procession then moved to the Elders’ Lodge where Heiltsuk resource manager Kelly Brown, Clark, Johnston, and Prince William recognized the dedication of the Great Bear Rainforest into the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative.

The visit concluded with the unveiling of a plaque in the forest before the couple returned to Victoria for the Black Rod ceremony and reception at Government House.

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