Food security and a celebration of culture





The eagerly anticipated (re)opening of Ha̱’me‘ Restaurant, in its new space at Kwa’lilas Hotel in Port Hardy, takes place this spring. The hotel is Indigenous-owned, developed, and run by the k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations.

Sitting down with General Manager Robert Hodson and Marketing Director Andrew Nixon, it’s clear the vision for the new restaurant goes deeper than its brick and mortar (or rather, wood and metal). Genuine cultural revitalization, storytelling, and respect for the community are at its heart.

The space is, first and foremost, envisioned as a gathering place for the local Nations and their guests—a hotspot for showcasing their warm hospitality and traditions with local and international visitors. Built to invest in the future of the community, it provides local employment and is a venue for cultural events and dances. This guiding principle is woven into the building design: modelled on the traditional Big House style and built by the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation’s own construction company using local cedar.

Ha̱'me' Restaurant at Kwa'lilas Hotel

Creating an immersive cultural experience

Stepping inside the venue, it’s apparent the team has curated a deeply immersive cultural experience that transcends the delectable, Indigenous-led menu. “There’s a story everywhere you look,” shares Nixon—from the artwork, including drums and ceremonial masks, to beautiful pieces of reclaimed wood from the Nation’s territory used for the bar top and stools.

It is also the intimacy of the space that stands out. Limited seating in fine dining establishments isn’t something new, but there’s thoughtful reasoning behind Ha̱’me‘’s few tables. “We want guests to take home a little piece of Indigenous in their hearts,” shares Hodson—full attention can be given to every diner at any given moment, cultivating a space for conversation about the food and area, as well as the Nation’s culture.

Investing in hyperlocal food systems

The menu itself will feature terms in the traditional Kwak’wala language. Ha̱’me‘ itself means “to eat.” The team has recently hired a Cultural Coordinator, Tommy Brown, whom they credit as integral to the process of language training. However, many terms in the English language do not have a Kwak’wala equivalent. Some of the words featured represent the Nation’s millennia-long traditions of harvesting from land and sea, such as ask’utala (Salmon) and p’o’yi (Halibut).

This commitment to truly understanding language and culture is another sign that this foray into tourism is a slow and steady collaborative research process with the Nation. As Hodson says, “It’s a purposeful tribute of respect to the Nation—one to be shared with others.”

Sharing final thoughts on what the space means to the community, and what visitors may take away from this immersive culinary adventure, Hodson further shares: “It’s a chance to translate the true perspective of the Nation: stewardship, community, intention, purpose in what they are doing.”