For other uses, see Nuu-chah-nulth (disambiguation).

Three Nuu-chah-nulth children in Yuquot, 1930s
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia)
English, Nuu-chah-nulth
Related ethnic groups
Kwakwaka'wakw, Makah; other Wakashan peoples

The Nuu-chah-nulth (/nˈɑːnʊlθ/;[1] Nuu-chah-nulth: [nuːt͡ʃaːnˀuɬ]),[2] also formerly referred to as the Nootka, Nutka, Aht, Nuuchahnulth, Tahkaht,[3] are one of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast in Canada. The term Nuu-chah-nulth is used to describe fifteen related tribes whose traditional home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

In precontact and early post-contact times, the number of tribes was much greater, but smallpox and other consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of some groups and the absorption of others into neighbouring groups. The Nuu-chah-nulth are related to the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Haisla, and the Nitinaht. The Nuu-chah-nulth language is part of the Wakashan language group. The Makah people in northwest Washington were historically also Wakashan speakers.


When James Cook first encountered the villagers at Yuquot in 1778, they directed him to "come around" (Nuu-chah-nulth nuutkaa is "to circle around")[4] with his ship to the harbour. Cook interpreted this as the native's name for the inlet—now called Nootka Sound. The term was also applied to the indigenous inhabitants of the area.

In 1978 the tribes of western Vancouver Island chose the term Nuu-chah-nulth (nuučaan̓uł, meaning "all along the mountains"),[4] as a collective term of identification. This was the culmination of the 1967 alliance forged among these tribes in order to present a unified political voice to the levels of government and European-Canadian society. The Makah of northwest Washington, located on the Olympic Peninsula in their own reservation, are closely related to the Nuu-chah-nulth.

The Nuu-chah-nulth were among the first Pacific peoples north of California to encounter Europeans, who sailed into their area for trade. Competition between Spain and the United Kingdom over control of Nootka Sound led to a bitter international dispute around 1790, called the Nootka Crisis. It was settled under the Nootka Conventions of the 1790s, when Spain agreed to abandon its exclusive claims to the North Pacific coast. Negotiations to settle the dispute were handled under the aegis and hospitality of Maquinna, a powerful chief of the Mowachaht Nuu-chah-nulth.

A few years later, Maquinna and his warriors captured the American trading ship Boston in March 1803. He and his men killed the captain and all the crew but two, whom they kept as slaves. After gaining release, John R. Jewitt wrote a classic captivity narrative about his nearly 3 years with the Nuu-chah-nulth and his reluctant assimilation to their society. This 1815 book is entitled Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt;, Only Survivor of the Crew of the Ship Boston, during a Captivity of Nearly Three Years among the Savages of Nootka Sound: With an Account of the Manners, Mode of Living, and Religious Opinions of the Natives.[5] It is a valuable source of historical information on many aspects of daily indigenous life, including hunting and processing food, making clothing and implements, the fashions of hairdos and body decoration, the system of government and punishments, canoes, warfare, and spiritual beliefs.

In 1811 the trading ship Tonquin was blown up in Clayoquot Sound. Tla-o-qui-aht and his warriors had attacked the ship in revenge for an insult by the ship's captain. The captain and almost all the crew were killed and the ship abandoned. The next day warriors reboarded the empty ship to salvage it. However, a hiding crew member set fire to the ship's magazine and the resulting explosion killed many natives. Only one crew member, a pilot / interpreter hired from the nearby Quinault nation, escaped to tell the tale.

From earliest contact with European explorers up until 1830, more than 90% of the Nuu-chah-nulth died as a result of infectious disease epidemics, particularly malaria and smallpox. Europeans carried these endemic diseases but the First Nations had no immunity to them. The high rate of deaths added to the social disruption and cultural turmoil resulting from contact with Westerners. In the early 20th century, the population was estimated at 3,500.[6]


Nootka eagle mask with moveable wings, Ethnological Museum, Berlin, Germany

In the 21st century, recognised Nuu-chah-nulth band governments are:

  1. Ahousaht First Nation: (population over 2,000) formed from the merger of the Ahousaht and Kelsemaht, Manhousaht, Qwatswayiaht and Bear River bands in 1951;
  2. Ehattesaht First Nation; (population 294)
  3. Hesquiaht First Nation; (population 653)
  4. Kyuquot/Cheklesahht First Nation; (population 486)
  5. Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations: (population 520) formerly the Nootka band;
  6. Nuchatlaht First Nation; (population 165)
  7. Huu-ay-aht First Nation: (formerly Ohiaht); (population 598)
  8. Hupacasath First Nation (formerly Opetchesaht); (256)
  9. Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations: (formerly Clayoquot); (population 881)
  10. Toquaht First Nation; (population 117)
  11. Tseshaht First Nation; (population 1002)
  12. Uchucklesaht First Nation; (population 181)
  13. Ucluelet First Nation. (population 606)

Total population for the 13 tribes in the Nuuchahnulth nation is 8,147, according to the Nuuchahnulth Tribal Council Indian Registry of February 2006.

The Ditidaht First Nation (population 690), while politically and culturally affiliated with the Nuu-chah-nulth, are independently referred to. In addition, the Pacheedaht First Nation are not politically affiliated with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.


A Nuu-chah-nulth woman selling baskets in Nootka Sound in the 1930s
Nuu-chah-nulth basket about two inches wide

The Nuu-chah-nulth were one of the few indigenous peoples on the Pacific Coast who hunted whales. Whaling is essential to Nuu-chah-nulth culture and spirituality. It is reflected in stories, songs, names, family lines, and numerous place names throughout the Nuu-chah-nulth territories. they are still a tribe till his day they live in muskoka

Perhaps the most famous Nuu-chah-nulth artifact is the Yuquot Whalers' Shrine, a ritual house-like structure used in the spiritual preparations for whale hunts. Composed of a series of memorial posts depicting spirit figures and the bones of whaling ancestors, it is stored at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, having been taken there by European Americans. It was the subject of the film The Washing of Tears, directed by Hugh Brody. It recounts the rediscovery of the bones and other artifacts at the museum and the efforts by the Mowachaht First Nation, the shrine's original owners, who have been seeking to regain these sacred artifacts.


Salmon has always been an important part of Nuu-chah-nulth people's diet. They also traditionally ate various land animals, waterfowl and seafoods. The women gathered edible plants, nuts, fruits such as berries and other resources.

In an effort to revive traditional diets, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and sixteen Nuu-chah-nulth tribes have contributed to recipes in a traditional wild food cookbook, Čamus: West Coast Cooking Nuu-chah-nulth Style. The 90-page cookbook focuses on traditional recipes and seasonal ingredients from the west coast of Vancouver Island and Northern Washington. It explores First Nations cuisine and adds cooking tips, cultural observations, and oral history anecdotes. Čamus (chum-us) features traditional and wild ingredients.

Čamus explores the art of how to butterfly a salmon and how to can fish, also providing recipes for marinated seaweed, steam pit cooking, and Nuu-chah-nulth upskwee. Čamus illuminates a traditional way of eating while promoting a healthy lifestyle. It aligns with the tenets of the slow food movement, which has grown to include 80,000 members in over 100 countries. The First Nations of Vancouver Island's west coast and northern Washington link family and community in their respectful treatment of their territories' freshest ingredients.


Main article: Potlatch

The Nuu-chah-nulth and other Pacific Northwest cultures are famous for their potlatch ceremonies, in which the host honours guests with generous gifts. The term 'potlatch' is ultimately a word of Nuu-chah-nulth origin. The purpose of the potlatch is manifold: redistribution of wealth, maintenance and recognition of social status,[7][8] cementing alliances, the celebration and solemnization of marriage, and commemoration of important events.

See also


  1. "Guide to Pronunciation of B.C. First Nations" (PDF). British Columbia Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  2. "Nuučaan̓uł (Nuu-chah-nulth, Nootka)". Languagegeek. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
  3. Some account of the Tahkaht language, as spoken by several tribes on the western coast of Vancouver island , Hatchard and Co., London, 1868
  4. 1 2 Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 396 n. 34
  5. Middletown, Connecticut: printed by Loomis and Richards, 1815. Full digital text available online
  6. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aht". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 434.
  7. "Potlatch". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  8. "Potlatch". Retrieved 2007-04-26.


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