Richard Hunt, Kwakwaka'wakw artist
|Regions with significant populations|
|Canada ( British Columbia)|
|Christianity, Traditional Indigenous religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Haisla, Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv|
The Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw (Kwak'wala pronunciation in IPA: [ˈkʷa.kʷə.kʲə.ʔwakʷ]) are a Pacific Northwest Coast indigenous people. Their current population is approximately 5,500. Most live in British Columbia on northern Vancouver Island and the adjoining mainland, and on islands around Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait. Some also live outside their homelands in urban areas such as Victoria and Vancouver.
Their language, now spoken by less than 5% of the population (about 250 people), consists of four dialects of what is commonly referred to as Kwak'wala. These dialects are Kwak̓wala, ’Nak̓wala, G̱uc̓ala and T̓łat̓łasik̓wala. The name Kwakwaka'wakw translates as "The-Kwak̓wala-Speaking-People," and numerous distinct peoples and communities form the Kwakwaka'wakw. They are today politically organized into 13 band governments. They have historically been referred to by non-Natives as the Kwakiutl //, or Kwagu'ł, although this is but one of the Kwakwaka'wakw nations.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 History
- 3 People
- 4 Society
- 5 Culture
- 6 Notable Kwakwaka'wakw
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The name Kwakiutl derives from Kwagu'ł—the name of a single community of Kwakwaka'wakw located at Fort Rupert. The anthropologist Franz Boas had done most of his anthropological work in this area and popularized the term for both this nation and the collective as a whole. The term became misapplied to mean all the nations who spoke Kwak'wala, as well as three other indigenous peoples whose language is a part of the Wakashan linguistical group, but whose language is not Kwak'wala. These peoples, incorrectly known as the Northern Kwakiutl, were the Haisla, Wuikinuxv, and Heiltsuk.
Many people who others call "Kwakiutl" consider that name a misnomer. They prefer the name Kwakwaka'wakw, which means Kwak'wala-speaking-peoples. One exception is the Laich-kwil-tach at Campbell River—they are known as the Southern Kwakiutl, and their council is the Kwakiutl District Council.
Kwakwaka'wakw oral history says their ancestors (‘na’mima) came in the forms of animals by way of land, sea, or underground. When one of these ancestral animals arrived at a given spot, it discarded its animal appearance and became human. Animals that figure in these origin myths include the Thunderbird, his brother Kolus, the seagull, orca, grizzly bear, or chief ghost. Some ancestors have human origins and are said to come from distant places.
Historically, the Kwakwaka'wakw economy was based primarily on fishing, with the men also engaging in some hunting, and the women gathering wild fruits and berries. Ornate weaving and woodwork were important crafts, and wealth, defined by slaves and material goods, was prominently displayed and traded at potlatch ceremonies. These customs were the subject of extensive study by the anthropologist Franz Boas. In contrast to most non-native societies, wealth and status were not determined by how much you had, but by how much you had to give away. This act of giving away your wealth was one of the main acts in a potlatch.
The first documented contact was with Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Disease, which developed as a result of direct contact with European settlers along the West Coast of Canada, drastically reduced the indigenous Kwakwaka'wakw population during the late 19th-early 20th century. Kwakwaka’wakw population dropped by 75% between 1830 and 1880.
An account of experiences of two founders of early residential schools for aboriginal children, was published in 2006 by the University of British Columbia Press. "Good Intentions Gone Awry - Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission On the Northwest Coast" by Jan Hare and Jean Barman, contains the letters and account of the life of the wife of Thomas Crosby, the first missionary in Port Simpson. This covers the period from 1870 to the turn of the 20th century.
A second book was published in 2005 by The University of Calgary Press "The Letters of Margaret Butcher - Missionary Imperialism on the North Pacific Coast"  edited by Mary-Ellen Kelm. It picks up the story from 1916 to 1919 in the village of Kitamaat and details Butcher's experiences among the Haisla people.
A review article entitled Mothers of a Native Hell about these two books was published in the British Columbia on-line news magazine The Tyee in 2007.
Restoring their ties to their land, culture, and rights, the Kwakwaka'wakw have undertaken much in bringing back their customs, beliefs, and language. Potlatches occur more frequently as families reconnect to their birthright and language programs, classes, and social events utilize the community to restore the language. Artists in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Mungo Martin, Ellen Neel, and Willie Seaweed have taken efforts to revive Kwakwaka'wakw art and culture.
Each Kwakwaka'wakw nation has its own clans, chiefs, history, culture and peoples, but remain collectively similar to the rest of the Kwak̓wala-Speaking nations. After the epidemics and colonization, some nations have become extinct, and others have been merged into communities or First Nations band governments.
|Nation Name||IPA||Translation||Community||Anglicized, archaic variants or adaptations|
|Kwagu'ł||Smoke-Of-The-World||Tsax̱is / Fort Rupert||Kwagyewlth, Kwakiutl|
|Mamaliliḵa̱la||The-People-Of-Malilikala||'Mimkumlis / Village Island|
|'Na̱mg̱is||Those-Who-Are-One-When-They-Come-Together||Xwa̱lkw / Nimpkish River and Yalis / Alert Bay,||Nimpkish-Cheslakees|
|Ławitsis||Angry-ones||Ḵalug̱wis / Turnour Island ||Tlowitsis|
|A̱'wa̱'etła̱la||Those-Up-The-Inlet||Dzawadi / Knight Inlet|
|Da̱'naxda'x̱w||The-Sandstone-Ones||New Vancouver, Harbledown Island||Tanakteuk|
|Ma'a̱mtagila||Itsika̱n||Etsekin, i'tsika̱n |
|Dzawa̱da̱'enux̱w||People-Of-The-Eulachon-Country||Gwa'yi / Kingcome Inlet||Tsawataineuk|
|Ḵwiḵwa̱sut̓inux̱w||People-Of-The-Other-Side||G̱wa'yasda̱ms / Gilford Island||Kwicksutaineuk|
|Gwawa̱'enux̱w||Heg̱a̱m's / Hopetown (Watson Island)||Gwawaenuk|
|'Nak̕waxda'x̱w||Ba'a's / Blunden Harbour, Seymour Inlet, & Deserters Group||Nakoaktok, Nakwoktak|
|Gwa'sa̱la||T̓a̱kus / Smith Inlet, Burnett Bay||Gwasilla, Quawshelah|
|Gwat̕sinux̱w||Head-Of-Inlet-People||Winter Harbour||Oyag̱a̱m'la / Quatsino|
|T̓łat̕ła̱siḵwa̱la||Those-Of-The-Ocean-Side||X̱wa̱mdasbe' / Hope Island|
|Wiwēqay̓i||Ceqʷəl̓utən / Cape Mudge, British Columbia||Weiwaikai, Yuculta, Euclataws, Laich-kwil-tach, Lekwiltok, Likw'ala|
|Wiwēkam||Am̓atex̌ʷ / Campbell River, British Columbia||Weiwaikum|
Kwakwaka'wakw kinship is based on a bilinear structure, with loose characteristics of a patrilineal culture. It has large extended families and interconnected community life. The Kwakwaka'wakw are made up of numerous communities or bands. Within those communities they were organized into extended family units or na'mima, which means of one kind. Each 'na'mima' had positions that carried particular responsibilities and privileges. Each community had around four 'na'mima', although some had more, some had less.
Kwakwaka'wakw follow their genealogy back to their ancestral roots. A head chief who, through primogeniture, could trace his origins to that 'na'mima's ancestors, delineated the roles throughout the rest of his family. Every clan had several sub-chiefs, who gained their titles sand position through their own family's primogeniture. These chiefs organized their people to harvest the communal lands that belonged to their family.
Kwakwa'wakw society was organized into four classes: the nobility, attaining through birthright and connection in lineage to ancestors, the aristocracy who attained status through connection to wealth, resources, or spiritual powers displayed or distributed in the potlatch, commoners, and slaves. On the nobility class, "the noble was recognized as the literal conduit between the social and spiritual domains, birthright alone was not enough to secure rank: only individuals displaying the correct moral behavior [sic] throughout their life course could maintain ranking status."
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As in other Northwest Coast peoples, the concept of property was well developed and important to daily life. Territorial property such as hunting or fishing grounds was inherited, and from these properties material wealth was collected and stored.
A trade and barter subsistence economy formed the early stages of the Kwakwaka'wakw economy. Trade was carried out between internal Kwakwaka'wakw nations, as well as surrounding aboriginal nations such as the Tsimshian, Tlingit, the Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish peoples.
Over time, the potlatch tradition created a demand for stored surpluses, as such a display of wealth had social implications. By the time of European colonialism, it was noted that wool blankets had become a form of common currency. In the potlatch tradition, hosts of the potlatch were expected to provide enough gifts for all the guests invited. This practice created a system of loan and interest, using wool blankets as currency.
As with other Pacific Northwest nations, the Kwakwaka'wakw highly valued copper in their economy and used it for ornament and precious goods. Scholars have proposed that prior to trade with Europeans, the people acquired copper from natural copper veins along riverbeds, but this has not been proven. Contact with European settlers, particularly through the Hudson's Bay Company, brought an influx of copper to their territories. The Kwakwaka'wakw nations also were aware of silver and gold, and crafted intricate bracelets and jewellery from hammered coins traded from European settlers. Copper was given a special value amongst the Kwakwaka'wakw, most likely for its ceremonial purposes. This copper was beaten into sheets or plates, and then painted with mythological figures. The sheets were used for decorating wooden carvings, or kept for the sake of prestige.
Individual pieces of copper were sometimes given names based on their value. The value of any given piece was defined by the number of wool blankets last traded for them. In this system, it was considered prestigious for a buyer to purchase the same piece of copper at a higher price than it was previously sold, in their version of an art market. During potlatch, copper pieces would be brought out, and bids were placed on them by rival chiefs. The highest bidder would have the honour of buying said copper piece. If a host still held a surplus of copper after throwing an expensive potlatch, he was considered a wealthy and important man. Highly ranked members of the communities often have the Kwak'wala word for "copper" as part of their names.
Copper's importance as an indicator of status also led to its use in a Kwakwaka'wakw shaming ritual. The copper cutting ceremony involved breaking copper plaques. The act represents a challenge; if the target cannot break a plaque of equal or greater value, he or she is shamed. The ceremony, which had not been performed since the 1950s, was revived by chief Beau Dick in 2013, as part of the Idle No More movement. He performed a copper cutting ritual on the lawn of the British Columbia Legislature on February 10, 2013, to ritually shame the Stephen Harper government.
The Kwakwaka'wakw are a highly stratified bilineal culture of the Pacific Northwest. They are many separate nations, each with its own history, culture and governance. The Nations commonly each had a head chief, who acted as the leader of the nation, with numerous hereditary clan or family chiefs below him. In some of the nations, there also existed Eagle Chiefs, but this was a separate society within the main society and applied to the potlatching only.
The Kwakwaka'wakw are one of the few bilineal cultures. Traditionally the rights of the family would be passed down through the paternal side, but in rare occasions, the rights could pass on the maternal side of their family also. Within the pre-colonization times, the Kwakwaka'wakw were organized into three classes: nobles, commoners, and slaves. The Kwakwaka'wakw shared many cultural and political alliances with numerous neighbours in the area, including the Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and some Coast Salish.
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The Kwak'wala language is a part of the Wakashan language group. Word lists and some documentation of Kwak'wala were created from the early period of contact with Europeans in the 18th century, but a systematic attempt to record the language did not occur before the work of Franz Boas in the late 19th and early 20th century. The use of Kwak'wala declined significantly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, mainly due to the assimilationist policies of the Canadian government. Kwakwa'wakw children were forced to attend residential schools at which English was required to be used. Although Kwak'wala and Kwakwaka'wakw culture have been well-studied by linguists and anthropologists, these efforts did not reverse the trends leading to language loss. According to Guy Buchholtzer, "The anthropological discourse had too often become a long monologue, in which the Kwakwaka'wakw had nothing to say." 
As a result of these pressures, there are relatively few Kwak'wala speakers today. Most remaining speakers are past the age of child-rearing, which is considered a crucial stage for language transmission. As with many other indigenous languages, there are significant barriers to language revitalization. Another barrier separating new learners from the native speaker is the presence of four separate orthographies; the young are taught U'mista or NAPA, while the older generations generally use Boaz, developed by the American anthropologist Franz Boas.
A number of revitalization efforts are underway. A 2005 proposal to build a Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations Centre for Language Culture has gained wide support. A review of revitalization efforts in the 1990s showed that the potential to fully revitalize Kwak'wala still remained, but serious hurdles also existed.
In the old times, the Kwakwaka'wakw believed that art symbolized a common underlying element shared by all species.
Kwakwaka'wakw arts consist of a diverse range of crafts, including totems, masks, textiles, jewelry and carved objects, ranging in size from masks to 40' tall totem poles. Cedar wood was the preferred medium for sculpting and carving projects as it was readily available in the native Kwakwaka'wakw regions. Totems were carved with bold cuts, a relative degree of realism, and an emphatic use of paints. Masks make up a large portion of Kwakwaka'wakw art, as masks are important in the portrayal of the characters central to Kwakwaka'wakw dance ceremonies.
Woven textiles included the Chilkat blanket, dance aprons, and button cloaks; each patterned with Kwakwaka'wakw designs. The Kwakwaka'wakw used a variety of objects for jewelry, including ivory, bone, abalone shell, copper, silver and more. Adornments were frequently found on the clothes of important persons.
Kwakwaka'wakw music is the ancient art of the indigenous or aboriginal Kwakwaka'wakw peoples. The music is an ancient art form, stretching back thousands of years. The music is used primarily for ceremony and ritual, and is based around percussive instrumentation, especially log, box, and hide drums, as well as rattles and whistles. The four-day Klasila festival is an important cultural display of song and dance and masks; it occurs just before the advent of the tsetseka, or winter.
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Ceremonies and events
The potlatch culture of the Northwest is well known and widely studied. It is still practised among the Kwakwaka'wakw, as is the lavish artwork for which they and their neighbours are so renowned. The phenomenon of the potlatch, and the vibrant societies and cultures associated with it, can be found in Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, which details the incredible artwork and legendary material that go with the other aspects of the potlatch, and gives a glimpse into the high politics and great wealth and power of the Kwakwaka'wakw chiefs.
When the Canadian government was focused on assimilation of First Nations, it made the potlatch a target of activities to be suppressed. Missionary William Duncan wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”
“Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the "Potlatch" or the Indian dance known as the "Tamanawas" is guilty of a misdemeanour, and shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not more than six nor less than two months in a jail or other place of confinement; and, any Indian or other person who encourages, either directly or indirectly an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, or who shall assist in the celebration of same is guilty of a like offence, and shall be liable to the same punishment.”
“We want to know whether you have come to stop our dances and feasts, as the missionaries and agents who live among our neighbors [sic] try to do. We do not want to have anyone here who will interfere with our customs. We were told that a man-of-war would come if we should continue to do as our grandfathers and great-grandfathers have done. But we do not mind such words. Is this the white man’s land? We are told it is the Queen’s land, but no! It is mine.
Where was the Queen when our God gave this land to my grandfather and told him, “This will be thine?” My father owned the land and was a mighty Chief; now it is mine. And when your man-of-war comes, let him destroy our houses. Do you see yon trees? Do you see yon woods? We shall cut them down and build new houses and live as our fathers did.
We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, “Do as the Indian does?” It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us.
Eventually the Act was amended, expanded to prohibit guests from participating in the potlatch ceremony. The Kwakwaka'wakw were too numerous to police, and the government could not enforce the law. Duncan Campbell Scott convinced Parliament to change the offence from criminal to summary, which meant ‘the agents, as justice of the peace, could try a case, convict, and sentence.”
Sustaining the customs and culture of their ancestors, in the 21st century the Kwakwaka'wakw openly hold potlatches to commit to the revival of their ancestors' ways. The frequency of potlatches has increased as occur frequently and increasingly more over the years as families reclaim their birthright.
Food and cuisine
The Kwakwaka'wakw were excellent hunters, fishers, and gatherers. Living in the coastal regions, they made seafood was a staple of their diet, supplemented by berries. Salmon was a major catch during spawning season when the salmon swam upriver. They ate most of the fauna in the Northwest coast, including land animals such as rabbits and caribou. They also collected beach food —shellfish and seaweed. Marine mammals hunted for furs and food were sea otters, seals, and whales. Hunting with harpoons, they would stalk whales for days at a time. They ate sea birds, and nests along the shore were a good source of eggs.
Housing and shelter
The Kwakwaka'wakw built their houses from cedar planks, which are highly water resistant. They were very large, some up to 100 feet long. The houses could hold about 50 people, usually families from the same clan. At the entrance, there was usually a totem pole carved with different animals, mythological figures and family crests.
Clothing and regalia
In summer, men wore no clothing except jewellery. In the winter, they usually rubbed fat on themselves to keep warm. In battle the men wore red cedar armour and helmets, and breech clouts made from cedar. During ceremonies they wore circles of cedar bark on their ankles as well as cedar breech clouts. The women wore skirts of softened cedar, and a cedar or wool blanket on top during the winter.
Kwakwaka'wakw transportation was similar to that of other coastal people. Being an ocean and coastal people, they traveled mainly by canoe. Cedar dugout canoes, made from one log, would be carved for use by individuals, families, and communities. Sizes varied from ocean-going canoes for long sea-worth travel in trade missions, to smaller local canoes for inter-village travel.
- Sonny Assu, interdisciplinary artist
- George Hunt, ethnologist
- Calvin Hunt, artist
- Henry Hunt (artist), artist
- Richard Hunt (artist), artist
- Tony Hunt (artist), artist
- Beau Dick, artist, woodcarver
- Jackson Robertson, artist, woodcarver
- David Neel, artist, writer
- Ellen Neel, woodcarver
- Mungo Martin, woodcarver
- Quesalid, medicine man, writer
- Willie Seaweed, woodcarver
- James Sewid, writer
- "The Kwakʼwala Speaking Tribes", U’mista Cultural Centre. Retrieved November 21 2013
- First Voices: Kwak̓wala Community Portal Retrieved November 21, 2013
- National Museum of the American Indian Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- University of British Columbia Totem Park House Names Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- Ministry of Education, Government of British Columbia Website Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- Ministry of Education, Government of British Columbia Website Retrieved December 15, 2014.
- Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw/Kʷakʷəkəw̓akʷ Communities, LanguageGeek.com Retrieved April 6, 2013.
- "Thunderbird Park – A Place of Cultural Sharing". Royal British Columbia Museum. Retrieved 2006-06-24. Mungo and David Martin, with carpenter Robert J. Wallace, built a big house based on Chief Nakap'ankam's house in Tsaxis (Fort Rupert, British Columbia). The house "bears on its house-posts the hereditary crests of Martin's family." It continues to be used for ceremonies with the permission of Chief Oast'akalagalis 'Walas 'Namugwis (Peter Knox, Martin's grandson) and Mable Knox. Pole carved by Mungo Martin, David Martin and Mildred Hunt. "Rather than display his own crests on the pole, which was customary, Martin chose to include crests representing the A'wa'etlala, Kwagu'l, 'Nak'waxda'xw and 'Namgis Nations. In this way, the pole represents and honours all the Kwakwaka'wakw people."
- Boas, (1925) vol. 3, pp 229-30.
- Duff Wilson, The Indian History of British Columbia, 38-40; Sessional Papers, 1873–1880.
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- Hare, Jan; Barman, Jean (2006). Good intentions gone awry Emma Crosby and the Methodist mission on the Northwest Coast ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-1270-2.
- Kelm, edited by Mary-Ellen (2005). The letters of Margaret Butcher : missionary-imperialism on the north Pacific Coast. Calgary: U of Calgary Pr. ISBN 978-1-55238-166-3.
- "Mothers of a Native Hell". Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- "FirstVoices: Kwak̓wala. Nature / Environment - place names: words". Retrieved 2012-07-08.
- Joseph Masco, “It is a Strict Law that Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922, 48.
- Hawthorn, A. (1988) pp. 31
- Hawthorn, A. (1988) pp. 33
- Hawthorn, A. (1988) pp. 35
- Hawthorn, A. (1988) pp. 173
- Judith Lavoie (9 February 2013). "First Nations chief to perform rare shaming rite on legislature lawn today". Victoria Times Colonist. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- SFU News Online - Native language centre planned - July 7, 2005
- Stabilizing Indigenous Languages: Conclusion
- "Native language centre planned" - July 7, 2005, SFU News Online
- "Reversing Language Shift: Can Kwak'wala Be Revived?", University
- Jonaitis, A. (1991) pp 67.
- Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1977, 207.
- Aldona Jonaitis, Chiefly Feasts: the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1991, p.159.
- Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch Aldona Jonaitis (Editor) U. Washington Press 1991 (also a publication of the American Museum of Natural History)
- Bancroft-Hunt, Norman. People of the Totem: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest University of Oklahoma Press, 1988
- Boas, Contributions to the Ethnology of the Kwakiutl, Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, vol. 3, New York: Columbia University Press, 1925.
- Fisher, Robin. Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1977.
- Goldman, Irving. The Mouth of Heaven: an Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought, New York: Joh Wiley and Sons, 1975.
- Hawthorn, Audrey. Kwakiutl Art. University of Washington Press. 1988. ISBN 0-88894-612-0.
- Jonaitis, Aldona. Chiefly Feasts: the Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.
- Masco, Joseph. “It is a Strict Law that Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922, San Diego: University of California.
- Reid, Martine and Daisy Sewid-Smith. Paddling to Where I Stand, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2004.
- Spradley, James. Guests Never Leave Hungry, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969.
- Umista Cultural Society. Creation myth of Kwakwaka’wakw (December 1, 2007).
- Walens, Stanley “Review of the Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman,” American Anthropologist, 1981.
- Wilson, Duff. The Indian History of British Columbia, 38-40; Sessional Papers, 1873–1880.
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