Coordinates: 55°15′00″N 127°40′00″W / 55.25000°N 127.66667°W / 55.25000; -127.66667
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Total population
approx. 3,160 (2019)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia)
English, Babine-Witsuwitʼen
Indigenous religion
Related ethnic groups
Other Dene peoples
Especially Tsilhqotʼin, Dakelh, and Babine
The Wetʼsuwetʼen's bridge across the Bulkley River, Hagwilget, 1872
Map of British Columbia and Alberta with traditional Wetʼsuwetʼen territory in north central British Columbia highlighted and labelled "Wetʼsuwetʼen Territory".
Map showing the rough location of traditional Wetʼsuwetʼen territory in western Canada

The Wetʼsuwetʼen are a First Nation who live on the Bulkley River and around Burns Lake, Broman Lake, and François Lake in the northwestern Central Interior of British Columbia.

The Wetʼsuwetʼen are a branch of the Dakelh or Carrier people, and in combination with the Babine people have been referred to as the Western Carrier.[citation needed] They speak Witsuwitʼen, a dialect of the Babine-Witsuwitʼen language which, like its sister language Carrier, is a member of the Athabaskan family.

Their oral history, called kungax, recounts that their ancestral village, Dizkle or Dzilke, once stood upstream from the Bulkley Canyon.[2] This cluster of cedar houses on both sides of the river is said to have been abandoned because of an omen of impending disaster. The exact location of the village has been lost.[3] The neighbouring Gitxsan people of the Hazelton area have a similar tale, though the village in their version is named Dimlahamid (Temlahan).[4][5]


The word Wetʼsuwetʼen (English: /wɛtˈsɪtɪn/ wet-SOH-ih-tin) is spelled in numerous ways. Witsuwitʼen is the correct spelling in the writing system in general use.[citation needed] In non-technical publications, it is usually misspelled as Witsʼuwitʼen, Witʼsuwitʼen, Wetsʼuwetʼen, or Wetʼsuwetʼen due to the difficulty of distinguishing ejective [ts] from plain [ts]. Official spellings with <tʼs> are used in the names of the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation and the Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. In point of fact the [ts] is not ejective. Older spellings include Hotsotʼen and Hwotsotʼen. Whutsowhutʼen is the Carrier name in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system in general use for that language.

The endonym Wetʼsuwetʼen means "People of the Wa Dzun Kwuh River (Bulkley River)".[6]


In the traditional Wetʼsuwetʼen governance system, there are five clans, which are further subdivided into 13 house groups. Each house group is led by a single house chief, and also includes several sub-chiefs (also referred to as "wing chiefs"). Hereditary chief names (both house chiefs and sub-chiefs) are usually passed on to a successor chosen by the incumbent name holder, more often than not through family lines. Clan membership is Matrilineal, passed from mother to children. In Witsuwit'en, male hereditary chiefs are referred to as dinï zeʼ, and female hereditary chiefs are referred to as tsʼakë zeʼ.[7]

The house groups and house chiefs of each of the five clans, as well as the English names of the current house chiefs, can be found in the chart below.

Gilseyhu (Big Frog Clan)
House group Translation House chief name Incumbent
Yex Tʼsa Witʼantʼ Thin House Goohlaht vacant
Yex Tʼsa Wilkʼus Dark House Knedebeas Warner William
Kayex Birchbark House Samooh Herb Naziel
Laksilyu (Small Frog Clan)
House group Translation House chief name Incumbent
Kwen Beegh Yex House Beside the Fire Wah Tah Kwets vacant
Gʼen Egh La Yex House of Many Eyes Hagwilnegh Ron Mitchell
Tsee Kʼal Kʼe Yex House on a Flat Rock Wah Tah Kʼeght vacant
Tsayu (Beaver Clan)
House group Translation House chief name Incumbent
Djakanyex Beaver House Kweese vacant
Tsa Kʼen Yex Rafters on Beaver House Naʼmoks John Ridsdale
Laksamshu (Fireweed and Owl Clan)
House group Translation House chief name Incumbent
Medzeyex Owl House Kloum Khun Alphonse Gagnon
Tsalyex Sun House Smogelgem Warner Naziel
Gitdumden (Wolf and Bear Clan)
House group Translation House chief name Incumbent
Cassyex Grizzly House Woos Frank Alec
Kalyexwenits House in the Middle of Many Gisdayʼwa Fred Tom
Anaskasi Where it Lies Blocking the Trail Madeek Jeff Brown

*Unist'ot'en Camp Group is affiliated with the Yex T'sa Wilk'us (Dark House) under the Gilseyhu (Big Frog) Clan.[8]

Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation bands[edit]


In 1960, the Decker Lake, François Lake (later Nee-Tahi-Buhn), Maxim Lake[citation needed] and Skin Tyee Bands merged to form the Omineca Band. In 1984, the Omineca Band divided into the Nee-Tahi-Buhn and Browman (or Broman) Lake Bands, the latter of which later became Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation. In 2000, the Skin Tyee Band separated from the Nee-Tahi-Buhn Band.[9]

Contemporary First Nation bands[edit]

The following two First Nations are members of the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council:[10]

The following four First Nations are not affiliated with any tribal council:

Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen[edit]

The Office of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen, also known as the Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen or the OW, is a political organization governed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people, based in Smithers, British Columbia. The Office takes part in the BC Treaty Process through the two Indian Act band governments (Hagwilget and Witset First Nations) which contain the 13 hereditary chieftaincies. The Office is not a tribal council, nor a traditional governing body, but rather a non-profit society,[18] directed by a Board of Directors, with the goal of being a central office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen Nation. It was founded as an independent office in 1994, after the splitting of the Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en Tribal Council, which had represented the two nations during Delgamuukw v British Columbia.[19][20]

As of April 2020, the Board of Directors was composed of seven house chiefs (Naʼmoks, Knedebeas, Madeek, Samooh, Kloum Khun, Wah Tah Kʼeght, and Hagwilnegh).[21]

As of 2009, the organization was at Stage 4 of the BC Treaty Process.[citation needed]

On May 14, 2020, the governments of Canada and British Columbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en, in which the Canadian and B.C. governments "recognize that Wet’suwet’en rights and title are held by Wet’suwet’en houses under their system of governance".[22] Following concerns by leaders of the band councils, the hereditary chiefs clarified that the Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen is not a governing body, and that the authority of the band councils under the MOU would not be diminished.[18]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ "Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs | BC Treaty Commission". www.bctreaty.ca.
  2. ^ Mills 2011, p. 77.
  3. ^ [1] See also Rocher Déboulé Range.
  4. ^ Glavin, Terry. Death Feast at Dimlahamid.
  5. ^ Barbeau, Marius. The Downfall of Temlahan.
  6. ^ "A History of the Wetʼsuwetʼen Village of Tse-kya".
  7. ^ "Wetʼsuwetʼen Hereditary Chiefs Set the Record Straight in Response to Province of BC's Divide and Conquer Sharp Dealings" (PDF) (Press release). June 15, 2016.
  8. ^ "Governance Structure".
  9. ^ "Nee Tahi Buhn". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  10. ^ "Cstc.bc.ca". www.cstc.bc.ca.
  11. ^ "Browman Lake". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  12. ^ "Ts'il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake)". British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  13. ^ "About | Hagwilget". Hagwilget Village Co.
  14. ^ "Investing with Hagwilget Village Council". British Columbia. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  15. ^ "Skin Tyee". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  16. ^ "Witset First Nation | Moricetown Band Office | Tourism Witset". Witset Band Office.
  17. ^ "Moricetown". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  18. ^ a b Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs (May 11, 2020). "Re: MOU Meetings with Wet'suwet'en Clans and elected Chief and Band Councillors" (PDF). Letter to Chief Maureen Luggi.
  19. ^ Forester, Brett (March 10, 2020). "The Delgamuukw decision: When the 'invisible people' won recognition". APTN National News. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  20. ^ "About Our Organization". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  21. ^ "Office of the Wet'suwet'en Board of Directors". Office of the Wetʼsuwetʼen. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved June 6, 2020.
  22. ^ "Memorandum of Understanding Between Canada, British Columbia and Wetʼsuwetʼen As agreed on February 29, 2020" (PDF) (Press release). May 14, 2020.


  • Mills, Antonia (2011). Eagle Down Is Our Law: Witsuwit'en Law, Feasts, and Land Claims. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN 0774805137.

External links[edit]

55°15′00″N 127°40′00″W / 55.25000°N 127.66667°W / 55.25000; -127.66667