TRIBES

Kwakwaka’wakw
LOCATION: The Kwakwaka'wakw tribe of the Northwest Coast are located on the Queen Charlotte Sound and the northern corner of Vancouver Island in western British Columbia, Canada.
POPULATION: Pre Contact population records state that there were up to 19,000 Kwakwaka'wakw living in the North West. Due to European settlers bringing with them diseases, the Kwakwaka'wakw were dramatically reduced to 1,000 people in the 1920s. The current population estimates the Kwakwaka First Nations total around 7,000 people.
LANGUAGE: The people who speak Kwakwala, a Wakashan language.
DESCRIPTION:

The Kwakwaka’wakw (commonly known as Kwakiutl) First Nation forms a collective of 18 tribes who have separate names and live in different areas of Canada’s Northwest Coast. The tribes traditionally lived by the coast in cedar plank houses. Depending on the sea for resources, the men of the tribe were fishermen; using harpoons, fish nets and wooden fish traps, and hunters; using bows and arrows.

The Kwakwaka’wakw believe that the wealth of the surroundings they reside comes from their spiritual relationship with the powerful beings; animals, rivers, and trees. The nation depend on Oolichan fish as a source of food, and Oolichan oil is a given in the potlatch as a gift and as a delicacy. Today, tribe members take a yearly trip to catch Oolichan fish for food and oil, preserving the tradition and linking members to their past, their ancestors and their environment.

Similar to the Haida tribe, the Kwakwaka’wakw are famous for their woodcarvings. Beautiful dugout canoes were constructed by skilled members of the tribe, cut from red cedar tree logs, hollowed and shaped by adzing. For large sea going canoes, the prow and stern were often carved separately and later carefully attached.

One of the 18 tribes that form the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation is the Mama̱liliḵa̱la, historically known as the Mamalilkulla. Originally from Mimkwamlis (Village Island), current population stands just under 400 members. See the straw hat believed to originate from the Mama̱liliḵa̱la!

The Cannibal Dance and Potlatch ceremonies remain an important part of Kwakwaka’wakw culture. The Potlatch ceremony was a celebration that served many purposes involving gift giving and feasting. During the 1800s gifts would include animal furs and hides, bentwood boxes, wood cedar blankets and canoes. In an effort to suppress Native American customs, Canadian Law banned the Potlatch in 1884, having a dramatic effect the tribe’s way of life. It was only after the Indian Reorganisation Act in 1934 and the Canadian Indian Act of 1951 that the Potlatch became legal again. Today, the Kwakwaka’wakw attempt to retain their culture through the repatriation of sacred objects, the revitalisation and preservation of totem poles, and other forms of artwork. Gifts of silver, t-shirts with crest designs, and flour, sugar and coffee are given in potlatch ceremonies.