Kwakwaka’wakw Name and History

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 linguistic 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.[citation needed] They prefer the name Kwakwaka’wakw, which means “Kwak’wala-speaking-peoples”. One exception[clarification needed] 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.

Dzawa̱da̱’enux̱w girl, Margaret Frank (née Wilson) wearing abalone shell earrings, a sign of nobility and only worn by members of this class.

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.

Kwakwaka’wakw dancers from Vancouver Island performed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

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.

Man with copper piece, hammered in the characteristic “T” shape. Photo taken by Edward S. Curtis.

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 online 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 the community uses language programs, classes and social events 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.

Source From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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