Nuu-chah-nulth

"Noo-CHAA-nulth"

The Nuu-chah-nulth are from the western side of Vancouver Island, comprised of 14 communities with language, family, and cultural affinities, including a traditional practice of whaling. Historical signs in this hall refer to them as “Nootka,” a misnomer used by Captain James Cook after his 1778 visit to the area.

Population: Approximately 9,500 (as of 2014)  Language: Nuu-chah-nulth, three dialects

 

NUU-CHAH-NULTH LANGUAGE

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Nuu-chah-nulth Language

Gold River, Vancouver Island, B.C.

The Nuu-chah-nulth language is also called T'aat'aaqsapa, meaning “putting your words in order”—speaking properly. Here, Georgina Amos (Thla-quas), a traditional chief, holds Leo Blondeau during a language class she is attending. Fewer than 150 people speak Nuu-chah-nulth proficiently today. Amos is still learning. Her family attended a government-run residential school, where indigenous languages were forbidden, affecting how much Nuu-chah-nulth was passed on to her. Listen to phrases in the Ehattesaht dialect from nearby Ehatis.

Image credit: V. Wells. Audio: ʔiiḥatisatḥ/čiinaxint Tribe. n̓aaskuusaƛ — Fidelia Haiyupis, elder voice.


ʔʔačaqłak (What is your name?)

yaaʔakuks suw̓a (I love you. Literally, it means “You are my pain.")

 

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Forest to Beach

Wild Side Trail, Flores Island, B.C.

For centuries the Nuu-chah-nulth community on Flores Island, the Ahousaht, have walked a seven-mile (11km) forested trail from their village to the resource-rich beaches on the west side of the Island.

Image credit: T. Penney


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Forest to Beach

Wild Side Trail, Flores Island, B.C.

In the 1990s the Ahousaht expanded the use of the trail as an ecotourism venture.

Image credit: T. Penney


 

FROM THE COLLECTIONS: Nuu-chah-nulth headdress

Headdress

Nuu-chah-nulth people call this type of headdress a hinkiitsimIt is worn above a dancer’s forehead and appears in pairs—male and female. This one’s pair is in the Anthropology collection upstairs. The right to wear a hinkiitsim in potlatches, or ceremonial feasts, is handed down from generation to generation. This one represents a serpent, possibly a lightning snake, an important supernatural being in the Nuu-chah-nulth tradition.

This headdress is from Clayoquot in Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

AMNH 16/1900, acquired 1897


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Fifth grader David Little shows a hinkiitsim-style headdress he made for his winning project at the Alberni Valley Museum Regional Heritage Fair on Vancouver Island in 2015.

Image credit: S. Morrow/Ha-Shilth-Sa


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Several dancers wear hinkiitsim on a decorated truck around 1929. At the back, Chief Dan Watts carries a sign saying ”We are the Real Native Sons of Canada.”

Image credit: Alberni Valley Museum


 

 

NUU-CHAH-NULTH TERRITORY


 

 

 

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"I grew up with my grandparents, and that was very good for me. The very first carvings I did were when I was 11 years old. My grandmother would say to me, “take the cedar chip. Put it in your hand.” She knew exactly what I was going to be. She could foresee.Life was about preparation. This is how you hold your knife. You go over and over it until you get it right. If you did it improperly, it was like, “Just put it away.” Go see your cousin. Come back when you’re ready. Later, when I was an adult, my granduncle used to say, “You’re near finished now, Tim. It’s alive, and you can talk to it. I’m going to go inside.” That’s putting yourself into that piece and making it come alive."

—Tim Paul | Master Artist  

Image credit: AMNH/L. Allen


You put yourself into a piece and make it come alive.

 

 

ONGOING TRADITIONS


 

 

 

 

FROM THE COLLECTIONS: Nuu-chah-nulth fish rattle

Rattle

Doctor Atlieu, a shaman from Clayoquot, Vancouver Island, called this rattle Hemetsee, or gatherer of the fish. Before salmon season, Atlieu would put on a mask of the spirit Entina, then wade into the river up to his neck with the rattle in hand. His singing and shaking would summon Entina to summon the fish. After Atlieu sold this rattle to a collector, he began to regret it—few salmon came that season.

This rattle is from Clayoquot in Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

AMNH 16/1966, acquired 1897


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Dr. Atlieu, the shaman who used this rattle, is at left. He is with Charles Nowell, Bob Harris, and an unidentified man at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Image credit: AMNH Library 333573


 

 

FROM THE COLLECTIONS: Nuu-chah-nulth shell rattle

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Rattle

This rattle is made of very large shells from a scallop species locally called weathervanes or pecten. This type of rattle is part of a masked dance called the X̱wix̱wi (prounounced “hway-hway”) The dance is done to cleanse and protect people of high rank. The right to perform it was passed from Coast Salish people to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth through marriage.

This rattle is from Clayoquot in Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

AMNH 16/1971, acquired 1897


 

 

See more of the Museum's collection of Nuu-chah-nulth objects.

 

 

Image credit for lead photo: T. Penney