T. Penney


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


Woman holds a baby, with a whiteboard in view behind her.
Thla-quas (Georgina Amos), a hereditary chief, holds Leo Blondeau during a language class she is attending.
Courtesy of V. Wells

ʔʔačaqłak | What is your name?

yaaʔakuks suw̓a | I love you

Trail through a dense, verdant forest. 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.
T. Penney
Mist rises over the river, partially blocking the mountains from view. Wild Side Trail, Flores Island, B.C.  In the 1990s the Ahousaht expanded the use of the trail as an ecotourism venture.
T. Penney

From the Collections: Nuu-chah-nulth headdress

Nuu-chah-nulth people call this type of headdress a hinkiitsim. It is worn above a dancer’s forehead and appears in pairs—male and female. This one represents a serpent—possibly Ḥayitl’iik, a lightning serpent, an important supernatural being in the Nuu-chah-nulth tradition. This headdress is from Tla-o-qui-aht in Nuu-chah-nulth territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.



Child raises a cardboard replica of a headdress over his head. Next to his winning project on masks, a fifth grader shows a hinkiitsim made by well-known artist Pat Amos, at the Alberni Valley Museum Regional Heritage Fair on Vancouver Island in 2015.
Courtesy of S. Morrow/Ha-Shilth-Sa First Nations Newspaper
Several people wearing headdresses ride in the back of the pickup truck. 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


Man sits at a workshop table with containers of tools and brushes and a half-completed sculpture next to him.
"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  
L. Allen/© AMNH


Ongoing Traditions

From the Collections: Nuu-chah-nulth fish 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

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


Scallop shells hang on a looped piece of leather.
RattleThis 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