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Spread of the Salish languages

The Nuxalk (or Nuxálk , where the x stands for an Ach sound ; formerly Bellacoola or Bellakula ) are Native Americans from the Salish language family . They live on the banks of the Bella Coola River in British Columbia , in a fishing village that was isolated until 1906 and 1955. Today her village of Qomqots stands near the town of Bella Coola . Culturally they belong to the coastal Salish .

Bella-Coola is a corruption of the Heiltsuk word for the Nuxalk. Originally the name included the tribe of the same name, but also the Talio, Kimsquit and some Kwatna who lived in villages on the South and North Bentinck Arm and in the Bella Coola Valley, but also on the Dean Channel and Kwatna Inlet. By the 1920s, however, these tribes had abandoned their villages and amalgamated with the Nuxalk. It wasn't until the late 1970s that the Bella Coola began to call themselves Nuxalk Nation .

Their language belongs to the Salish language family, but they thus form an island between the neighboring peoples who either belong to the Wakash or Athapaskan language family . In the process, they have developed great cultural similarities with the Heiltsuk, their neighbors, who speak a Wakash language.

The Nuxalk, of whom 1,533 are recognized as members of the tribe, belong to a tribal council, the Oweekeno-Kitasoo-Nuxalk Tribal Council .


The former main village of Bella Coola, Qomq'-ts, was located at the mouth of the river of the same name. As with all coastal Salish , society was divided into three classes, that of an aristocratic upper class, plus simple tribal members and slaves. The painted houses belonged to the families with the highest rank.

Mask of the Nuxalk, 19th century

Each tribe member was connected to a mythical ancestor by lineages . These each came from one of the surrounding mountain peaks and had descended from them to establish a lineage. Marriage bonds linked the lineages and the villages with one another, with the place of residence usually being chosen in the paternal family. However, this was not mandatory. The large plank houses accommodated up to six families.

The tribe's ceremonies were complex, even by coastal Salish standards. The dominant elements were the potlatch and two secret societies, the Sisaok and the Kusiut . Only the children of chiefs and certain relatives could become members, but only after an initiation ritual. This included withdrawal from the community and the presentation of a masked figure upon return, representing the member's new position. The majority of the members of the two societies appeared at potlatches and funerals.

The Kusiut dominated the winter ceremonies, each of them being given a name and a supernatural patron whose dance he performed.

The Nuxalk lived mainly from catching salmon , but also from candle fish (Eulachon or Ooligan). Salmon was dried and served as a commercial good, as was the processed candle fish.


Inscription by Alexander Mackenzies

In 1793, George Vancouver touched the waters of the Nuxalk. A few weeks later, an expedition by Alexander Mackenzie reached the area, which was received with great effort and treated very generously. In Nusqalst ("big village") he found four large plank houses on hills, plus seven smaller ones. He also reached Q'umk'uts, where Mackenzie and his nine companions first passed numerous small houses, and where they finally met six very large houses. They were inhabited by only four men, probably chiefs, and their families. Finally, Mackenzie recorded an inscription on a rock on the Pacific coast that he had reached this coast on July 22, 1793 (actually the day before).

The Nuxalk trading area was vast, and Mackenzie wondered how one of the chiefs had got hold of a tin button. At that time they were already delivering furs to Heiltsuk, which in turn made contact with European fur traders. The trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company in Bella Bella , Fort McLoughlin, which was on Campbell Island , had been there since the 1830s .

With the Cariboo gold rush in the early 1860s, thousands of prospectors came to Bella Coola. In 1862 a severe smallpox epidemic raged , which probably killed more than three quarters of the population. Most of the survivors gave up their villages and lived in Q'um'kuts after 1863.

The Hudson's Bay Company set up a post there in 1867, first on a boat, then by the village. However, the company gave up the post in 1882 and sold it to John Clayton, whose family continued it into the 20th century. But the fur trade no longer dominated, but the export of potatoes , basketry and carvings. The carvings of the northwest coast, especially the totem poles , became world-famous within a few years and became coveted collector's items.

Still, the Canadian government tried to wipe out Indian cultures. The children of Bella Coola, like all indigenous children, had to go to a residential school where they were no longer allowed to use their mother tongue. Rituals were strictly forbidden and on one occasion a gunboat even appeared in front of the village to forcibly enforce the prohibitions, especially of the Potlatch (1884).

On October 30, 1894, 79 Norwegians known by name came to Bella Coola. Until then, only 8 non-indigenous people lived among the Nuxalk. Reverend Christian Saugstad had brought the 74 people here from Crookston , Minnesota , displaced by religious disputes within the Lutheran Church, drawn in by the favorable descriptions of Norwegian ethnologist BF Jacobsen and the equally favorable settlement conditions offered by the provincial government. He was joined by five other Norwegians from Seattle . This group was followed by another 98 colonists the next year, with each settler receiving 160 acres of land on which to build a house. A post office was built in Kristiania (later named Hagensborg after the owner ) and a school.

In 1904 the settlers decided to move their main town to the north side of the river, a decision that the Nuxalk mostly followed. The new place was easier to get to by ship. Bridges were built and the place prospered until the 1930s. But heavy flooding forced the settlers to revert to the old settlement on the south side and to give up the new city.

Union Steamships offered a weekly service from Vancouver to Bella Coola from 1906 to the mid-1950s . Overland there were only trails from here to the Chilcotin area , where pack trails snaked through the wild landscape. Nevertheless, the region would probably have developed completely differently without the First World War . In 1912 there was a real land boom in the northeastern Ootsa Lake District . The Pacific and Hudson's Bay Railway viewed the region as a possible end point for their transcontinental rail link. But the First World War and then the decline of the North American railways ended the project.

Even a road construction failed in the 30s due to the enormous costs. During the Second World War , the Polar Bear expedition was supposed to build a road to Anahim Lake, but this project was also canceled.

Between 1952 and 1955 the residents of Bella Coola built a street called Freedom Road , to which the government contributed a full CAD 50,000 . This gave Canada a third connection to the Pacific through the coastal mountains.

At the same time, the timber industry cut huge gaps in the huge jungle area. This process had already started around 1900, but intensified in the 1940s. In addition, fish factories and farms came into being, which even overwhelmed the region's enormous fish stocks.


The Nuxalk own 7 reserves . The largest by far is Bella Coola 1 with 1355.5 ha, which is located at the mouth of the river of the same name. Nooseseck 2 (5.3 ha) is located at the mouth of the river of the same name in Green Bay, on the North Bentinck arm of the Burke Channel. Taleomey 3 (202.3 ha) also takes its name from a river, but is located on the South Bentinck Arm. Kwatlena 4 (53 ha) is on the Kwatna River in Kwatna Bay, Kemsquit 1 (203.2 ha), on the other hand, is at the mouth of the Dean River, Chatscah 2 (173.2 ha) at the mouth of the Kimsquit River at the north end of the Dean Canal, where Skokwiltz River 3 (32.4 ha) is located.

In 1996 there were 1,185 registered Nuxalk, of which 706 lived on the reservation. Around 200 spoke their mother tongue in 1998. Between August 2008 and March 2010 the number of recognized Nuxalk rose from 1,484 to 1,533. Of them, 837 (in 2008 there were 791) lived in the reserve, 33 (27) in other reserves and 663 (666) outside.

Current situation

Nuxalk totem pole in Hamburg . It was given to Greenpeace in 2000 as a thank you for helping to preserve the rainforest.

The population has recovered from the disasters of the 19th century, but the descendants of the settlers dominate the area. Today the Nuxalk live in their own village, but their structures can no longer be separated from the place Bella Coola.

The tribe tries to maintain the existing traditions and - as far as possible - to restore those that have been lost. The first success was the establishment of the Kii Kii Tii Nursery School in the 1970s. An important resource is the school with the speaking name Acwsalcta , which means place of learning . Traditional techniques and arts, but also singing, dances and the language of the Nuxalk are taught here. The reason for the establishment in 1982 were big problems that went so far that 38 families took their children out of school. In 1987 the new school opened its doors. On May 17, 2007, the school celebrated its 20th anniversary and a new totem pole was erected.


  • TF McIlwraith: The Bella Coola Indians , 2 vols., Revised edition 1992.
  • Clayton Mack: Bella Coola Man: More Stories of Clayton Mack , 1994.
  • Eric Faa: Norwegians in the Northwest 1858-1918 , Runestad Press 1995.
  • Thomas Forsyth McIlwraith: The Bella Coola Indians , University of Toronto Press 1948.
  • Paula Wild: One River, Two Cultures: A History of the Bella Coola Valley , Harbor Publishing 2004.
  • Jennifer Kramer: Switchbacks: Art, Ownership, and Nuxalk National Identity , Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver 2006.

See also

Web links

Commons : Nuxálk  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. The Royal British Columbia Museum of Victoria is a photo that Nuxalk front of a longhouse maps: time of origin about 1894, unknown photographer, catalog no. HP066361  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. .@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  2. A picture of this Mackenzie Rock with the inscription "Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land 22 o July 1793" can be found here: [1] .
  3. Sources on the Norwegian colony: [2] .
  4. The Bella Coola Valley Museum has put an exhibition on the Internet: Freedom Road
  5. According to the information from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development , First Nation Profiles: Nuxalk Nation ( memento of the original from April 10, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. A video of the celebrations can be found on YouTube: [3] .