The Nuu-chah-nulth (/nuːˈtʃɑːnʊlθ/; Nuučaan̓uł: [nuːt͡ʃaːnˀuɬ]), also formerly referred to as the Nootka, Nutka, Aht, Nuuchahnulth or Tahkaht, are one of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast in Canada. The term Nuu-chah-nulth is used to describe fifteen related tribes whose traditional home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
In precontact and early post-contact times, the number of tribes was much greater, but smallpox and other consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of some groups and the absorption of others into neighbouring groups. The Nuu-chah-nulth are related to the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Haisla, and the Nitinaht. The Nuu-chah-nulth language is part of the Wakashan language group. The Makah people in northwest Washington were historically also Wakashan speakers.
When James Cook first encountered the villagers at Yuquot in 1778, they directed him to "come around" (Nuu-chah-nulth nuutkaa is "to circle around") with his ship to the harbour. Cook interpreted this as the native's name for the inlet—now called Nootka Sound. The term was also applied to the indigenous inhabitants of the area.
In 1978, the tribes of western Vancouver Island chose the term Nuu-chah-nulth (nuučaan̓uł, meaning "all along the mountains"), as a collective term of identification. This was the culmination of the 1967 alliance forged among these tribes in order to present a unified political voice to the levels of government and European-Canadian society. The Makah of northwest Washington, located on the Olympic Peninsula in their own reservation, are closely related to the Nuu-chah-nulth.
The Nuu-chah-nulth were among the first Pacific peoples north of California to encounter Europeans, who sailed into their area for trade. Competition between Spain and the United Kingdom over control of Nootka Sound led to a bitter international dispute around 1790, called the Nootka Crisis. It was settled under the Nootka Conventions of the 1790s, when Spain agreed to abandon its exclusive claims to the North Pacific coast. Negotiations to settle the dispute were handled under the aegis and hospitality of Maquinna, a powerful chief of the Mowachaht Nuu-chah-nulth.
A few years later, Maquinna and his warriors captured the American trading ship Boston in March 1803. He and his men killed the captain and all the crew but two, whom they kept as slaves. After gaining release, John R. Jewitt wrote a classic captivity narrative about his nearly 3 years with the Nuu-chah-nulth and his reluctant assimilation to their society. This 1815 book is entitled Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt;, Only Survivor of the Crew of the Ship Boston, during a Captivity of Nearly Three Years among the Savages of Nootka Sound: With an Account of the Manners, Mode of Living, and Religious Opinions of the Natives.
In 1811 the trading ship Tonquin was blown up in Clayoquot Sound. Tla-o-qui-aht and his warriors had attacked the ship in revenge for an insult by the ship's captain. The captain and almost all the crew were killed and the ship abandoned. The next day warriors reboarded the empty ship to salvage it. However, a hiding crew member set fire to the ship's magazine and the resulting explosion killed many natives. Only one crew member, a pilot / interpreter hired from the nearby Quinault nation, escaped to tell the tale.
From earliest contact with European explorers up until 1830, more than 90% of the Nuu-chah-nulth died as a result of infectious disease epidemics, particularly malaria and smallpox. Europeans carried these endemic diseases but the First Nations had no immunity to them. The high rate of deaths added to the social disruption and cultural turmoil resulting from contact with Westerners. In the early 20th century, the population was estimated at 3,500.
In the 20th century, recognised Nuu-chah-nulth band governments are:
Total population for the 13 tribes in the Nuuchahnulth nation is 8,147, according to the Nuuchahnulth Tribal Council Indian Registry of February 2006.
The Ditidaht First Nation (population 690), while politically and culturally affiliated with the Nuu-chah-nulth, are independently referred to. In addition, the Pacheedaht First Nation are not politically affiliated with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
The Nuu-chah-nulth were one of the few indigenous peoples on the Pacific Coast who hunted whales. Whaling is essential to Nuu-chah-nulth culture and spirituality. It is reflected in stories, songs, names, family lines, and numerous place names throughout the Nuu-chah-nulth territories.
Perhaps the most famous Nuu-chah-nulth artifact is the Yuquot Whalers' Shrine, a ritual house-like structure used in the spiritual preparations for whale hunts. Composed of a series of memorial posts depicting spirit figures and the bones of whaling ancestors, it is stored at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, having been taken there by European Americans. It was the subject of the film The Washing of Tears, directed by Hugh Brody. It recounts the rediscovery of the bones and other artifacts at the museum and the efforts by the Mowachaht First Nation, the shrine's original owners, who have been seeking to regain these sacred artifacts.
Salmon has always been an important part of Nuu-chah-nulth people's diet. They also traditionally ate various land animals, waterfowl and seafoods. The women gathered edible plants, nuts, fruits such as berries and other resources.
In an effort to revive traditional diets, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and sixteen Nuu-chah-nulth tribes have contributed to recipes in a traditional wild food cookbook. The 90-page cookbook focuses on traditional recipes and seasonal ingredients from the west coast of Vancouver Island and Northern Washington. It explores First Nations cuisine and adds cooking tips, cultural observations, and oral history anecdotes. Čamus (chum-us) features traditional and wild ingredients.
Čamus explores the art of how to butterfly a salmon and how to can fish, also providing recipes for marinated seaweed, steam pit cooking, and Nuu-chah-nulth upskwee. Čamus illuminates a traditional way of eating while promoting a healthy lifestyle. It aligns with the tenets of the slow food movement, which has grown to include 80,000 members in over 100 countries. The First Nations of Vancouver Island's west coast and northern Washington link family and community in their respectful treatment of their territories' freshest ingredients.
The Nuu-chah-nulth and other Pacific Northwest cultures are famous for their potlatch ceremonies, in which the host honours guests with generous gifts. The term 'potlatch' is ultimately a word of Nuu-chah-nulth origin. The purpose of the potlatch is manifold: redistribution of wealth, maintenance and recognition of social status, cementing alliances, the celebration and solemnization of marriage, and commemoration of important events.