ETHNONYMS: Halkomelem, Humaluh, Kawichan

The Cowichan lived aboriginally and continue to live on the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island between Nanoos Bay and Saanich Inlet (the Cowichan proper) and on the mainland on the lower Fraser River. There were numerous subdivisions (more than forty in all), including the Muskwium (Musqueam), Nanaimo (Snanaimux), and Sanetch (Saanich). Today, there are about six thousand Cowichan living mainly on small reserves in their traditional territory. Cowichan is one of the principal language groups of the Coast Salish language family.

They may have been contacted as early as 1592 by Juan de Fuca and were in contact with later Spanish and English explorers. Hudson's Bay Company traders entered the region in the early 1800s, and Victoria was founded in 1843, a major event in the history of the Northwest Coast peoples.

The Cowichan were culturally similar to other southern Northwest Coast groups such as the Comox, Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Snoqualmie. They lived in permanent villages with rectangular cedar-plank houses; subsisted mainly on salmon and herring, supplemented by gathered plant foods and deer and elk; had social classes with nobles, commoners, and slaves; warred with other groups; had hereditary village chiefs; and were organized into patrilineal extended families.


Barnett, Homer G. (1955). The Coast Salish of British Columbia. University of Oregon Monographs, Studies in Anthropology, vol. 4. Eugene: University of Oregon Press.

Duff, Wilson (1952). The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Anthropology in British Columbia, Memoir no. 1. Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology.

Jilek, Wolfgang G. (1974). Salish Indian Mental Health and Culture Change: Psychohygienic and Therapeutic Aspects of the Guardian Spirit Ceremonial. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart & Winston of Canada.

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