Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fishing for salmon, herring, eulachon, and halibut, hunting such sea mammals as seal and porpoise, gathering shellfish and other marine invertebrates, and foraging for wild plant foods characterized subsistence activities. For taking these predominantly seasonal resources, the Kwakiutl possessed a wide variety of devices, many specifically designed for particular species and circumstances. The most productive and efficient fishing techniques involved weirs and traps, of which there were several kinds. Movement from one resource locale to another matched subsistence activities with the highly localized resources, and preservation techniques (mainly based on drying) permitted accumulation of surpluses for off-season consumption. They participated in the early maritime fur trade through direct contact at the north end of Vancouver Island and indirectly through exchanges across the island with the Nootka. Subsequently, with establishment of Fort Rupert, barter for food staples and goods increased in importance. Late in the nineteenth century, Kwakiutl became full participants in a cash economy as commercial fishermen, cannery workers, and loggers. Although no canneries now operate in the Southern Kwakiutl area, commercial fishing remains the principal vocation. Others find employment in logging, the region's small-scale service industries, and with various levels of government. A periodic government-regulated "food fishery" remains an important contributor to subsistence.
Industrial Arts. Woodworking was of prime importance for the production of a very broad range of products, from dishes and spoons to houses and watercraft. The textile arts produced baskets, mats, and blankets. Many objects were richly decorated, a tradition that has continued in this Century through production of small carved tourist items. A few artists now specialize in two-dimensional paper art: paintings and prints in traditional or modified traditional style.
Trade. Precontact trading patterns reflected only some local groups having direct access to eulachon fisheries. Eulachon oil was widely traded both among Kwakiutl and with Nootka. The region's nineteenth-century fur trade centered on Fort Rupert. Many outlying groups dealt through native middlemen, at least some of whom, in later years, became Hudson's Bay Company rivals, traveling south to Victoria for their stock.
Division of Labor. A gender-based division of labor prevailed. Women gathered plants and shellfish, processed all kinds of foods for storage, prepared meals, and manufactured nets, mats, fabrics, clothing, and baskets. Men built traps, made and used other hunting and fishing equipment, and did all woodworking, including manufacture of canoes and Construction of houses. Men might be part-time specialists in the making of such items as masks, boxes, canoes, or crest poles. Women's specializations included blanket weaving and fine basketwork. Slaves were employed at menial tasks, including carrying water, gathering firewood, drying fish, and paddling canoes. In the early decades of the commercial fishery, men worked in the troller, gillnet, or purse-seine fleets and women in the canneries. With the removal of fish-processing plants to urban British Columbia, females have found local employment principally in the service industry and government. Males are still mainly employed as commercial fishermen.
Land Tenure. Descent groups controlled all significant resource locations and owned such constructions as traps and weirs. They were also identified with specific segments of the local group's winter and other seasonal villages. When Reserves were allocated in the late nineteenth century, plots of land at many traditional resource locations, winter village sites, and burial areas were attributed to "bands"—remnants or amalgamations of the old local groups. Title to reserve land is held for each band by the Canadian government. As Kwakiutl signed no treaties ceding their land, they continue to press for compensation or restitution.