Kwakiutl - History and Cultural Relations

Southern Kwakiutl border the Chickliset Nootka and Comox Salish on Vancouver Island and Homathco and Klahuse Salish and Owikeno Kwakiutl on the mainland. Relations with all these neighbors were similar to those that obtained among the Southern Kwakiutl groups themselves: a mixture of bellicose raiding and amicable feasting, marriage, and trade. The taking of slaves and other plunder had undoubtedly long characterized relations with neighbors. At least in historic times, territorial acquisition also rose to prominence as the Lekwiltok Kwakiutl drove Comox Salish from the southern reaches of Johnstone Strait. Early contact with Europeans began for some groups in the 1780s with maritime fur traders, for others, with American, British and Spanish Voyages of exploration in 1792. Through those groups on the north end of Vancouver Island there was direct participation in the early fur trade, but significant economic impact did not begin until the establishment of Fort Rupert ( 1849) —for many decades the economic and ceremonial focus of the Southern Kwakiutl. In the 1870s, an Anglican missionary assembled his Fort Rupert converts at Alert Bay, where he later established a sawmill to employ natives in the developing timber industry. Native participation, as fishermen and cannery workers, in the even more rapidly expanding fishing industry grew through the later years of the nineteenth century. Early contact was marked by few incidents of conflict between Whites and native partners in the fur trade. Later, church and government, recognizing the pivotal role played by Potlatching in Kwakiutl culture, curbed this activity through arrests and confiscation of regalia.

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