Kwakiutl - Orientation

Identification. "Kwakiutl" was initially and properly applied only to one local group, the Walas Kwakiutl of Queen Charlotte Strait, British Columbia, but was subsequently used by fur traders and others to designate the four groups (including the Walas Kwakiutl) that assembled at the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Rupert in the 1850s. By extension, missionaries, government officials, and ethnologists identified all speaking obviously related dialects and languages as "Kwakiutl." The word Kwakiutl is native and variously interpreted as "smoke of the world," "smoke from their fires," and "beach at north side."

Location. Groups covered in this summary are those collectively referred to as the Southern Kwakiutl: occupants of Vancouver Island, the neighboring mainland, and the Numerous intervening islands. Their territory lies between approximately 50° to 51°30′ N and 125° to 127° W. Most Kwakiutl remain in this area today: a few in their traditional winter Villages, more in larger settlements to which small groups have been attracted.

Demography. Hudson's Bay Company estimates for around 1835 put the population at about 8,575, but by then the numbers had already been reduced by disease. The Population declined steadily during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When Franz Boas's studies began, there were about 2,000 Kwakiutl, and at lowest ebb in 1929, half that number. Approximately 4,000 now live in the area.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kwakwala, the language of the Southern Kwakiutl, belongs to the North Wakashan division of the Wakashan stock. It contained at least three dialects: Koskimo, on the west coast of Vancouver Island centering on Quatsino Inlet; Newetee (or Nawitti), on the northern tip of Vancouver Island; and Kwakiutl for the balance of the area—predominantly the shores of Queen Charlotte and Johnstone straits and adjoining fjords and channels. Newetee is likely extinct.

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