The Wakashan people are native americans who lived on the western coast of what is now called British Columbia and most of Vancouver island. The entire tribe is made up of three mini groups: the Heiltsuk, the Kwak-waka`wakw, and the Nuu-chah-nulth.

Wakashan Subsistence

Hunting and gishing were very important in the Wakashan economy. Inland groups hunted deer and elk while the others hunted fish, seals and whales.

Big schools of herring were caught easily using the ingenious herring rake! The Herring rake is basically a long pole studded with sharp bone teeth. The rake would then be swept through the water catching many fish at once.

Herring were also valued for their roe and another small fish called the eulachon or ooligan (a type of oily smelt) was highly valued for its oil. 

They ate fish and the large variety of sea mammals. Another big part of their diet was clams, oysters, and all kinds of underwater plants. And the oil from eulachons I mentioned before was used as sauce, as well as a sort of candle for light.

Wakashan Religion

Religion played a big part in Wakashan culture. One of the main things that happened in their religion is the constant interaction between man and animal.

For example, in one of their stories a polar bear became a grown man just by removing its coat and by standing upright.

It was very important to the people to respect animals. Before they ate the animal’s flesh, they prayed and preformed rituals. Even the trees get thanked for providing shade and shelter.

During the winter it was believed that supernatural forces surrounded the villages. So during winter all quarrels and fights stopped and everybody turned their attention to rituals and other ceremonial activities.

People dressed up in traditional ceremonial outfits and danced. They danced so they could bring spirits of the supernatural world into the realm of the living.

The masks worn during these ceremonies are some of the greatest artistic achievements from the Wakashan people. 


Archaeological discoveries in Heiltsuk and Kwak-waka’wakw territories indicate human activity in the area for over 9,000 years.

On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Nuu-chah-nulth history has been traced back for about 4,000 years.

These natives made contact with the Europeans when a squad of their canoes intercepted a spanish ship in 1774.

In the decades that followed, relationships between the natives and the outsiders centered on trade, particularly for the soft pelts of the sea otter. 

Throughout the time of early contact it was mostly peaceful with few clashes.

Once, an american trader named Robert Gray misunderstood something that he overheard and he thought that they were going to takeover his ship so in response to that, he blew up a large Wakashan village.