PhD Dissertations: Yvonne May Marshall, 1993

A Political History of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth People: A Case Study of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht Tribes

This thesis is a political history of the Nuu-chah-nulth people who live on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The study spans the period from the earliest archaeological evidence of occupation, at about 4,300 years ago,to the present day and draws on archaeological data, archival documents, ethnographic studies and contemporary accounts of Nuu-chah-nulth society. The geographical focus is both local and regional and moves back and forth between the regional Nuu-chah-nulth perspective and a case study examination of the Nootka Sound area, home to the Mowachaht and Muchalaht tribes.

The thesis has two central objectives. The first is a very general one. By drawing together the full scope of Nuu-chah-nulth political history onto a single canvas, the study strives for an integrated, post-colonial account of this dynamic First Nation. The second more specific aim, is to identify and follow threads of continuity within processes of change, rather than focus on events of alienation.

At first glance, contemporary Nuu-chah-nulth polity and society in general appear so radically different from their pre-European precursors that the existence of fundamental continuities seems unlikely. However, when continuity with the past is sought in an examination of the way change occurs, rather than in the absence of change, the way in which modern Nuu-chah-nulth society is anchored in its past start to become visible.

The thesis argues that strong threads of continuity link contemporary Nuu-chah-nulth polity with the political structures and practices which operated prior to the arrival of Europeans. Some of these threads are identified and followed from their distant origins in an ancient whale hunting society through two centuries of contact and interaction with Europeans. The thesis concludes that the origins of the modern Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council owe as much to a long indigenous history of confederative political organizing and consensus building as they do to modern Euro-Canadian inspired First Nations organizations. It is further argued that it is these indigenous historical roots which give the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council the remarkable strength and coherence which so characterizes it today.