PhD Dissertations: Alan D. McMillan, 1996

Since Kwatyat Lived on Earth: An Examination of Nuu-chah-nulth Culture History

This study examines the culture history of the related Nuu-chah-nulth, Ditidaht, and Makah peoples, whose historic territory encompasses western Vancouver Island and the northwestern Olympic Peninsula. Although archaeological research began relatively late in this area, the greatly expanded pace of recent fieldwork now allows an integrated assessment of their cultural heritage. The West Coast culture type, previously proposed for this area on limited archaeological data, is assessed against more recent evidence for diachronic trends and regional differences.

An historical and multi-faceted approach is employed, integrating data from archaeology, historical linguistics, and aboriginal oral traditions, along with ethnography and ethnohistory for later time periods, in a cultural historical synthesis. Recent research with the Toquaht, a small Nuu-chah-nulth group in western Barkley Sound, provides much of the archaeological data for this study.

Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest a southward movement of Nuu-chah-nulth peoples from an original homeland on north-western Vancouver Island. The ancestors of the Ditidaht and Makah split off from the parent stock and settled in their historic territories in relatively recent times. Over the last two millennia the ethnographic cultures gradually developed in their present territories. The destructive events of the early contact period resulted in significant cultural restructuring, particularly, involving changes in political organization and settlement pattern. The West Coast culture type masks significant temporal change in Nuu-chah-nulth culture history, which is best seen in the framework of an evolving tradition.