M.A. Theses: James W. E. Baker, 1973

A Linguistic and Ethnohistoric Approach to Bella Coola Prehistory

Ethnohistoric sources have been little used to show the material culture of the various Northwest Coast linguistic groups. This study is an attempt to show the culture of the Bella Coola through the use of journals and articles of the early explorers, traders, and other visitors to the Northwest coast.

The major problem undertaken in this examination of Bella Coola culture is the attempt to offer an explanation for the geographically remote position of the Bella Coola from all other Salish speakers. Linguistic data is presented that will show the Bella Coola language is more closely related to the Coast Salish linguistic groups.

Three proposals are offered which could explain the location of the Bella Coola, how they arrived at their location, and how they have managed to remain at their location. The three proposals are:

  1. That proto-Salish speakers arrived on the uninhabited coast from a position to the south and east of the present position of the Coast
  2. Salish in British Columbia.
  3. That the Bella Coola were at one time contiguous with other Coast Salish speakers.

That a later Wakashan intrusion from the north isolated the Bella Coola in their present location because they could not be dislodged.
The first proposition deals with a topic that has been much discussed; Smith, Boas, Kroeber, Drucker, Borden, and a number of others have dealt with the problem of the origins of Northwest Coast culture. Archaeological and linguistic evidence is offered in support of the above proposals. Linguistic data best substantiate the second proposition. Ethnohistoric sources have been used to offer support for the third proposal.