Approximate mid 19th-century territory of the Nuxalk. Redrawn from "Northwest Coast", Vol. 7 of Handbook of North American Indians.
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At the time of European contact in the late 18th-century, the Nuxalk occupied up to 45 permanent villages situated alongside and at the mouth of several major rivers in the Bella Coola Valley including the North and South Bentinck Arms, Dean Channel, and Kwatna Inlet. The latter two areas were also occupied by groups of Heiltsuk. In earlier times, the Nuxalk may also have occupied some habitable lands along the eastern front of the Coast Mountain Range south of Anahim Lake, in territory now occupied by the Carrier people. Beginning around the time of contact and accelerating rapidly thereafter due to the spread of European diseases and settlement pressure, the Nuxalk gradually moved away from the village sites in the inlets and up the Bella Coola Valley to settle at the mouth of the Bella Coola River.


Culturally, the Nuxalk are most similar to their Wakashan neighbours to the west, the Heiltsuk, who also have elaborate ceremonials and decorative arts. The Nuxalk language belongs to the Salish language family but is geographically isolated and forms a separate division within it. The Nuxalk are surrounded on three sides by people who speak Wakashan languages and on the east side by Athapaskan speakers.

House at Talio village. Photo by C.F. Newcome, 1913.


Traditional Nuxalk houses were typical Northwest Coast rectangular cedar plank houses, with a gabled roof supported on two roof beams and a central firepit. Houses were often built on stilts with the front opening to a boardwalk to accommodate the riverbank slopes, flooding and in defense of attacks by raiding parties. The houses of nobles and hereditary chiefs were larger than those of commoners, ranging from 40 feet by 60 feet and upwards, compared to around 15 feet by 30 feet for lower ranking households. In some cases there is a frontal pole through which the entrance is cut, but more often than not, the entrance is a simple doorway.


The Nuxalk carving style is expressed mainly in masks and monumental sculpture. It is most familiar to that of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Northern Wakashans but it is distinctive and easily recognized for the rounded form of the face. Surface paintings consist of solid U-forms both following and crossing strongly defined intersections of carved planes. The Nuxalk also carved and painted boxes, dishes, benches, spoons and combs.

People posing in front of Nusmata house and Cleleman house in Komkotes village. Photo by Iver Fougner, 1897.

Entry pole from Komkotes village. Photo by H.I. Smith, year unknown.

Textual information for this page: Kennedy and Bouchard, 1990; McIlwraith, T.F., 1948; Nabakov and Easton, 1989.