Historic Perspective

Our people have been living on the Northern tip of Vancouver Island for millennia. We are the descendants of five (5) traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw groups or “tribes” that spoke a similar dialect of the Kwak’wala language and amalgamated starting in the 1700’s. These tribes are listed below:

Klaskino (T’latsinuxw)

Hoyalas (Huyalas)

Koskimo (Gusgimukw)

Giopino (Gob’inuxw)

Quatsino (Qwat’sinuxw)

Our Territory and Annual Round

We have used and occupied the full extent of this Territory since time immemorial. It was a land of plenty that supported a dense population, complex society and vibrant economy. Traditionally, we moved throughout our Territory in conjunction with the changing seasons. A high-level overview this annual round is provided by Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw historian Robert Galois below: [1]

Although specific activities and movements varied from one tribe to another, it is possible to identify the primary pattern of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw annual round. It involved a sequence of three movements: from winter villages to oolichan fisheries, thence to an array of other resource procurement sites, and completing the cycle, a return to the winter villages…


The winter ceremonial season, devoted to feasts and to the activities of secret societies, was spent at the principal village and in visiting other tribes in their villages. For most tribes this season closed with the arrival of the first oolichan and was followed, about the end of March, by the move to their oolichan stations at either Knight Inlet or Kingcome Inlet… [The tribes of Quatsino Sound did not have fishing rights but would often move to these oolichan fishing sites to trade for supplies of oil].  


Following the two-month oolichan season, people dispersed to a variety of resource procurement sites. The most important were salmon fisheries, which were occupied (according to site and species) until the late fall. During this period people harvested a considerable range of resources from both land and sea. Some, such as berries and clams, were widely distributed and often could be gathered near fishing stations. Some, such as meat and pelts, usually required more extensive hunting trips. There were also regional specializations, such as… whaling (Kaskino). Occasional visits to the principal village might be made during this period, but the onset of winter completed the cycle. About the end of November, the village was re-occupied on a full-time basis.

[1] Robert Galois, Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Settlements: 1775-1920. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1994. p. 225

Galois’ account provides a colonial-academic observation of traditional movement of the Quatsino First Nation; however, does not encapsulate an extensive history or knowledge of all our practices. Elders in the community have captured more exhaustive histories which the Nation includes when possible as part of Traditional Use Studies. These studies provide detailed records of historical contexts that capture a more nuanced and exhaustive understanding of the movements and practices of our ancestors.

Boundaries and Overlaps…

We are neighbours with the following groups:

  • Kwakiutl First Nation

    The Kwakiutl are our neighbours to the west. In 2012, Quatsino First Nation reached an “Agreement-in-Principle” with Kwakiutl First Nation to clarify the boundary between our territories. It was determined that the correct boundary follows the “watershed”, and that all waters flowing to the west belong to Quatsino First Nation and all waters flowing to the east belong to the Kwakiutl First Nation. The correct boundary is shown correctly on Map 1.

    Action Item -> Work with Province of British Columbia to update their consultation boundary and ensure it shows the correct boundary between Quatsino First Nation and Kwakiutl First Nation.

  • Tlatlasikwala Nation

    The Tlatlasikwala are our neighbours to the Northeast. We share common origin stories and some of the northern portions of our Territory are shared.

    Action Item -> Work with the Tlatlasikwala Nation to establish an agreement-in-principle that outlines a protocol on how to address management associated with shared Territory.

  • Nuu-chah-nulth Nations

    Our Nuu-chah-nulth neighbours to the south signed a modern Treaty with the Crown that came into effect in 2011. Before that Treaty was signed an agreement was established with Quatsino First Nation that clarified the boundary between our territories.

    Action Item ->Work with Province of British Columbia to update their consultation boundary and ensure it shows the correct boundary between Quatsino First Nation and Kwakiutl First Nation and our Nuu-chah-nulth neighbours to the south.

Colonial Impacts


Disease and Population Decline
Contact with European explorers marked the beginning of a dark chapter for our people. Initially, disease was the main issue. Early explorers brought and spread new diseases that our ancestors were not immune to. In the early 1900’s ethnologist Edward Curtis interview a Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw informant who recalled a late eighteenth-century small-pox epidemic: [1]

The Koskimo, who formerly lived at Kôsûû (on Cape Commerell) and later at Kwânëë (Deep Bay) came to their present location in the time of the great-great-grandfather of the informant Tsulniti, who was five years old when Fort Rupert was established in 1849… Quatsino Sound had been occupied by the populous Hoyalas… An epidemic almost exterminated the Hoyalas, and the remnant scattered among the tribes to the south and on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, wherever they had relatives by marriage. So great was the mortality in this epidemic that it was impossible for the survivors to bury the dead. They simply pulled the houses down over the bodies and left them. It was soon after the epidemic that the Koskimo moved into this region.

Over the next 100 years, wave after wave of deadly epidemics hit our people. Between 1835 and 1929 our population decreased by 96% before it finally stabilized[2]. Population decline forced our ancestors to amalgamate and become the present day Quatsino First Nation.

Policies of Denial and Dispossession
In 1849, unbeknown to our ancestors, Britain declared Vancouver Island a British colony. The new colonial government quickly adopted policies that denied the existence of aboriginal title and rights, as well as the need for treaties[4]. In 1866, Vancouver Island and British Columbia were merged into one colony. In 1871, this new colony joined the Dominion of Canada and became the country’s sixth province. After joining Canada, the responsibility for Indian Affairs came under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Between 1889 and 1890, several small reserves were set aside for tribes living in Quatsino Sound. Strategies were then implemented to confine our people to the reserves, while unceded lands beyond their boundaries were given to settlers and industrial proponents. 

Ongoing disagreements developed between the federal and provincial governments over the extent of Indian Reserves in British Columbia and other related matters. To resolve these issues, the governments established the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs for the Province of BC (RCIABC). The RCIABC travelled to all parts of the province in the course of its work between 1912 and 1916. Representatives of the tribes living in Quatsino Sound met with the RCIABC in 1914. They requested additional lands be set aside as reserves. However, almost all requests were denied[5]

By the 1960’s, most of our people were living at Quattishe (IR#1). In 1972, the federal government facilitated our relocation from IR#1 to Quatsino Subdivision (IR#18) near Coal Harbour. The move occurred to provide better access to education, employment and healthcare opportunities for the membership, and this is where many of our members continue to live today. Unfortunately, this relocation reduced our access to the ocean. This has negatively impacted our ability to pursue our culture and traditional way of life.

An Attempt at Cultural Genocide
In 1876, many Canadian laws affecting Aboriginal Peoples were combined to become the Indian Act. According to John A. McDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister), the great aim of the legislation was “to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion as speedily as they are fit to change.”[6] While the Indian Act has undergone numerous amendments since it was first passed in 1876, today it largely retains its original form. In 1885, the Indian Act was revised to prohibit potlaches, an institution central to our culture and society. This provision remained in place for close to 75 years. During this period, our youth were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools where they suffered abuse and were not allowed to speak their language.


[1]Edward Curtis, “The Kwakiutl” (volume 10 of The North American Indian, 1915), 306fh.

[2]Robert Galois, Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Settlements: 1775-1920. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1994. p. 355

[3]University of British Columbia. Available at: http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-policy/the-indian-act.html
(4)In 1763 the British Crown had declared that only it could acquire land from First Nations through treaties.

(5) Maquazneecht Island (IR #17) was obtained as a graveyard. Source: Robert Galois, Kwakwa̱ ka̱ ’wakw Settlements: 1775-1920.
Vancouver: UBC Press, 1994. p. 367
(6) University of British Columbia. Available at: http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-policy/the-indian-act.html

Today and Looking Foward

Colonization has impacted our people; however, we are resilient and remain deeply connected to the lands and resources throughout our Territory.  Many of our members are learning our language and re-connecting with our culture and traditions.  This Land Use Plan is a key to advancing those efforts and establishing a new relationship with the Crown, industry and our neighbours.

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