Nootka or Nuu-Chah-Nulth ("It goes around") is the popular but erroneous name for the score of ethnically related Aboriginal people along the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island and around Cape Flattery (US). Locally, "Nootka" misnames only NOOTKA SOUND and its Mowachath people. The island groups are also popularly termed "Westcoast" and those of the cape, "Makah," a Straits Salish word. In 1978 Nuu-Chah-Nulth ("All along the mountains") was officially adopted by the Westcoast communities as their name. Aht is another superseded anthropological designation taken from the suffix "ath" ("people of") on the Aboriginal names. "Nitinat" refers only to the Nitinat Lake communities.
Linguistically, Nootka is one of the two main divisions of the Wakashan family, the other being Kwakiutl. Its dialects (and Aboriginal groups) are Northern Nootka (Ch'i:qtlis'ath, Qa:'yo:kw'ath, 'I:hatis'ath, Noch'a:l-'ath, Mowachath, Machl-'ath), Central Nootka (Hucaubvrishkwi:'ath, Mano:his'ath, 'O:ts'o:s'ath, 'A:ho:s'ath, Qil-tsama'ath, Tla'o:kwi'ath, Yo:lo'il-'ath, T'ok- w'a:'ath, Hucaubvro:choqtlis'ath, Ts'isha:'-ath, Ho:pach'as'ath, Ho:'i:'ath); Nitinat (Di:ti:d'a:'tx, Tl-o:'o:ws'a:tx, Qwa:badow'a:'tx, P'a:chi:d'a:'tx), Makah (Q'widishch'a:'tx); and Ozette ('Osi:l-'a:'tx). Speakers of Nitinat, Makah and Ozette can grasp the Northern and Central Nootka dialects, but not vice versa.
The Nootka date back at least 4000 years in their land. Territories were defined by communities, but in total stretched from Cape Scott (North Vancouver Island) to past Ozette Lake (Washington state) in the south. Relations were generally friendly with the culturally and linguistically related KWAKIUTL on the northwest, but less so with the more alien Coast Salish groups to the east and south. Trade and intermarriage occurred in all directions. Contact with explorers dates from Peréz Hernandez's visit in 1774, and the initial focus was the sea-otter trade. Acquisition of guns intensified warfare, with well-armed Nootka groups such as the Mowachath, 'A:ho:sath and Tla'o:kwi'ath nearly exterminating others such as the Machl-'ath, 'O:ts'o:s'ath and T'ok'wa:'ath.
Introduced diseases and alcohol so reduced and debilitated the Nootkans that in the second half of the 19th century colonialization was almost unopposed. Population, estimated at 30 000 at first contact, plunged to only about 2000 in the 1930s. In 1996 there were 6792 registered Nootka. No land surrender was signed on Vancouver Island, but in the late 19th century small INDIAN RESERVES were demarcated with a total area only half that of the Cape Flattery Reservation established in the US by treaty in 1855 (see INDIAN TREATIES). Curtailment of hunting and fishing, including prohibition of the vital salmon weir traps, deprived Nootkans of their traditionally rich economic base.
Nootkans were accomplished woodworkers, outstanding products being fine cedar CANOES and big multifamily houses (see HOUSE; NORTHWEST COAST NATIVE ART). Hunting/fishing gear and techniques were refined. Fish (particularly salmon and halibut), sea mammals and shellfish were mainstays of their diet, supplemented by fowl, deer, elk, bear and plant foods. Clothing was comparatively simple. The seasonal round involved moving by large canoes between winter concentrations in sheltered inlets and smaller summer camps scattering to the outside coast. WHALING with harpoons and floats was a cultural highlight, both economically important and prestigious. Spirit powers were believed to animate all things, and power seeking was common. Any undertaking was prepared for by secret purificatory rituals entailing bathing and scrubbing in cold waters.
Society was closely ranked, with a continuous gradation from chiefs to commoners and a slave class of war captives. Descent was traced through both male and female connections. Property rights were keenly held, including intangibles such as names, songs and stories. Chiefs owned most of the rights and were wealthy. Intensive ceremonialism occasioned frequent feasting and entertainment with song, dance, contests and theatricals (see POTLATCH). Especially elaborate celebrations were the Wolf Ritual cycle of a general secret society, girls' puberty rites and marriage. A zestful sense of life prevailed by the sea.
Historically the Mowachath provided the setting for the NOOTKA SOUND CONTROVERSY, 1789-94, with Chief MAQUINNA (actually M'okwina) their leading participant. In 1811 Chief Wi:kinanish of the Tla'o:kwi'ath took the TONQUIN after provocation. In 1864 the Ahousat captured the schooner Kingfisher, and a punitive expedition was sent against them - the Denman naval expedition. The Bering Sea fur seal hunt, about 1870 to 1911, was carried out by Nootkans transported there with their canoes. They now live mainly by fishing and logging. Traditional culture and language are weakened, but a strong Aboriginal identity persists.
See also NATIVE PEOPLE, NORTHWEST COAST and general articles under NATIVE PEOPLE.