Archaeological investigations found that Hesquiat Harbour has been occupied by native people for at least 2000 years. The Hesquiaht formerly consisted of several independent small groups, each with its own villages and territory, and it is estimated that in the 19th century there were more than 6000 Hesquiaht among the West Coast communities. Some of these groups were the first Nootka people to have contact with Europeans, having met and traded with Juan PÉREZ HERNÁNDEZ off the west coast of the Hesquiat Peninsula in 1774. Warfare with other coastal First Nations and decimation from European-introduced diseases gradually brought about the amalgamation of the Hesquiaht groups into a consolidated nation in the 19th century. In 1875 Reverend A.J. Brabant established the first Roman Catholic mission among the Nootka at Hesquiat, the village of the Hesquiaht.
In 1964 a tidal wave devastated most of the homes at Hot Springs Cove in Hesquiat Harbour, and many of the Hesquiaht people dispersed, largely to Port Alberni and Victoria, while others reconstructed their homes near the original settlement, establishing Refuge Cove. Today, there are 5 Hesquiaht reserves and the largest community is Hot Springs Cove (formerly Refuge Cove). In 2010 there were 661 registered Hesquiaht.
Traditionally, members of the nation followed the Ha'wiih or ancestral hereditary chiefs, and this system of responsibility and governance continues today. The Hesquiaht spoke a Nuu-chah-nulth dialect; however, in 2001 Statistics Canada recorded only 10 people in Canada who fluently spoke the language.
Author JOHN DEWHIRST
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