Skip to main content
Updated date:

Native North American Nations in British Columbia Include Over 600 Groups

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on indigenous peoples for over four decades.

The Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre;  Kaay Llnagaay, Haida Gwaii.

The Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre; Kaay Llnagaay, Haida Gwaii.

Indigenous British Columbia

This is the Canadian portion of the Pacific Northwest, one of my favorite areas in North America to visit and spend time. It is clean, lush and peaceful and the people are friendly.

The Province of British Columbia, Canada, including Vancouver Island and its tribal, historic, and resort areas, is the richest site of Native American peoples, materials, and information in the Western Hemisphere. DNA tracking brings Indigenous Peoples to the North American continent through what is now Alaska, from the northern and Sub-Arctic lands of Europe, European and Asian Russia, and Asia at least 10K-12K years before the 21st Century.

Spreading eastward and southward in the ensuing centuries, these people that are now-indigenous to North, Central, and South America and related territories have been grouped politically under various umbrella names.

These names include the obsolete "Eskimo", which comprises the Inuit and related nations; First Nations, First Peoples, Indigenous Peoples, Native Americans, and several names south of the US/Mexico border. The names are recognized officially by the large political governments in the associated countries or states and Indigenous Peoples of the Americas or Native Americans can be used for all in the Western Hemisphere for the purpose of this series.

For instance, the Mohawk Nation (half of my heritage) resides in both Canada and the USA/America and many of it few remaining groups often prefer one of two traditional nation or tribal names rather than First Nation or Native American, the latter two being federal designations of European-initiated governments.

Early photograph of Haida traditional vessel in British Columbia (public domain)

Early photograph of Haida traditional vessel in British Columbia (public domain)

The body of anthropological research generally accepts that northern peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere traveled eastward, migrating across the Bering Strait when it comprised land above water. These peoples entered into what is now Alaska and Canada; some migrating northward, eastward, and southward all the way down to the tip of South America and back north up into the Ohio Valley; and so on.

The northern Canadian tribes or nations continued over the Great Rocky Mountains eastward and some descended into New England and the NE United States as well, as others migrated into the Ohio Valley and/or continued to the Northeast. Intermixing of separated groups occurred in centuries future, from time to time.

The Altai people of Northern Siberia are particularly evident in the ancestry of not only Koreans, but of Native Americans up and down the Western Hemisphere of all the Americas. This is found in DNA testing, as well as in similarities of cultures and beliefs in the traditions of the Pacific Northwest Native American Nations. These similarities extend to other native peoples in Canada and the Americas, demonstrated in DNA testing tracked by a National Geographic project.

RAVEN. '81st Armored Brigade Combat Team shoulder sleeve insignia. "Pacific Northwest Indian" Haida, Kwakiutl, and Nootka symbol of a raven.' 1970 -- US Army.

RAVEN. '81st Armored Brigade Combat Team shoulder sleeve insignia. "Pacific Northwest Indian" Haida, Kwakiutl, and Nootka symbol of a raven.' 1970 -- US Army.

Under the former Soviet Union, national cultural festivals, which I was able to view once on TV in America on a PBS documentary later, offered demonstrations and presentations by various segments of culture in the USSR. The most powerful to me was the introduction of The People of The North (the Altai and other Northern Siberians) as they drove their sleighs and Caribou into the ring.

Dressed in beautiful heavy animal skins and furs to keep warm in their -75°F degree winters, the mere presence of these noble man and women, even the children, brought a hush to the venue. There was great respect and awe shown to these people and perhaps a little fear; because, what people can survive in such cold without artificial heat? Perhaps they can survive anything and are a people to be reckoned with, as they say.

As part Native American and able to speak some Russian as well, I have the deepest respect for the Altai and related peoples and the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest that descended from them. When I visit BC, I do not want to leave.

Working on early Canadian Railroads

Working on early Canadian Railroads

Famous First Nations: The Haida

Anthropology and popular literature, tourism and the travel industry place a substantial amount of emphasis on the Haida nation and its location in the Queen Charlotte Islands of the northwest Coast of British Columbia.

It is possible that as Asian peoples migrated into northwest Canada, some stayed in the area, especially on the Queen Charlotte Islands; the Haida are their descendants.

Like so many Native American and Asian group names, "Haida" comes from the word "Hidery", which means "the people." In Korea, the term "Han" takes the same meaning.

Haida Flag

Haida Flag

The Haida seems to be the oldest traceable population of humans in the Western Hemisphere. Politically, Canada recognizes the Haida as a First Nation people. They have been proficient in arts, including expert woord sculptures, totem poles, lineage crest painting, and tattoo arts. They have been whalers and have gathered many ideas for art from the sea.

Their indigenous language is also Haida. Among these people, it is said in legend that they are invincibly fierce warriors. Many wear tattoos that symbolize their family crests, much like the knights of England displayed crests on their shields and banners. The Haida wear theirs permanently engraved on their chests, backs and shoulders and sometimes on the thigh and forearm, even the fingers. Other tattoos, especially lines running from lower lip to bottom of the chin mark them as worthy of entering the afterlife.

Haida ink

Haida family crests include images of living creatures: the black whale, the grizzly bear, the dogfish, the dragonfly, the frog and some 65 others. Above that delineation, Haida are separated into two classes or moieties called Raven and Eagle. It is the Raven that represents the Creator and this bird is seen on many totem poles in the area.

Raven and Eagle people are further divided into specific Clans that are tracked through the female lineage. Any crest will show an indication of either Raven or Eagle and after that, a Clan and possibly the family line. These crests are put on one's possessions, whether it is a canoe or a song one has written.

The Haida are recognized as the most accomplished artists of the First Nations, decorating themselves with a variety and number of tattoos that no other coastal First Nation used. Although falling into disuse in the 20th century, some Haida still practice tattoo arts. Males most often sport ink on the back between the shoulder blades, chest, thighs and below the knees, while females most often have used tattoos on the face, lower chest and breasts, shoulders, and from their knees to their ankles. Animal symbols inked onto the hands and forearms represent the family name.

Chief Tsil.husalst, "Indian Chief of Fountain Band" Image: BC Archives

Chief Tsil.husalst, "Indian Chief of Fountain Band" Image: BC Archives

Over 600 Groups in BC

Since the year 2007 and the work towards partnering with the Four Host First Nations in BC for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, many more community bands of First Nations have received special attention.

This is in addition to the Metis that number 50,000 (in 2011).The BC Provincial and the Canadian Federal Government. have formed new treaties and accords with the Indigenous populations and begun work with bands not yet under treaty. Preservation of arts, cultures, and languages is a priority, as well as native health and economies.

Some bands are growing; for instance the Kwakiutl increased from a census figure in 2001 of 305 presons to an April 2011 reigistry of 705, nearly double.

Overall, several major language groups divide the various BC bands and nations, according to these linguistic families:

  • Haidan - This linguistic family includes the language of the Haida (prominent in the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia).
  • Kutenaian - The Kutenai language
  • Salishan (Salish)
  • Bella Coola, Comox, Halkomelem, Lilloet, Okanagan, Sechelt, Shuswap, Squamish, Straits, and the Thompson languages.
  • Tlingit - The inland Tlingit language. Allong with the Inuit, people in general consider these groups as "Eskimo." The area of Esquimalt on Vancouver Island is linked to such group names.
  • Tsimshian - Coast Tsimshian and Nass-Gitksan languages.
  • Wakashan - The languages in this linguistic family include those of the Haisla, Heiltsuk, Kwakiutl and Nootka First Nations.

Native North American Groups in Vancouver Island and Queen Charlotte Islands.

  • Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs - 440 West Hastings Street. Vancouver, BC.
  • United Native Nations - 8th Floor, 736 Granville Street. Vancouver, British Columbia. Toll free: 1-800-555-9756
  • Cowichan Band Admin. and Cowichan Band Council - Duncan and Lake Cowichan, BC.
  • Songhees Band Admin. Office - Victoria, BC, Canada,
  • Esquimalt Indian Band - Victoria, BC.
  • Council of the Haida Nation - Masset, BC: Old Massett Village Council and Skidegate bands.
  • Skidegate Indian Band - Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, BC.
  • North Coast Tribal Council - Prince Rupert, BC. Member Bands: Hartley Bay, Kincolith, Kitkatla, Old Massett Village Council, Metlakatla, Skidegate.
  • Nanaimo First Nations1145 Totem Road. Nanaimo, BC.
  • Squamish Nation - North Vancouver, BC.
  • Kamloops Indian Band - Kamloops, BC.

Haida Heritage Centre

First Nations Stories

The beginning of the legend of Ogopogo is unknown. Native Americans in BC tell a tale of a demon-possessed man who killed another known as Old Kan-He-K (Lake Okanagan where Ogopogo lives was named in his honor). As punishment, the Creator transformed the killer into a lake serpent, trapped at the scene of the crime forever. The serpent was named N'HA A ITK, or Lake Demon.

Recorded sightings of Ogopogo go back to the early 1800s. He is said to have a snake-like body 15-70 feet long, 2-5 feet in diameter and dark green skin. His head resembles a horse or goat with a beard.

In 1926, the Canadian government announced a ferry line built for travel across the lake would be equipped with monster-repelling devices.

Ogopogo - The "BC Monster"

Ogopogo - The "BC Monster"

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 31, 2016:

Yes Patty, my friend is the official cedar hat weaver as far as I know... and do return for a visit here sometime! It is like a little bit of Heaven living here.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 30, 2016:

@techtgran - Vancouver Island! I absolutely am in heaven when I visit there.

Did your Elder friend weave some of those remarkable cedar hats? They amaze me.

So incredible to visit a Night Market! I must return one day soon.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 29, 2016:

Hi Patty,

This was a great article that embraced a lot of the noble attributes and fascinating cultural history of different indigenous groups in BC. I have the great privilege to live on Vancouver Island. I have an older friend in her 80s who is a Hereditary Chief Elder of an Island band. She is also a cedar weaver, which I had never heard of before coming here. A most interesting art and traditional skill, her cedar weavings are highly valued, particularly since arthritis has removed her ability to practice her gift. This weekend we will be attending a Night Market that will display aboriginal arts and dance. I feel sadly lacking in knowledge and will do some catch-up. I thank you for your informative post. ~Cynthia

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 06, 2014:

Lee - the Native office in Vancouver BC belongs to the Musqueam Indian Band. Their addresses are:

http://www.musqueam.bc.ca/ Phone: 604-263-3261

and

6735 Salish Dr, Vancouver, BC V6N 4C4, Canada

and

1450 SW Marine Dr, Vancouver, BC V6P 5Z9, Canada

Lee taylor on October 06, 2014:

Hi not sure if this wright place to look but my great uncle Morris roley just died and i need to track his son and grandchildren down as they will not no he has died all i know if he lives on a native american reserve in vancouver and his granddad was a chief any 1 with any information please email me on spudytaylor@gmail.com with and sites i can go on thank you Lee taylor UK

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 15, 2013:

Great! I will do so as sure as plans are firmed up. It would be fun.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on December 15, 2013:

email me about your plans and I will meet you if I am here in Vancouver. ablowitzm@hotmail.com

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 06, 2013:

That would be great! I'd love to look around with someone who lives there.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on December 06, 2013:

Hi Patti

If you come to Vancouver let me know. Maybe we can go look at First Nations sites together.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 03, 2013:

Anyone ready to go and visit British Columbia with me? I've not been there for few years and am ready to return.

lilyann on November 20, 2011:

that sounds amazing and so interesting! Thank you for your story!

Shadow on August 10, 2011:

this page is really interesting

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 16, 2011:

I miss Victoria BC very much. Besides the culture, scenery, and friendly people everywhere, the best breakfast I ever had was in a Korean market there near the waterfront.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on July 15, 2011:

Thanks for your comment FloraBreenRobinson. I'm happy to learn more about being Canadian here in my little wet urban village.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 13, 2011:

That's funny!

FloraBreenRobison on July 13, 2011:

Whenever the leaders of the Sto:lo Nation here in Chilliwack talk about their race overall rather than their specific tribe, they use "First Nations " over the other terms. Interesting and bizarre comment about the name of Canada, period: The name of the European escapes me, but back when the first European settlers-as supposed to the vikings who came, pillaged, died or returned to Europe who actually pre-dated the French and English in Canada-arrived on Canadian soil, the settlers came across a group of huts. Someone asked the Chief where this was. Since they didn't speak each other's languages they didn't realize they were talking of sepaerate things. The European meant the land itself. The Chief meant the group of huts that formed a village. The two final choices when choosing a name for Canada were canada and Arcadia. This country picked the literal term "Village" and it has always been a source of great amusement to Canadians that when we say "I am Canadian" we are saying "I am a Villager." Village indeed. Canada is huge in land sizewith areas of dense population and sparse population alike.

Psycho Gamer from Earth on May 20, 2011:

What a freaking wonderful hub.....i always love learning about native americans....the true americans....with such a rich culture.....i wish one day i will able to visit british columbia

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 01, 2011:

What a wonderful place you live.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on May 01, 2011:

Thanks-yes Patty Inglish I have seen many exciting Indigenous People's sites and cultural centers.And I have 100's of great photos of totems and carvings sitting on my computer. I should take inspiration from your prodigious well researched hubs and get writing. But its sunny to-day so we are going hiking..

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 01, 2011:

I bet you have some very interesting photos and stories of the First Nations, especially in British Columbia and probably surrounding the 2010 Olympic arts and culture venues. It is another world completely, and very beautiful and powerful, in your Province. Thanks for commenting. Perhaps you'll write about your adventures visiting Indigenous Peoples' lands on HP; they sound exciting and awesome. I'll make sure to look at your Hubs.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on May 01, 2011:

Voted up-Thanks Patti Inglish for this informative interesting hub.I was looking at some new Coast Salish sculpture in the Musqueum Band territory near my house yesterday.Their lead artist, Susan Point, was featured at the Winter Olympics last year.

Related Articles