We refer to ourselves as both the Dzawada’enuxw and the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw. The outside world sees us as four tribes, and the Government of Canada defined us as such. However, we have always been One People. This we know from our Origin Stories, and from generations of intermarriage, co-habitation and respectful shared resource use.
The Four Tribes, including the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation, are members of the Kwakwaka’wakw group of nations. The Kwakwaka’wakw people occupy the lower central region of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
Our only neighbours and areas of shared territory have been in the Broughton Archipelago. We have a long history of co-operation and intermarriage among the Four Tribes: Dzawada’enux̱w, Gwawa̱’enux̱w; ḵwiḵwa̱sut̕inux̱w; and, Ha̱x̱wa’mis.
The totem pole standing in Kingcome Inlet shows the relationship of the Four Tribes:
- The thunderbird, representing the Gwawa’enuxw (Hopetown)
- The wolf, representing the Haxwa’mis (Wakeman)
- The raven, representing the Dzawada’enuxw (Kingcome)
- The head winter dancer (Cedar Man), representing the Kwiḵwasut̕inuxw (Gilford)
As with the other First Nations of this region, we have a wealth of tradition and a wealth of natural resources. We cannot separate our use of the land, the water and the many species we have relied on from our spiritual practices. Our cultural and resource riches are one. In the documentary film Potlatch: A Strict Law Bids us to Dance, elder Billy S Willie says:
“Listen carefully my children, grandchildren. We are fortunate. Where we have come from is wealth. The coppers are real, and stay.”
Coppers are important symbols of wealth and power. Each has its own name and history, and the value increase each time it is sold or given away. There is some fine material in transcripts of the Royal Commission of 1913-16 which record eloquent comments in speeches from the chiefs of Kingcome.
Our wealth includes having a way of life in which we belong to an extended family that will support us. It includes having the ability to travel between communities, to show up at peoples’ doorsteps and be taken care of. When we go into a community and people recognize who we are based on who our family is, that is wealth. The potlatch system is wealth.
Our laws and values run deep as the cedar roots. It is the only thing that stays constant throughout time.
We believe that our laws come from the Sisiutl, a transformative creature of great symbolic power, who is revealed as a double-headed serpent with a central human face – an image represented in our bighouse, guarding over us.
The four laws that govern us are:
- Respect for All of Creation: equality of humans, animals and the earth “all of creation”
- Maintenance of a Strong Spirituality
- The Value of a Relationship with our people and other Nations
- Bringing forth “the Gift of the Self”: an individual is connected to the community through what one brings to it.
"Our creator put everything here that we’re going to need: animals, birds, water, all the things. Then they put us on here, so that you’re going to use that, to live off that, take care of it, just take what you need. You don’t do things wrong to it. You don’t go chopping trees down just to make it pretty. Our mountains are showing their bones now. It’s all cleared, cut off.
Everything out there, all people, it’s all chained together: every living creature. To squish a bug or whatever, that is a no-no. That thing has a family: he’s out there looking for something for his family. They’ve all got feelings. Every living creature has feelings, has a purpose, they come from somewhere. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If we chop that off, nothing can put it together again.”
- Elder Glenny Johnson.
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