Formerly known as the Kwakiutl, the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations have lived here for thousands of years, a region with a history rich in native culture and heritage. Pictographs, burial sites, and shell middens on Harbledown Island and Turnour Islands, to name only a few sites, offer a fascinating glimpse into Kwakwaka'wakw and Coast Salish culture and history.
“Our sense of being flows from a long history. It’s important to keep reinforcing it. The purpose is for the children. That’s how we sustain ourselves, our pride, our dignity, our respect, and knowing who we are.”
- Bobby Joseph (co-facilitator, Elders Gathering).
The steep walls of the Kingcome Valley and the length of the Inlet have protected us from enemies, encroachment, disease and loss of our culture. As Elder Ethel Pearson stated:
“We never stopped our traditions in this beautiful valley.”
Because of our remote location, the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw people were able to continue to practice the potlatch through the prohibition period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The isolation of our communities prevented regular inspections by the Department of Indian Affairs, allowing us to retain much of our cultural knowledge. Elder Ernie Scow spoke of this:
“We have never stopped as the Musgamakw. We are proud people. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We carried on this thing... We the Musgamakw, have kept this thing going. We never stopped potlatching.”
During the residential school period, the remoteness of our communities protected us once again. Many people successfully hid their children. The landscape helped us to resist being stripped of our culture.
Maintaining our cultural heritage has been the key to our strength. We know who we are. We know where we come from. Elder Pauline Alfred spoke of this:
“I know where I come from. I come from the Four Tribes, the Musgamakw tribes. I think that’s what makes a person strong: knowing who they are. The white people, the Department of Indian Affairs and the missionaries, tried to take that away from us.”
We have never surrendered our stewardship responsibility and rights in this territory. In 1914 Chief Sisaxolas (Alex Morgan 1869-1945) formally claimed at the very least the land on either side of the Kingcome Inlet and 1 mile on either side of the river all the way to its source at Ugwixtolis (the Silverthrone glaciers).
The vast wilderness area around Kingcome Inlet is an intricate maze of islands, channels, inlets, sounds, and straits, and includes Sutlej Channel, Hoya Sound, Tribune Channel, Bond Sound, Thompson Sound, Fife Sound, and numerous other sounds and channels. Islands immediately south of Kingcome Inlet, between the inlet and Vancouver Island, include Gilford Island, Village Island, Turnout Island, Minstrel Island, and Cracroft Island.
At the mouth of Kingcome Inlet is the Broughton Archipelago, a wild array of small islands that form a marine park west of Gilford Island, the largest of the hundreds of islands, and home to the Kwicksutaineuk/Ah'kwaha' First Nation. At the head of Kingcome Inlet is the Kingcome River, overhung with willows and alders.
Kingcome Inlet was the setting for the powerful and poignant novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven (1967). Craven describes the mystery and power of native life and tells the story of a dying Anglican vicar sent by his bishop to Kingcome Village to work with the Dzawada'enuxw (Tsawataineuk) people. The bishop believes that the young vicar will live a rewarding life till the end, and "learn enough of the meaning of life to be ready to die."
Missionary activity with the Kwakwaka'wakw at Kingcome Inlet was initiated by the Church Missionary Society mission station at Alert Bay on Vancouver Island as early as the 1890s. By the late 1920s the missionary work at Kingcome had been transferred to the Columbia Coast Mission. St. George's Church was consecrated in 1938.
Economic activities in the Kingcome Inlet area include commercial logging, fishing, and silviculture.
Kingcome Inlet is accessible by private boat, water taxi, scheduled working freight service, and scheduled and charter floatplane. The village of Kingcome is located approximately 290 km northwest of Vancouver.
A pictograph at Petley Point on Kingcome Inlet represents a political history of the area, and commemorates a potlatch that the Dzawada'enuxw people held after the department of Native Affairs had placed a ban on all Native ceremonies.
Pictograph by contemporary artist Marianne Nicolson
The region is home to a northern population of resident killer whales (Orcas), with the salmon feeding areas and rubbing beaches of Robson Bight south of Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island being a preferred site. Other marine mammals include Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbour porpoise, Dall's porpoise, resident harbour seals, and wintering Steller sea lions. Other wildlife in the area include deer, bears, shorebirds, seabirds, loons, and bald eagles.
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