We, the Nuxalkmc, have always had close ties to our natural environment, to the land and the water. Families have Smayustas, or creation stories, about where we first descended to the earth. These stories have been passed on through countless generations, maintaining the close tie each Nuxalkmc has to the land and origins of each family. Our histories, including our dances, songs, crests, house poles and names tell us who we are, who we continue to be.
Following the arrival of settlers to what is now known as British Columbia, Canada, the smallpox epidemic in the 1860s completely wiped out many Nuxalk villages, and devastated countless others, taking with their lives many smayustas that can never be resurrected.
As survivors came together in Q’umk’uts’ Village near Bella Coola, smayustas began merging, simplifying the once extremely complex relationships and associated rights and responsibilities of individuals and families. The surviving families of those villages are the ancestors of the families who today make up the Nuxalk Nation. These families can still tell you which village they are traditionally from:
- Nuxalk (Bella Coola Valley) people are called Nuxalkmc
- Ats’aaxlh (South Bentick) people are called Taliyuumc
- Kwatna people are called Kwalhnamc
- Kimsquit people are called Suts’lhmc
- Ista (King Island) people are called Istamc
- Nusxiq’ (Green Bay) people are called Nuxiq’mc
Colonial attempts to assimilate aboriginal people included the introduction of the Indian Act in 1880, significantly affecting the lives and land of the Nuxalk. In 1884, the Indian Act banned the Potlatch -the centerpiece of Nuxalk identity, government and cultural connections.
Through the Potlatch , a system of traditional government where family affiliations, responsibilities, transferals and ownership of property, acknowledgements of births, deaths, marriages and chieftainships were acknowledged and legalized. By banning the Potlatch, the process of Nuxalk governance and keeping the Smayustas alive was severely restricted.
The Potlatch ban remained in effect between 1884 and 1951. For nearly 70 years, the Potlatch was deemed illegal and anyone caught participating in one faced imprisonment. Despite the attempts to destroy the Nuxalk way of life, the dedication of the people kept the traditions alive and this has been passed on to present generations of Nuxalkmc. It took great wisdom and vision of the surviving ancestors and families to ensure the continued survival of our people.