The Nuu-chah-nulth (pronounced New-cha-nulth) (also formerly referred to as the Nootka, Nutka, Aht, Nuuchahnulth) people are indigenous peoples of Canada. The term ‘Nuu-chah-nulth’ is used to describe 15 separate but related nations whose traditional home is in the Pacific Northwest on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In pre-contact and early post-contact times, the number of nations was much greater, but smallpox and other consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of some groups, and the absorption of others into neighbouring groups. The Nuu-chah-nulth are related to the Chinook and Kwakiutl peoples, and the Nuu-chah-nulth language is part of the Wakashan language group.
The Nuu-chah-nulth, and other Pacific Northwest cultures, were famous for their potlatch ceremonies, in which the host would honour guests with generous gifts. The term ‘potlatch’ is a word of nuu-chah-nulth origin.
The Nuu-chah-nulth were among the first Pacific peoples north of California to come into contact with Europeans. Competition between Spain and the United Kingdom over control of Nootka Sound led to a bitter international dispute around 1790, which was settled when Spain agreed to abandon its exclusive claims to the North Pacific coast. Negotiations to settle the dispute were handled under the hospitality of a powerful chief of the Mowachaht Nuu-chah-nulth of Nootka Sound, Maquinna.
The Nuu-chah-nulth were one of the only groups on the Pacific Coast who hunted whales. Whaling is essential to Nuu-chah-nulth culture and spirituality, and is reflected in stories, songs, names, family lines, and numerous place names throughout the Nuu-chah-nulth territories.
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