Preserving Our Way of Life

"Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,

Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources,

Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements with States."

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 September 2007. Shamefully, Canada did not endorse the Declaration until 2010.

Left: Nuxalk dancer Donny Hood, 2009.

Right: Qwaxw (Spencer Siwallace) was born and raised in Bella Coola. His parents are Bruce and Mary Lynn Siwallace. He is the grandson of Cecilia and Joe Siwallace, and the great grandson of Margaret and Stephen Siwallace; Felicity (Walkus) and Albert Hood. Qwaxw graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Forestry in 2001. In 2007 he was elected as Chief Councillor.

"We all depend on our environment for our survival. Whether it be fishing in the river and hunting in the forests for food, or picking pine mushrooms to sell, we all depend on the natural resources. Sustaining the environment's ability to provide for us as well as our children, grandchildren and those yet to be born is critical to guarantee our survival as a sovereign Nation. In addition to protecting our resources from negative outside influences, we need to continue promoting sustainable use by our own people within our territory."

Salmon Are Our Food Fishery

When the first Spring (Chinook) Salmon return to the Bella Coola River, the Nuxalk gather to give thanks, walking from the House of Noomst to the Song House.

Right: Nuxalk Salmon Parade, 2 June 2010.
Hereditary chiefs, from left: Sixilaaxayc (Noel Pootlass), Anulhkw'iklmlayc (Aaron Hans), Qwatsi (David Clellamin) and Nanus (Mike Tallio).

"The Nuxalk people have always kept our food fishery separate from the commercial fishery to protect the food fishery from exploitation and over harvesting. Food fish is for personal use and to maintain the health and structure of each Nuxalk family. The Nuxalk Fisheries Office is a scientific based research facility focused on the salmon and other fish species, with a clear goal for conservation, assessment, enumeration and enhancement project development and implementation." Jason Moody, Fish Biologist, Nuxalk Fisheries Office.

Right: Cooking salmon in the Song House,
Salmon Ceremony, Bella Coola, 2 June 2010.
Below: Silyas in his smokehouse, 2010.

Above: Suncw (Jesse Oud) cleaning salmon, 1997.

Above: Smoked salmon heads and roe being served
at a traditional Nuxalk ceremony, 2010.

Chief Qwatsinas on the Nuxalk salmon fishery: "I guess I would say respect for Indian ways. I was arguing with [the government] Fisheries last month. They wanted to cut our fishing down to two days, from four days. I said, 'No, I can't do that. Not when it's the economy of our people. If you can cut your (white) economy in half for the benefit of my people, then maybe we can consider this. We used to use the weir system (of fishing) where we could keep track of the salmon runs and if there were not enough going upstream we wouldn't take so many. We had to let enough escape to get upriver to the villages farther up. We looked after the river. The old people walked up and down the reeks (checking conditions throughout the entire system). Who is doing that today? I don't see anybody looking after the river. All they (the officials) do is look after their figures and their closures. . .

Fishing is the heart of our people. It's lifestyle. It's the economy. Our boys, they see their fathers have to get up and go and get the salmon; bring them in. They they have to get the wood for the smokehouses. Repair the smokehouses. And the ladies have to prepare the fish, dress them, get them ready for smoking and canning. That's work. It's better than $200 a month welfare in your pocket'. . . Long term, what's needed to get our own people back in the management of the resources. The government asks Indians: 'What do you want?' But they don't understand we're different cultures and have different answers to the question." from Ruth Kirk, Wisdom of the Elders, 1986.

River Guardians

From time immemorial certain restrictions have been enforced concerning the Bella Coola River. It is said that after the first peoples descended to Earth from the land above Alhkw'ntam (the Creator) along with other supernatural beings instructed the people to follow these river restrictions. Alhkw'ntam gave names to some of the first People who held the right to be a River Guardian.

These first River Guardians who held these names ha the prerogative of enforcing obedience of the river rule by punishing those who broke them. These names were handed down and ever since, the owner of a River Guardian name, when it has been duly legalized at a potlatch, has had the right to perform this function.

Nuxalk Traditional Foods

Right: A Nuxalk petroglyph at Thorsen Creek on the cover of a book on indigenous foods.

Indigenous Peoples' Food Systems: The Many Dimensions of Culture, Diversity and Environment
for Nutrition and Health (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment,
Rome 2009).

"Without doubt, for Indigenous Peoples collectively, these resources are of global significance. They need to be protected environmentally and fostered for sustainable use � not only among the women, men and childr.en who hold the traditional knowledge of these cultural treasures, but for our collective human knowledge." Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, Yellowknife, NWT, Canada.

Many of the indigenous and traditional foods necessary to preserving the Nuxalk way of life are listed below.

The Nuxalk Food and Nutrition Program

Right: Nuxalk Elder Bill Tallio was filmed for the indigenous foods project. Many researchers have relied on his knowledge about the ancient Nuxalk traditions of gathering and preparing native foods.


Above: "Bella Coola Indians with potatoe crop,"1913. This photo was taken when the Royal Commission on Indian Affairs visited the Bella Coola Indian Reserve. Other photos showed apple orchards and farm fields.

The Nuxalkmc were the first farmers in the valley. They were introduced to potatoes, squash, corn and fruits by explorers and settlers. Nuxalk potatoes were famous with other First Nations peoples. The Nuxalk village at old town on the north side of the river provided exceptional growing sites and abundant gardens. When Indian reserves were being created in BC the Nuxalkmc requested a large piece of land for growing and selling potatoes and vegetables. However, when the reservation boundaries were drawn up, the chief at the time wasn’t consulted. The rest of the best farm land in the valley was acquired by Norwegian settlers . . . In a relatively short span of time access to and the availability of traditional foods greatly decreased due to private property, logging, and over fishing. Over the years the number of people able to make a living by farming, logging and fishing decreased. For the past seven years, ooligans, a fish of cultural and nutritional importance for the Nuxalkmc, have not returned in their traditional numbers (Inner Central Coast Economic Recovery Plan, 2003).

A Traditional Wedding

Left and below: On 2 July 2010 Terry Elliott and Wilma Mack tied the knot in a traditional Nuxalk ceremony in Bella Coola. Nuxalk teacher Clyde Tallio researched the work by anthropologists Franz Boas and Thomas McIlwraith for historical accuracy.

Traditional Music

Above and right: Nuxalk twins Lance and Charles Nelson are talented artists who teach at the Acwsalcta School and perform traditional music at many ceremonies in Bella Coola. Traditional Nuxalk music is complex and has been studied by many scholars. Among the most important Nuxalk Elders to pass on their knowledge and passion for singing was the group seen below in the early 1970s.

Below: from left: Margaret Siwallace (Sisinay),
Felicity Walkus (Stalywa), Agnes Edgar (Alhtiycw),
and Dan Nelson (K'wisus).


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