Uchucklesaht Tribe

Uchucklesaht is a Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation of west Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. According to the tribe, there are 299 Uchucklesaht citizens, only three of whom live in the village of Hilthatis.

Territory and Population

Formerly a prominent nation with extensive territories in east Barkley Sound, the Uchucklesaht were decimated by disease and warfare in the years after European contact, and their territory in the mid-19th century was confined to Uchucklesit Inlet.

Today, the Uchucklesaht have two reserves southwest of Port Alberni: Cowishulth and Hilthatis (Ehthlateese). Cowishulth is on the west side of Barkley Sound, near the Uchucklesit Inlet. Hilthatis is at the head of Uchucklesit Inlet.

As of September 2018, the federal government counted 228 registered members of the Uchucklesaht Tribe, with 26 living on reserve. However, the Uchucklesaht Tribe reports different population figures. According to the tribe, there are 299 Uchucklesant citizens, only three of whom live in the village of Hilthatis.

Traditional Life

Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) Whale Hunt
Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) whalers paddled to open sea in eight-man cedar dugouts to harpoon gray whales, desired for their oil and meat.
Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) Lodge
At Nootka Sound, painting by John Webber, 1778.

The Uchucklesaht likely lived in bands of small families. They hunted according to the season and to migration patterns of certain animals. Sea mammals and fish, such as salmon, were especially important to the Uchucklesaht diet.


Uchucklesaht society was once governed by hereditary chiefs. Today, hereditary chiefs share in the governance system with elected representatives. A self-governing people since 2011, the Uchucklesaht have various law-making powers concerning their citizens and community.


Historically, the Nuu-chah-nulth have had a strong ceremonial culture, characterized by feasting and entertainment with song, dance, contests and theatricals (see also Potlatch).

The Nuu-chah-nulth have also been known for their stunning woodwork, including canoes, totem poles, multi-family houses and other products handcrafted out of fine cedar (see also Northwest Coast Indigenous Art).


The Uchucklesaht speak a dialect of Nuu-chah-nulth (Nuučaan̓uɫ). Their language is endangered; as of 2011, there were only two recorded fluent speakers. Decades living under assimilative programs and policies such as residential schools worked to erode the Uchucklesaht language. However, there have been efforts in recent years to revitalize it (see also Nuu-chah-nulth: Language and Indigenous Languages in Canada).

Religion and Spirituality

The Nuu-chah-nulth belief system centres on a Creator being as well as spirits whose powers can be used to bring peace and fortune. The Nuu-chah-nulth believe that all life forms have a spirit, and should therefore be respected and appreciated. Shamans ensured the spiritual health of the people by practising ancient medicines and healing rituals to cure illness, restore balance to the body and spirit, and even restore lost souls (see also Indigenous Peoples: Religion and Spirituality).

Colonial History

The Nuu-chah-nulth made contact with European fur traders in the 1770s. The traditional lifestyle of the Uchucklesaht began to change with prolonged and increased European settlement on their traditional territories. The Uchucklesaht were displaced onto reserves and subjected to the Indian Act, residential schools and other federal programs and policies that sought to assimilate Indigenous peoples. Nuu-chah-nulth peoples continue to work towards revitalizing and preserving their language, culture and spirituality.

Contemporary Life

The Uchucklesaht, along with several other Nuu-chah-nulth nations, have signed the Maa-nulth treaty, which has provided them with self-governance since April 2011 (see also Comprehensive Land Claims: Modern Treaties). As self-governing, the nations have certain powers over citizenship and law-making in their traditional territories. The Uchucklesaht manage various economic, business, and health and community services for their people.

The Uchucklesaht are also part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, an association founded in 1958 that provides various services to approximately 10,000 registered members, including child welfare, education, employment training and other socio-economic programs that support health and development.

Indigenous Perspectives Education Guide

Indigenous Peoples Collection

Further Reading

  • Alan L. Hoover, Nuu-chah-nulth Voices, Histories, Objects & Journeys (2000).

External Links

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