Kwakiutl, group of closely related Native North Americans who inhabit N Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland of British Columbia, Canada. They, together with the Nootka, their southern neighbors, make up the Wakashan branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). Kwakiutl culture was typical of the Northwest Coast area (including the custom of potlatch). The ethnographer Franz Boas produced a significant number of ethnographic studies on the Kwakiutl. Numbering c.15,000 before European contact, they are now reduced to around 4,000 and are mainly engaged in fishing and farming.

See F. Boas, Kwakiutl Ethnography, ed. by H. F. Codere (1966); R. P. Rohner and E. C. Rohner, The Kwakiutl (1970).

Northwest Coast Indian people who live along the shores of Vancouver Island, B.C., Can., and the mainland opposite. They speak a Wakashan language and call themselves Kwakwaka'wakw, meaning “those who speak Kwakwala.” Traditionally, the Kwakiutl subsisted mainly by fishing and had a technology based largely on woodworking. Their society was stratified by rank, determined primarily by inheritance. The potlatch was elaborately developed and was often combined with dances and songs dramatizing ancestral experiences with supernatural beings. They continue to be known for their highly stylized art, which includes totem poles and striking masks. Early 21st-century population estimates indicated approximately 700 individuals of Kwakiutl descent.

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The term Kwakiutl was usually applied to a group of indigenous peoples of northern Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait and the Johnstone Strait, who are now known as Kwakwaka'wakw, which means Kwak'wala-speaking-peoples. The term, created by anthropologist Franz Boas, was used up until the 1980's. It comes from one of the Kwakwaka'wakw tribes, the Kwagu'ł, at Fort Rupert, whom Franz Boas did most of his anthropological work and whose Indian Act band government is the Kwakiutl First Nation. The term was also misapplied to mean all the tribes who spoke Kwak'wala, as well as three other indigenous peoples who language is apart of the Wakashan linguistically group, but whose language is not Kwak'wala. These peoples, incorrectly known as the Northern Kwakiutl, were the Haisla, Wuikinuxv, and Heiltsuk.

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