The Kwakiutl were the inhabitants of Vancouver Island and neighbouring coastal areas of mainland British Columbia at the time of European contact. The Kwakiutl sustained themselves on the abundant sea life found nearby, including halibut, salmon, seals and shellfish. Most modern Kwakiutl continue to live on Vancouver Island.
The Kwakiutl traditionally lived in semi-permanent winter villages and temporary summer settlements at hunting, gathering and fishing sites. At some resource sites, such as those used for the annual salmon fishery, the Kwakiutl also built permanent timber buildings. The Kwakiutl depended heavily on sea life for their sustenance and used a wide variety of devices, including specialized weirs and traps, to catch what they needed. The Kwakiutl used wood for dishes and housewares and created richly decorated textile products, such as baskets and blankets.
The Kwakiutl fought regularly with neighboring tribes and among themselves, with relations ranging from friendly feasting to vicious raiding, depending on the relations of the time. During raids, the Kwakiutl plundered villages and enslaved defeated inhabitants. As the Kwakiutl grew in power, taking territory became increasingly important.
The Kwakiutl became heavily involved in the fur trade after the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Rupert in 1849. As European settlement increased, many Kwakiutl moved into growing timber and cannery industries. Many modern Kwakiutl continue to work in the commercial fishery industry.