What Is the History of the Kwakiutl Tribe?


Quick Answer

Prior to the arrival of European colonists, Kwakiutl society revolved mostly around fishing, hunting and gathering wild foods. After Europeans arrived, the Kwakiutl suffered from new diseases and their culture waned considerably. However, over the past century, members of the Kwakiutl have made progress toward preserving their language and culture.

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Full Answer

Although many use the word to refer to the tribe as a whole, Kwakiutl is actually the name of a single band within the larger tribe. The name of the entire tribe of this Native American people, and the name they use amongst themselves, is Kwakwaka'wakw, and their language is Kwak'wala.

While the Kwakwaka'wakw have made important gains in preserving their culture and language, very few full speakers of Kwak'wala remain. A 2014 study by Canada's First Peoples Cultural Council found that among the 7,310 members of the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe living in Canada, only 170 were full speakers of Kwak'wala, while there were 500 partial or incomplete speakers. In addition to the ongoing loss of their traditional language, the Kwakwaka'wakw also possess fewer individual bands than they did in the past. Some of these bands were rapidly destroyed by European diseases, while others faded more gradually.

The Kwakwaka'wakw have made contributions toward the field of anthropology. The early anthropologist Franz Boas made produced important ethnographic writings about the Kwakwaka'wakw in the late 1800s, when many of the tribe's traditional cultural practices were still intact.

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