Wuikinuxv

Introduction

The Wuikinuxv are a First Nation people of Canada with a population of around three hundred. They are also referred to as the Owekeeno, Wikeno, Owikeno and Awikenox. Historically, they have been frequently mistaken as a Northern Kwakiutl people along with their Haisla and Haida neighbours. Wuikinuxv speak the Oowekyala dialect, a sub-language of Heiltsuk-Oowekyala belonging to the North Wakashan language.

The Wuikinuxv Nation’s territory in Canada is located in the Central Coast region of the province of British Columbia, an area of incredible biological richness. The abundance of resources in the area, both marine and terrestrial, made it a perfect place for the Wuikinuxv to subsist.

For much of their history, the people followed seasonal migration patterns across their lands, responding to the movements of resources and living at family owned procurement camps to gather and pool their food. Fishing was a great source of wealth for the Wuikinuxv who lived and traded primarily on the fruits provided by salmon runs. Additional hunting and gathering activities as well as effective storage innovations also played important roles in the economy of the Wuikinuxv.

Along their migratory routes the Wuikinuxv practiced their traditional seasonal ceremonies and potlatches, maintaining their collective cultural identity in tandem with their movements. Archaeological evidence yielded from settlements dating from as far back as 10,000 years ago has demonstrated the antiquity of the Wuikinuxv and their ancestors inhabitation of the area, contextualising the interconnected nature of their spiritual and subsistence activities.

Today the traditional Wuikinuxv way of life has been disrupted by the drastic changes to their ecological surroundings which have occurred in relatively recent history. Resource extraction of the last two centuries has depleted many forms of life in the Central Coast area, especially once plentiful salmon stocks and monumental Cedar trees. The commercial interests of non-Indians is the chief explanation for this natural depletion.

Contact brought many troubles upon the Wuikinuxv, amongst them new and virulent diseases and an end to an economy based on trade and it’s replacement with a cash one. In the 1800’s white foreigners came to exploit the abundance of fish in the area and no less than sixteen canneries were built in Rivers Inlet alone. This being a chief area of habitation for the Wuikinuxv it was not only the fish that were damaged by this intense prospecting. Many Wuikinuxv were lured into becoming labourers whilst the fish stocks lasted. Due to these traumatic consequences of contact mass migrations took place away from Rivers Inlet. Yet for some the cycles of Wuikinuxv life began to revolve around the commercial gain found in involvement in extraction activities rather than knowledge of and faith in the Wuikinuxv’s caring relationship with their environment. This has had dire consequences. Commercial fishing is now unheard of amongst the Wuikinuxv due to the still critical condition of the areas salmon stocks.

Today some Wuikinuxv live in urban areas away from their traditional homeland whilst others are based on any of the three reservations under the Wuikinuxv Nation’s administration. There is a strong tide of people who are committed to conserving remaining aspects of traditional Wuikinuxv culture and revitalizing others. Song and dance are still central to community life whilst potlatches have been re-instigated since the construction of a new ‘big house,’ built in 2005, which now acts as a Wuikinuxv cultural hub and symbol of regeneration. The Wuikinuxv are also working determinedly to re-align themselves with the cycles that provided for their ancestors and are heavily involved in resource stewardship initiatives.

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