The First Nation People (Nuu-chah-nulth) of the Broken Islands
The People of the Broken Islands
There are more significant First Nations archeological sites than there are islands within the Broken Islands. This archipelago is the longtime home of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations people and there are five groups within the Nuu-chah-nulth that have called parts of the Barkley Sound their home in the past. These groups include the Tseshaht, Hupacasath, Ucluelet, Toquaht, Uchucklesaht and Huu-ay-aht. These groups prospered for hundreds of years within the sound, depending on the land rich with resources as well as the sea abundant with wildlife for hunting and fishing. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 natives may have lived within the Barkley Sound at one time. Now, the descendants of these communities live in villages that neighbor the Sound such as Ucluelet and Port Alberni but there are four Indian Reserves within the Broken Islands and archeological sites have been established on several islands as a platform to study native history.
Recently, a group from Simon Fraser University headed by Alan McMillan and Denis St. Claire established one such site on Benson Island. This island is home to the ancient Tseshaht village of Ts’ishaa. According to the oral history of the Tseshaht people, this is the origin of their group. While archeological evidence cannot prove this, the group from Simon Fraser University was able to confirm that the Tseshaht people had been on Benson Island for several millennia. They found several artifacts that were dated to be 2,000 years old and radiocarbon dating showed the village to be even older, about 5,000 years old. This is believed to be the oldest archeological evidence on Vancouver Island. Artifacts found by the group, who were assisted by several members of the surviving Tseshaht population, confirmed the common belief that natives lived a life sustained by the ocean’s creatures. They found evidence of old shellfish and several whalebones. They even found one whale skull with a mussel-shell blade, probably from an ancient harpoon, still wedging in the back. It is reasonable to assume that the boat used to hunt such a whale would look surprisingly similar to the kayaks we paddle for recreation today.