Johnstone Strait First Nations Native People of British Columbia
The Native People living by the Johnstone Strait
The pristine islands of the Broughton Archipelago appear to be wilderness untouched by human hands but that is not true. The Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations People, who for centuries have called this part of British Columbia home, have used these islands extensively. Evidence of a long-established native presence is scattered throughout the archipelago in the form of culturally modified trees, midden sites and even a petroglyph, or rock carving, which is located on the north side of Berry Island.
The Johnstone Strait remains home to the Kwakwaka’wakw who were long ago renamed by settlers as their common name, the Kwakiutl. The Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations People were originally made up of about 30 groups all speaking dialects of the Kwakwala language. The Kwakiutl people survive today, but like many native people throughout North America, their population is dwindling and they are constantly threatened by the depletion of resources on their land and in their water.
The major threats disturbing the Kwakiutl people are deforestation and the depletion of the salmon population by multi-national fish farms. Deforestation is a battle the First Nations People of British Columbia have been fighting for over 100 years. It is responsible for the displacement of many Kwakiutl people and the decreasing number of First Nations People across British Columbia can be directly linked to logging practices on aboriginal lands. When companies cut into the temperate rain forests of British Columbia, they often cut into land that is supposed to be protected by Aboriginal Title therefore cutting into the livelihood of the aboriginal people. When native territory is clear-cut, logging corporations are enriched while native populations are left without resources and economic means to sustain them.
The Kwakiutl people continue to fight the Canadian government for their land today. Just last January, the government granted land to the logging company Western Forest Products. 14,000 hectares of this land was Kwakiutl Territory. Under the 1851 Douglas Treaty, signed under Queen Victoria, the collective Aboriginal Title and the Rights of the Kwakiutl First Nation are supposed to be protected. To the frustration of First Nations population, this treaty has been breached repeatedly since its introduction.
Multinational fish farm corporations have also done an incalculable amount of long-term ecological and economic damage to the Broughton Archipelago. Salmon is one of the main traditional food sources of the Kwakiutl people and fish farms serve to endanger that population, therefore threatening the First Nations population. The over fishing of wild salmon in this area also serves to threaten the 200 or so orcas that keep the Johnstone Strait as their home. These mammals depend on a plentiful yearly salmon run for their food and each year the number of salmon is being depleted by massive corporations fishing in First Nations waters.
Despite the fact that Kwakiutl land and water has been consistently threatened for years, about 300 people still live at Fort Rupert of T’sakis Village on the North Eastern part of Vancouver Island. These people still fish the same waters that their ancestors have fished for hundreds of years and many Kwakiutl are active in the fight against the companies who have threatened their waters and temperate rain forests.
Learn more about kayak tours of the Johnstone Strait