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Yuquot, the summer home of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht peoples. Longhouses used to reside in the field in the centre of the photo.

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation is a group consisting of about 540 individuals living in the Nootka Sound area near Gold River, BC. They were the first group of First Nations to have contact with Europeans, as their summer home is located at Yuquot, where Captain James Cook and his crew first set foot on Vancouver Island. Due to their geographic location, this group has one of the longest histories of contact with the European colonizers, at various points trading, bartering, fighting with, and even taking a European slave after a battle.




Like all First Nations on Vancouver Island, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht have been present in their traditional territory for thousands of years. When the European explorers first arrived in what is now Canada in 1778, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht were the first people they met. Since it was summer at the time, the meeting place was at Yuquot (Friendly Cove), where the Mowachaht/Muchalaht had their summer encampment. Over the coming years, many voyagers met with people from the Nation, some trading peacefully, some engaging in out and out warfare. In 1803, after suffering some injustices at the hands of previous European traders, Maquinna, the chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, ordered the British ship HMS Boston attacked. The raid was extremely successful, with most of the crew killed, and two taken captive. For the next two years, these two men were “slaves” to Maquinna, however, the term slave only really referred to their captivity, as they were only required to participate in food and wood gathering, tool making, and day to day activities. They were permitted to observe the Sabbath, and the more active of the two, John Jewitt, learned the language and ended up taking a wife while living with the First Nation. He was returned to a passing ship after 28 months of captivity and published a book about his experience.


All throughout history, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht have been utilizing the local resources, most notably those found in the sea. The sea otter has played an important role in their history, as it was traditionally hunted to use for their rich pelts. With the arrival of the Europeans, the pelts became the number one traded commodity. As more and more ships arrived to take advantage of the trade, the sea otter population slowly declined, and it is this trade that was partially responsible for their near extinction.


With the arrival of permanent colonizers in the late 1700s, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht were forced to leave some of their traditional territory, as a fort was built on Nootka Island. The fort was abandoned for good by 1795. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht had a reasonably good relationship with the European traders until they started to set up permanent settlements on the island. After this, the usual story of displacement, disease, attempts to “educate” and assimilate, and overbearing policies began to emerge. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht shrunk in population, and a number of smaller groups combined and moved further up Muchalaht Inlet, to their present day home near Gold River, BC.


Present Day


The Mowachaht/Muchalaht continue to utilize much of their traditional territory on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Yuquot is still used extensively during the summer season and it is still a summer camp for the Nation. They operate a limited number of tourist facilities there including rustic cabins for accommodation, and docks with a small general store. Guided tours of some of the First Nations artifacts and historical facilities are available, and the historical Catholic Church built there is still operated.


The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation now has a population of approximately 540 people, and controls 17 reserves totaling 263.3 hectares.


Treaty Status


The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation is currently negotiating a treaty within the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. They are one of the six groups that didn’t accept the original agreement in principle set forth by the Tribal Council and have continued to negotiate a new AIP along with the six remaining groups. The province has since accepted the revised statement of intent filed by the remaining groups. Negotiations are ongoing in stage four.


Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.