Our Culture

Wei Wai Kum Background & History

For thousands of years the Wei Wai Kum lived harmoniously with the lands, waters and resources throughout their territories of the southern Johnstone Straights and adjacent mainland inlets. Foods such as: salmon, seal, octopus, herring, cod, deer, elk, ducks, shellfish and berries were harvested and preserved in intricate methods appropriate to the environment and ecosystems of their surroundings. The regularly treacherous waterways and passages of places like Seymour Narrows, Race Point and Arran Rapids were utilized strategically in warfare to successfully defend against raids by northern tribes of the Haida and Bella Coola.

The Wei Wai Kum First Nation is a part of the Laich-kwil-tach group of tribes which formerly included more commonly known: We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, Walitsima / Kahkahmatsis, and Kwiakah. The Laich-kwil-tach are the southernmost group of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations which have historically occupied the central-to-north Vancouver Island, adjacent mainland inlets (Seymour, Smith, Kingcome, Knight, and Loughborough Inlets) and inside passage areas. The Laick-kwil-tach speak a slightly different dialect (Lekwila) from the predominant Kwakwa’la of the Nations to the North.

The four main Laich-kwil-tach tribes had their own respective areas that they would use and occupy independently, they would often at times travel together and during early times would spend the Winters together at Topaze Harbour (Tekya). The Laich-kwil-tach were notorious for waging warfare together and raiding of various Salish origin tribes to the south. In fact, it was an aggressive migration southward of the Laich-kwil-tach which displaced Salish tribes from areas of Loughborough Inlet, sites along the Johnstone Straights, Kelsey Bay, Quadra Island and Campbell River. The reasons for this southward migration of the Laich-kwil-tach are not clear but it is evident that this occurred into periods right up the mid-19th century.

In earlier times, Laich-Kwil-Tach people were centered further north in the territory at Tikya (this is the place of origin for Laich-Kwil-Tach people; and even as far north as the mouth of the Nimpkish River. Gradually, they exerted pressure on their neighbors’ to the south, and through war, pushed southward into Discovery Passage. Boas notes that the “Le’gwiłdaxu [Laich-Kwil-Tach] lived at Long-Flat-Beach (GE’ldEdzolis), near the mouth of Nimkish River, conquered the territory of the Comox, and moved to Valdes [Quadra] Island.” In the late 19th century, Boas wrote that Laich-Kwil-Tach territory ran “from Knight Inlet to Bute Inlet and on the opposite part of Vancouver Island”.

Source: “A Summary of Laich-Kwil-Tach History and Rights: Draft Report,” Prepared for the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society; By Deidre Cullon and Shirley Johnson, January 2010

The main cultural grouping of Salish tribes that previously occupied areas from Salmon River down to Denman and Hornby Islands referred to themselves as the Sathloot in their Salish language and later took on the Kwakwa’la derived name of Kw’umuxws which is now known in the anglicized version of K’omoks. The K’omoks people had close ties with the Laich-kwil-tach group at Salmon River, the Walitsima / Kahkahmatsis. By the late 1880’s the K’omoks people had been driven south and the Salmon River area was occupied by the Laich-kwil-tach group of the Walitsima / Kahkhamatsis. This group was in a poor situation as they had suffered substantial losses through bouts with Tuberculosis, they were down to just 11 members. Several of the members were already living with the K’omoks on their reserve for part of the year. In 1940 the Salmon River and K’omoks First Nation voted independently to amalgamate, this was approved by the Indian Commissioner in 1941 and the Salmon River Reserve became a part of the K’omoks First Nation’s reserves.

Recent oral history suggests that the Hahamatsees and the Walitsama were different people. Louise Hovell noted in her interview with Rev. Cornish in the late 1960s that when the Walitsama moved to Salmon River (Xwesam) the Hahamatsees were living inland and were unknown to the Laich-Kwil-Tach. The Walitsama and Hahamatsees people eventually amalgamated and later, the people moved to Cape Mudge, Campbell River and Comox. In the 1940s a few of the Walitsama living at Comox, including Chief Moon, voted to amalgamate with Comox. In the meantime, the others who had moved to Cape Mudge and Campbell River did not vote. The two Moon men who joined Comox had no children. As a result, there are few in Comox today who can claim a Laich-Kwil-Tach tie to Xwesam, while there are many in Campbell River and Cape Mudge who can.

Primary territories and sites belonging to the Wei Wai Kum are Loughborough Inlet in its entirety, Greene Point (outside the mouth of Loughborough) and the Tyee Spit at Campbell River known as Glamatoo.

WaiKai and Flood Story at Tekya (Jackson Bay) – as told on “Laich-Kwil-Tach Nation Our Lands and Stories,” video produced by the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society.

The story is about Chief WaiKai and the Great Flood. The Dick Family of Cape Mudge now carries the name of WaiKai.

WaiKai was warned in his dreams by the Creator that a great flood was coming. WaiKai tried to warn all of the people to get prepared before it happened; but everyone just laughed and said “he believes everything he hears.”

WaiKai started to make great big canoes and long cedar ropes. The people were still skeptical and wondering what he was building, but he continued to work. He attached the long cedar ropes to the top of a big mountain (Lakatasen) to a big grooved rock. The long cedar ropes reached from the top of the mountain down to the village. He told the people to tie the canoes to the rope from the big mountain (Lakastasen).

It started to flood and the water rose for a day and the people gathered in the canoes. They had plenty to eat by eating dried, smoked fish and seal meat. The weather and waves got really bad and two of the canoes broke away and got separated. One of the canoes drifted far north to Haisla(Kitimat), and the other canoe drifted south to where the Makah live; many words in their languages are now the same. That is what WaiKai did.


A Summary of Laich-Kwil-Tach History and Rights

Oral history states that after the flood, the people in Topaze Harbour prospered and expanded into other areas of Topaze Harbour. Eventually, they fanned out and formed settlements at Port Neville, Loughborough Inlet, Salmon River, Phillips Arm, Kanish Bay, Surge Narrows (possibly Tatpoose/Tatapowis or Tatapoyis (meaning “by boulders going dry”), and Vancouver Bay. It was after the move to Tatpoose that the individual groups of the Laich-Kwil-Tach began dividing. It is possible that these divisions originally began in order to maintain a presence throughout the enlarged Laich-Kwil-Tach territory. The Wewaikum eventually moved to Campbell River, via Greene Point (Matlaten) circa 1900. The Hahamatsees (later Walitsama) people moved to the mouth of the Salmon River (where they maintained ownership and rights, moving south circa 1914 to live with the Wewaikai, Weiwaikum and K’ómoks people). In the 1940s, they officially amalgamated with the Comox Band.

By the time of the Spanish and Briton encounters in 1792, the Laich-Kwil-Tach was comprised of many groups. Although the picture is not completely clear, at least by the turn of the 19th century, there were no less than seven divisions of the Laich-Kwil-Tach: the Wewaikai; Weiwaikum; Kwiakah; Tlaaluis; Walitsama; Hahamatsees; and Komenox. Franz Boas in the late 19th century, recognized the Laich-Kwil-Tach as one group with “five subtribes” (Boas). In the early 20th century, Edward Curtis (1915) also recognized the Hatsumenoh and the Walitsama, who most suggest were the Hahamatsees1. However, by the end of the 19th century, the Komenox, Tlaaluis, and Hahamatsees “ceased to exist as separate entities”. In 1885, George Dawson divided the Laich-Kwil-Tach into 5 groups, the Wa-lit-sum, Wi-wi-eke, Kwi-ha, Wi-wi-ikum and Awahoo.

There are varying opinions regarding the origin of some of these groups. The Komenox, or Homayno is one group for which the origin is debatable. Some suggest that this was a Salish group in Loughborough Inlet which joined the Weiwaikum at least by the early 19th century. According to Galois “Very little is known about the Komenox. Even the early relationship of the Komenox to the other Laich-Kwil-Tach tribes is uncertain, although they were probably, as the name suggests, of Comox origin.” This comment seems to reveal that Galois was basing this suggestion on the name of the people. This is problematic because the suffix ‘enoxwis a Kwak’wala/Lik’wala suffix meaning “person of a certain place”. Additionally, the word for Comox is derived from the Kwak’wala/Lik’wala word, K’umalha, meaning ‘plentiful’.This indicates that the name, Komenox, is either one applied by the Laich-Kwil-Tach to the people of Loughborough Inlet, or it was the name of the people themselves. Boas identified the Q!o’menoxu as one of five subdivisions of the Laich-Kwil-Tach,: Weweqe, XaxamatsEs, Kwexa, Tlaluis, Q!omenoxw. He notes Laich-Kwil-Tach territory “from Knight Inlet to Bute Inlet and on the opposite part of VancouverIsland”. Interestingly, Wewaikum today claim Loughborough Inlet, suggesting that Duff’s Wewaikum and Boas’ Q!omenoxw may be the same people, or an amalgamation of the two groups. Given this, it is possible that the people referred to as ‘Q!omenoxw were Laich-Kwil-Tach people. Also, according to James Smith, the “Komenook”, were “solidly Kwakewlth” and were almost destroyed by war with the Salish. He says that they took refuge on the south side of Loughborough Inlet and eventually amalgamated with the Weiwaikum. Amalgamations were common among the Laich-Kwil-Tach.

1.6.1 Interaction with Newcomers

To understand the circumstances of so many First Nations Communities’ poor economic and social conditions, and the only marginal participation of First Nations peoples in the various economic activities that rule the Lands today, it must be remembered that along with the destruction of First Nations’ ways of living we have been consistently marginalized, manipulated, and even excluded from participating in the construction of the Canadian, and more locally, British Columbian economies. These malpractices began when the first plans to develop and exploit these Lands and Resources for all they’re worth were ever drawn up. In fact, it was these types of “plans” which also explicitly set out how to “deal” with the original peoples of the Lands, so that First Nations would not be in the way of the newcomers planned developments.

The transpiration of these events and other oppressive First Nations policy regimes, the introduction of licensing and permitting systems, land title systems / private property ownership and incomprehensible means of law/authority enforcement over the short period of 200 years has left First Nations in a near impossible position to be able to rejuvenate the spirit of their communities and rebuild sustainable First Nations economies.

Our First Nations people have lived off of the bounties of the sea for time immemorial. The first newcomers and bureaucratic Indian agents observed this inextricable connection of our ways of life to the ebbs and flows of the sea and the many gifts it bears. Documentation of this exists in numerous letters from Indian agents to the Crown outlining the logic of how to “deal” with coastal First Nations which specify that since these First Nations live and depend on the sea, they do not require the use of many Lands. In other words they were of the opinion that First Nations were “wasting” these lands; that they didn’t need them because they survived off of the sea and therefore justified the Indian Reserve Commission’s act of issuing tiny scattered Reserves for coastal First Nations. This corroborated by the evidence in the interior and prairies and plains First Nations and the incomparable size of the Reserves which were set out for them.

Coastal First Nations’ connections to the sea and marine resources has never been fully acknowledged by new governments and regulatory authorities, thus preventing the ability for our First Nations to adapt their original marine resource economies of the day to benefit from participating in the current systems of commerce, trade, free enterprise and globally linked markets which now operate all around us. It is true that First Nations are participants in the ever growing marine economic sectors, but this participation is not in tune with how coastal First Nations would be involved (or ought to be involved) in the vast marine sectors of our region if our ownership / property rights and the right to resource stewardship control were ever acknowledged and upheld.

It should be noted that First Nations’ involvement in mainstream commercial economic activities such as logging and fishing has mostly been limited to employment as wage labourers. Due to multiple barriers, namely access to credit and capital, and oppressive Federal Indian Policy, First Nations were not granted the equal opportunity of participating in such industries as free willing capitalists, positioned to reap the benefits of their business investments; instead First Nations were generally inputs to the production processes of major corporations and private industry which for extensive periods have enjoyed excessive profits.

The history of First Nations’ commercial fishing licenses and asset disenfranchisement is one particular example that has widespread implications for the present day reality of many Fist Nations. The level of commercial fishing licenses and assets held by individual First Nations members and even entire Bands today is far below what it should be. This is a significant barrier to reversing the reality and to begin growing First Nations participation in sustainable commercial fisheries to the point where this industry is once again a major contributor to the health and wellbeing of First Nations on the coast.

Prior to European contact, our people harvested migrating Fraser River sockeye and other salmon in Johnstone Strait by means and techniques that were both reliable and successful. Fish were harvested to serve populations much greater than the 3,000 Lekwiltok citizens of today. Weirs, traps, nets and other fish capturing devices were operated as recently as 1920. The harvesting efficiency in Johnstone Straight in the 18th Century could undoubtedly surpass that of the commercial sector that exists today. Although capable of significant harvest levels, these traps and weirs were situated near villages, which became problematic for the fishing companies who eventually succeeded in having them replaced with vessels; better suited for transportation to centralized processing locations, thus asserting European controls.

It has not been easy for our people to gain stakes in the commercial fisheries of today after having our traditional methods taken from us. The systemically racist policies construed and forced upon First Nations by the government of the day were engineered to deprive us of basic rights and freedoms to take from us the abundant resources of our Lands and waters. Despite the many obstacles our forefathers, with much persistence, gained entry into the commercial fishing license programs administered by the Government of Canada. Currently there are court cases that have emphasised that the government racist policies and management plans infringe on our Aboriginal title and rights. These cases along with other actions are substantial achievements of coastal First Nations peoples on the road to realizing equality and equity following invasive European settlements of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, there is much more work to be done in reconciling this historical reality.

1.7      The Wei Wai Kum Today

The Wei Wai Kum First Nation has 4 separate Reserves, Campbell River 11 (115 ha.), Homayno 2 (Heydon Bay, 15. 4 ha.), Loughborough 3 (8.5 ha.) and Matlaten 4 (Greene Point) (39 ha.) The main community is located on the Campbell River Reserve, located near the downtown core of the City of Campbell River and along the river estuary; roughly 350 members live on the reserve.