The Nuu-chah-nulth Nation

The Nuu-chah-nulth reckoned descent through both parents. Cousins were considered brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles like parents. Brothers and sisters were called by their relationship in age to one's self and this continued through the genreations. An older cousin might call another cousin "older brother" if that cousin's grandparent was older than his or her own. Children tended to live in their father's village but they had the option to live at their mother's original village. Rank and property was inherited primarily through the father to the next eldest. Art was often used to emphasize familial rights. Rank was recognized in where one was seated in a potlatch. Potlatches were held at many significant life moments by those who could afford to give it. A daughter's first menses was a large occasion. Potlatches were held for any transfer of chiefly privileges or status inheritence. Chiefs received a portion of his peoples food catch. After the first gift of this food he held a potlatch. Potlatches included feasting, singing and dancing, and gift-giving. The winter ceremonies were more ritualized and theatrical. The roles in these rituals were often inherited. Every person held a different rank. Marriage was arranged taking rank into account. During marriage there was a sharing of family rights and establishment of alliance. High-ranking chiefs who could afford the bride prices could have more than one wife. For divorce, a wife could be sent back to her family or just return herself. Gifts were not returned but privileges were. When a spouse died, the widow or widower often became the spouse of their next brother or sister in-law. At death, the good people went to a good place, the rest to a netherworld. Those with high rank had elaborate mournings. If the dying wanted, they could ask to bring their possessions with them. Then when the person died, the asked for possessions, even the house, would be burnt.

All the resource areas were owned by the villages and family groups. There were many villages, but each winter families gathered in winter villages. Their schedule depended on the availability of herring, salmon, migrating waterbirds, berries etc. There were specially trained men who went whaling. The whaler was always the chief. Whaling began in March and continued through the summer. All the men participating in the whaling had to be spiritually clean and ready and when a whale was caught, it was treated ritually.

Spirituality: The Nuu-chah-nulth generally believed in a heaven and netherworld. Both males and females were shamans; female shamans were prophets. The shamans looked after the healing of individuals, which included enticing the soul back from the "land of the dead." There were two major winter ceremonies: the "Wolf ritual" and the "Doctoring ritual" (Handbook of North American Indians, v.7, p.404). The Wolf ritual initiated young men - the initiate was isolated, captured by the men who had gone through the ceremony before and they danced for him The doctoring ritual was performed for a sick person by those that had special songs.

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