Livelihood of Indians of Nootka
Nootka Sound Indians of sixty years ago were indeed very
poor in need of White race's foods and clothing That is to compare with
what the White men's civilization has brought us. Everything of
importance are quite easily gotten. Of course money talks.
About the year of 1895 as I had come to the use of reasons I was amongst
lots people of Nootka, children, young people and old folks, All seemed
to be quite happy, contented with what they had and enjoyed their lives
with what they did for their living. Everybody was always willing and
happily doing what was to be done for their living. It was almost every
days work to go for catching fishes of all species and women folks
worked hard too to be out for gathering sea foods and roots of different
sorts and berry picking. This was all in turns of the four seasons of
the year and in different places too.
In the different seasons of the year we were always on a move. For the
purpose of moving, big canoes were needed. My grandfather had
owned two big canoes. I remembered twice that we had to pull down all
the cedar boards of our house and loaded crosswise on the two big canoes
and part of our belongings was on the deck made of boards and also in
bottom of big canoes.
Since then when fur traders came more frequent or once a year, they had
nails for sale. So, no more of taking boards to the seasonal different
places, house was nailed together more firmly. But the moving was still
going on, as the seasonal foods was more or less handy for going after
fresh foods in certain places.
In the season of Spring about month of April, Everyone and all was ready
to move to Tsh-sis, Ea-as (Bajo point) and Chi-tist, west coast of
Nootka Island. These places are more close to the halibut grounds
included many other species of fish to be caught, and for women going
after sea foods are more handy to go for clams or mussels, sea eggs and
other sea foods. And young sprouts was picked too.
It was for the older people to fish for halibut, lingcod, red snapers,
black cod, rock salmon, devil fish and hair seal was once in a while
caught. Ea-as was looked up on as the best place for the Spring time
activities. Ea-as was also known to be the best place for sea otter
hunting. The sea otters was mostly caught near the reefs off Pajo (Bajo)
Season of spring was the best time for going after or hunt sea otters.
This was young men's business. For sea otter hunting was made
preparations during winter time. With their superstitious ways of
beliefs, they were bathing and scourging their bodies with some kind of
tree branches or young trees. Almost all had their own ways of praying
and pathing (bathing). The only known of the time of their praying made
was between Second quarter to full moon, that was strictly kept the time
of pathing (bathing) and praying for luck in catching the valuable
The outfit for sea otter hunting was consisted of the best made canoes,
about 17 or 18 feet in length and 3 or 3 1/2 feet in width , carefully
burned the bottom of canoes. Best made paddles, a lance and spear and
bow and arrows were furnished.
The best time for chase sea otter had to be very calm and smooth sea and
no wind at all. The purpose of choosing the calmest weather was for
tracing the little bubbles coming up when sea otter is living underwater
and they claim that the otter is more lively with breeze and little
ripples on the surface of the Sea.
There were some very good weather men to watch the sign for good and bad
weather. These men were praying and watching closely for the best calm
weather for going out. When they were sure of the calm weather, before
dawn they went to all the houses of hunters knocking on sides of their
houses to wake them up and bring the good news of fine weather for their
About the year of 1896 or 1897 , at that time there were 24 small canoes,
special made for sea otter hunt. Each canoe had 2 or 3 men.
When all were up and every men went down on the beach and helped each
other to lift haul down their canoes to the water's edge. When all 24
canoes were ready, all stood gathered in front of the beach, waiting
orders from leader We-yak. The boss We-yak gave orders "We shall go to
wa-ka-ta (Pajo (Bajo) reef) and work slowly towards west. You all know
the rules when you sight a sea otter both men shall lift his paddle
above his head and wave. All canoes shall in haste pull towards the
canoes giving the signal. When we come to Wa-ka-ta all canoes shall get
on line up from shore to off sea, spread approximately (sic) 200 yards
apart from each other. Travel slow watch for otter and signal.
Off they went to Wakata, and there they spread out line and start slowly
going towards West. In the best of calm wind and smooth sea, was a
beautiful sight to watch all the actions of the sea otter hunter. "My
aunt's husband took me along ... One of canoes near the Pajo (Bajo)
point reefs gave us the waving their paddles signal. No time lost, the
signal canoes was in the middle of a big circle of 23 canoes and the
leader Weyak was appointed for watching for the otter's bubble, and when
pointing his paddle towards the course of bubbles, leads, and canoes at
that direction was then ready with their bows and arrows. When poor sea
otter came up surface to take in his breath, rain of arrows was pouring
down at the otter. All the shooters were watching their arrows to see if
he hit the otter. When one of the hunters hit it, the steerman stands up
and shouts on top of his voice, he mentions his hunter's name. His arrow
has hit the otter. And he adds, saying any one again hit, shall be paid
$10.00 and any one spear and pull in to his canoe shall be paid $20.00.
It did not take long for the otter was caught. All canoes pulled in,
bunched up where the canoe had caught the otter. The lucky man was sure
In that season, 12 sea otters was caught. Large size was worth $400.00,
medium size $300.00, small $200.00 very small $150.00. Sea otters was
getting, scarce, and in those days, it was very hard for Indians to make
money on any kind of work they did, every thing of value was very cheap,
except sea otter was top prized, a person catch one otter he had made
money. They (sic) idea of a big patlach was top most in their brains.
They money made had to be squandered on a patlach. Of course it was good
entertainment for all, and all enjoyed to watch the performances of
About the month of June from the three Spring camping places, people moved
to Friendly Cove, to spend summer there. From there, young and older men
were fishing for dogfish. Dogfish liver was made oil, and sold the liver
oil at $.25 a gallon. And some of the men would some times fish for
halibut and troll for cohoes. Little money was made on dogfish oil and
women folks had big job of slicing up halibut and cohoe's meat and and
sun dried fish.
Young and older women were also busy on picking berries. Salmon berries,
blueberries, huckleberries and sallal berries. Here was where we
children had enjoyed our lives on dried fish and berries. We sure had
our little bellies filled up. And our most fun was taking paths (baths)
at the fresh water lake near the main village. Boy, Oh boy, we also had
sunpaths (sunbaths) too that we were all well sun burned black.
When heavy westerly winds was blowing that men were all at home, That had
given (sic) them the chance of play lahell games or card games.
Good old Autumn was coming on with its supply of salmon, namely Fall Taye
salmon cohoes and chum salmon. So, every one and all were on a move to
their Fall fishing places to Tasis, Tswin, Clois, Ois, Hisnit, Ts-ko-a,
Ta-atis, Mowacha and Nesak.
Our two big canoes and three small one were pulled on the beach, everyone
of my parents, grandparents, uncles aunts were busy packing things in
cedar baskets and boxes and first thing early morning we all were
carrying all our belonging loading in to the five canoes about forenoon,
all aboard for Hisnit. Friendly Cove is about 12 miles to Hisnit, and we
were all in the two big canoes, towing the smaller ones. We must have
been making very slow progress. That day we did not reach Hisnit. We
dropped anchor at Ka-to-wis and was there over night. Early next morning
we only had two miles to go and landed at Hisnit. All hands busy
carrying all our things in to our smoke house.
At that time at Hisnit there were six houses and 7 families were all
getting ready for the big job of catching salmon, and smoke dry them.
The preparations was to cut up lots of wood, hemlock and elder trees and
fir bark were mostly used for smoking fish.
Our chief at Hisnit was O-meek, he had a salmon trap at the mouth of the
creek. Soon as the salmon would start to show up or going in to Hisnit,
the chief's trap was set. What ever the trap had caught the chief was
very good that he used to distribute his catch of salmon caught in trap.
That was for all families to have fresh salmon to eat.
When more salmon was showing up, it was for men to get busy getting their
lances and spears and hooks to be properly fixed up. For my age as a
kid, it was quite an exciting thing for me to watching them busy with
their preparations for the big sport of salmon fishing in the creek.
And the first light rain, makes the salmon show up, jumping and finning
all over the Hisnit inlet. This was a moment for us all to feel happy to
watch the exciting salmon that we were to catch them when the first
heavy rain falls, the salmon's time was up to go in the creek for their
Yes, the time came when south easterly gale brought its heavy rains and
the hills and mountains was streaming down with brooks and creeks
foaming with rain water coming down in to the lake of our creek which
made it a regular river.
That stormy night was a sleepless night for all of us excitingly happy
that we were to go in the creek to catch all the salmon to fill our
Early morning of a fine day, all had little breakfast and we were off to
the salmon creek. About nine years of age, my grand father had made me a
pole and hook, with this I was enjoying the fun of hooking fish. Fish
always fights hard to get loose, but it had not much of a chance when I
had pulled it in the canoes and clubbed it on its head. At the same time
I enjoyed watching the men all busy spearing and Pulling in fish one
after the other, they all had loaded up their canoes with salmon.
Homeward down the creek and across to our fish camps. At landing, all
hands help each other carry fish to the place where women had them
cleaned and cut them up for smoked dried fish.
Women folks got busy, cutting up the salmon and the best fish meat was
hanged up on cedar poles to be a little dried for slicing up in thin
pieces (sic) for drying. This was to be done on the same night of the
big catch of salmon. And now the men were carefully (sic) watching the
fire to keep it just right for smoke and right heat for proper drying
and smoking fish. These working was done day after days to put up enough
supply for their Winter wolf dances and potlaches.
Ending of Fall men set their dead falls for bear, deer marten, and mink.
That year I had made 3 dead-falls for mink, bait my traps with salmon.
After four days I went over to see what was in the traps. The first
sight one of my traps was down, I was looking straight to the dead fall
with curiosity to find a mink or marten in it. Gee, here was a mink. As
I went home, and going up to the house carrying my catch inside, all
looked at me, some said, ''look'' he got a mink. I quite remember that I
was sure proud of my catch. Later on I got another one. At that time a
store was opened at Friendly Cove, and there I sold my two minks for
$.35 that was my first money made on furs. Right there, I spent my $.35
on candies and dried grapes and cookies. My first taste of White men's
sweets was altogether different taste from our wild berries.
Old winter was creeping along with its beautiful sparkling frost and pure
white snow covered the mountain. It was very nicely decorated, but talk
about cold winds and later on Mr. Winter some times was real mad, brings
his gale southeasterly winds with real heavy rains. Not so good for
hunters and fishermen to buck the winds with their only paddle for
traveling. They were then mostly kept inside of doors. Of course on few
nice days they were able to go out to hunt and fishing for ling cod, red
snappers,black cod, and some other kind of fish. There the dried fish
came in handy, when some times the bad weather was on for so many days
At Friendly Cove invitations was called for all Nootka people to go there
for feasts and (Cloquina) wolf dances. Again we were moving with all our
lots of things packed into our two big canoes and the 3 smaller canoes,
off we were, on our way to Friendly Cove. Arrived there, lots of young
men helped us pack our things in to the house of our chief Omeek.
Cloquina, Wolf dances, patlaches and feastings was on all winter months.
Regardless of how poorly we were clothed and lived in poor houses. Every
body was happy and enjoyed their lives, that it seemed at that time we
were all born for that kind of lives, and live a hard earned living. At
Nootka about the year of 1872 to 1888 I was told later on that the
population of Nootka was over 600 people, and about 1895 in my time,
over 500 people. And about 1900, when we really start to use the White
men's foods and clothing sure made us soft to be easily catch colds and
fevers which turned in to serious cases of sickness, and there was more
deaths. As a whole we were dying off, very fast, decreasing. Until the
department of Indian Board of health was good enough to open up
hospitals and pay our hospitalization to go on, to any hospitals and now
we are increasing quite fast. So to say, we are civilized and learning
the ways of our White brothers and sisters.
The livelily hood of these days are all connected with Whites and Indian's
organizations. Everything now seems in good order for the new
generations growing up to do their work for living.
For me, I am a happy old man going closer to my old age goal. And, wishing
the new generations for a happy lives.