Guiding Principles and Strategic Direction
Our culture serves as the strong foundation that guides us, and we remain committed to our guiding principles:
- hišukma c̕awaak (everything is one),
- qwaaʔaƛin c̕awaak (how we are one),
- ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of one another), and
- ʔiisaak (respect).
Together we are driven by our strategic direction and keep moving forward as a Nation.
Relationship with the Land and Sea
As one of the 15 nuučaan̓uł (Nuu-chah-nulth) First Nations, t̓uk̓ʷaaʔatḥ has always lived in respectful harmony with the sea and coastal environment. We call this hišukʷin c̓awaak — a deep connection to the Earth, air, and sea. Our physical, spiritual, and cultural ties to our ḥaḥuułi (traditional territory) have remained strong since time immemorial. While our approach to living in harmony with the environment has evolved, we remain dedicated to preserving and nurturing our home for future generations to enjoy.
Our deep respect for the ḥaḥuułi and all life within it is a way to honour our ancestors. For thousands of years, we sustained ourselves by hunting, fishing, and gathering from the abundant resources found in our ḥaḥuułi.
Throughout the year, our people utilized three village sites: Du Quah, Deekyakus (Toquaht River), and Macoah. Du Quah’s strategic location provided defense and convenient access to the abundant ocean resources that sustained our community. Toquaht River was utilized for salmon harvesting, and the beach was and still is a hugely important clam bed.
Cultural Practices and Traditions
While Toquaht Nation has endured significant challenges due to disease and warfare during the 19th century, we remain resilient, standing as one of the smallest members among the nuučaan̓uł family of Nations. Approximately 40 people reside in Macoah, accessible off Highway 4 along Kennedy Lake. The rest of our citizens live in Ucluelet, Port Alberni, and other coastal cities. At present, our Nation comprises around 175 citizens in total.
Although our numbers may be small, our determination to preserve our unique identity and strength as a Nation remains unwavering. Despite the profound impacts of colonialism, Toquaht never forgot who we are—a proud Nation formed by our ancestors. Despite attempts by the Indian Residential School system to strip us of our cultural practices and language, we have managed to maintain our connection to our traditional ways, including the creation of remarkable art, dancing, drumming, singing, and the continuation of potlatches.
Historically, the t̓uk̓ʷaaʔatḥ valued red and yellow cedar for various aspects of life, following the traditions passed down by our ancestors. Cedar was utilized in constructing houses and clothing our community. Planks were skillfully extracted from living cedars for house construction, while large canoes were carved for whaling, fishing, and transporting the community between different village sites throughout the year.
Cedar played a crucial role in basket weaving and box making, offering storage for personal belongings, food, and hunting equipment. Cedar bark was skillfully woven into clothing and mats used to cover house floors. Today, cedar remains a vital resource in our cultural practices, utilized for carving and other traditional activities.
Despite the loss of many traditions, we persistently strive to reclaim and revive them. This endeavour allows us to heal from the grief inflicted by such losses. With newfound self-governance, we envision rebuilding what was lost and empowering our masčim to grow stronger both spiritually and culturally.
Like other nuučaan̓uł communities, the Toquaht Nation thrives in harmony with the sea and coastal environment. Our ancestors were renowned whalers, traversing our territory alongside the magnificent whales that called it home.
Although whaling is no longer practiced by the Toquaht, we proudly carry on other traditions tied to the ocean, sustainably harvesting its abundant resources to provide for our people. Just as it did for our ancestors, the sea and land continue to bless us with plentiful resources. We adapt to the shifting seasons, following the ebb and flow of nature’s offerings.
Harvesting the Seasons
During the colder months, community takes center stage. Historically, we would create tools and partake in potlatches, sacred gatherings that allowed us to connect spiritually and share our stories and culture through songs and dances. Unfortunately, this practice was temporarily taken from us, but we reclaimed it through our memorial potlatch in 2016.
With fresh food in scarcity during colder months, we rely heavily on our dried and preserved provisions. Shellfish harvesting becomes our focus, as the absence of red tide during this time allows us to gather abundant quantities. Our territory abounds with shellfish, including horse clams, steamer clams, little mussels, chitons, giant chitons, gooseneck barnacles, barnacles, and abalone.
As spring emerges, the herring commence their spawning ritual. When the milky substance called ʕinq appears, we know that the herring are ready to spawn. To gather the herring eggs, we sink tree branches called kʷaasuʔitap offshore a few days after the spawn, allowing us to collect the precious eggs. This traditional practice endures, albeit with increasing difficulty due to herring now spawning in deeper waters caused by warmer temperatures.
Spring also brings forth vibrant greens, such as spruce tips, salmon berries, thimbleberries, and cow parsnip. It is a time for hunting ducks like mallards, sawbills, butterballs, and golden eyes, as they plump up with the abundance of herring spawn. Delicious crabs, known as hasaamac, grace our tables during this season. We utilize nettle for crafting ropes and nets, while goose feathers provide material for pillows and mattresses. Additionally, the flow of sap signals the start of harvesting cedar bark, which is transformed into cedar bark fabric (ʕałmaqał) for clothing. Traditionally, we would also create nettle rope (ʕiiłmapt) and cedar bark rope (ćistuup) for various purposes.
Throughout the summer, we continue our berry harvest, welcoming the arrival of red huckleberries, blue huckleberries, and blackberries. These bountiful plants serve not only as nourishment but also as ingredients for teas and medicinal preparations. We gather Labrador tea, camas bulbs, wild onions, salmon berry shoots, clover roots, white buttercup roots, and dandelions to enhance our health and well-being.
Summer also signals the return of spring salmon (sac̓up), sockeye (miʕaat), and coho (cuwit). We harvest these fish, preserving some for the colder months. Towards late summer and early fall, dog salmon (čum) make their appearance. In the past, entire villages would relocate closer to rivers and streams to facilitate salmon harvesting. As the months grew colder, salmon bones were left at the tide lines as prayers to the salmon spirits, carried away by the high tides.
Fall marks the beginning of deer and elk hunting season, a time when we honorably pay homage to these animals by utilizing their fat to create himiks, a salve for dry skin. Their hides are carefully cleaned, dried, and transformed into clothing suitable for the colder months. Bones from the animals are preserved for crafting tools like knives, hooks, and needles during the winter season.