Bella Coola Valley's Nuxalk people
10,000 Years of Cultural History

The Nuxalk First Nation

Nuxalk first nation dancer

The original inhabitants of Bella Coola

The Nuxalk First Nations people settled in the Bella Coola Valley thousands of years ago as documented by oral histories, archeologists and the ancient Petroglyph carvings in the Thorsen Creek area.

The Nuxalk were a coastal tribe and lived primarily on the abundant Salmon and fish that filled the rivers and fjords. In addition, the region enjoys a temperate climate and is rich in berries and other food stuffs. These subsistence activities and trading with other Nations have always been central to the Nuxalk way of life. Salmon and eulachon grease (rendered oils from the eulachon fish) were exchanged for furs and leather and the Bella Coola Valley was originally at the heart of this trade corridor between the Coastal First Nations and the Interior Tribes.

The Nuxalk lived in a land of plenty and as a result had the resources to develop a rich culture heritage, including arts, dance and the potlatches. To this day knowledge of family ancestry remains strong in Nuxalk families, including villages of descent, family crests, as well as songs and dances that tell the histories of their people.

Before European contact, the Nuxalk population is thought to have been approximately 35,000 people. There were several village sites in the main Bella Coola Valley as well as multiple spots on the shores of the inlets. The territory stretched from the Dean River and Kimsquit in the north to South Bentinck Arm in the south, and from the Atnarko Valley in the east to the edge of King Island in the west. After the tragic small pox epidemic of 1862-64, the Nuxalk population was decimated and the 300 survivors either relocated on their own or were forcibly moved by the Department of Indian Affairs to form a settlement in what is now the Bella Coola town site.

Today the Nuxalk population is estimated to be about 1,400 people. They are rebuilding from the devastation of contact, are once again pursuing their proud artistic traditions, are raising totem poles, and perhaps most importantly, maintain the rights and title to their entire traditional territory.

Guests are encouraged to learn about the Nuxalk First Nations through cultural tours and performances, and Nuxalk arts and masks can be purchased at the Petroglyph Gallery.