Kwakiutl Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Fishing, weaving, creating elaborate masks, and holding grand potlatch ceremonies are just a few traditions of the Kwakiutl people. Read on to learn more interesting aspects of life for the Kwakiutl people of yesterday and today.

Who Are the Kwakiutl?

The Kwakiutl people are indigenous (native) North Americans who live mostly along the coasts of British Columbia, which is located in the northwest corner of Canada. Today, there are about 5,500 Kwakiutls living here on the tribe's own reserve, which is land specially designated for Native American tribes.

The Kwakiutl people's history in the region reaches far back--these Native Americans have been living in the Pacific Northwest for around 9,000 years. Their rich tradition has had a great effect on the area's culture. In fact, while the main language of the Kwakiutl is now English, nearly 200 of these indigenous people still speak their ancient Kwak'wala language.

Kwakiutl Life Then and Now

Kwakiutls have always been fishers, which comes as no surprise considering they live on the coast. In traditional villages thousands of years ago, men used to fish for salmon, herring, eulachon, and halibut using traps and other fishing equipment. The women would gather plants and shellfish, cook meals, and prepare food for storage.

Today, most Kwakiutl men are commercial fisherman. Kwakiutl women mostly work in the community in service jobs or for the government.

Kwakiutl men in traditional costumes in front of a canoe.
canoe

What did the Kwakiutl people wear? Women would make short skirts for themselves out of cedar bark, while Kwakiutl men usually wore nothing at all, though some would wear loincloths. In the winter, both men and women layered up--they would wear moccasins on their feet and long shirts and cloaks made of bark and deer skin. They also had fancy clothing for special occasions, which included leggings, cloaks, masks and ornately designed bark coverings.

Today' the Kwakiutl people wear modern clothing just like you--jeans, shorts, shirts, and dresses. However, they still sometimes dress up in their traditional clothing for ceremonies.

Playing and Learning

Children of Kwakiutl families before modern times played a lot like children do now, with dolls and toys. But they usually had a lot more chores than Kwakiutl children today. Mothers taught their daughters important skills for survival, like how to weave baskets, mats, fabrics, and clothing, as well as how to cook and make nets for fishing.

The men taught boys their fishing and woodworking skills. Boys would even help make tools and canoes, and they would help build houses (the walls were made of cedar planks, while the roofs were made of bark).

A Kwakiutl girl
girl

Early Kwakiutl children were taught the skills they needed to survive and thrive by their parents. But after Europeans began to take over Canada, these Native America kids started going to schools set up by missionaries and the government.

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