Tseshaht translates as “the people of Ts’ishaa,” a place on what is known today as Benson Island, one of the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound. We are one of the 14 Nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth [Nootka] people of western Vancouver Island.
At the core of Tseshaht is our chronicle of creation; our spiritual origin. We were created at Ts’ishaa, and our first ancestors (Tseshaht man and women) were given by Nas (creator) the highest spiritual responsibility and stewardship of the Broken Group Islands.
Our ownership of land is based on the Nuu-chah-nulth laws of hahuulhi, which means the territory of a nation under the stewardship of a King (Head of state). Being king indicated the closest spiritual bloodline to our chronicle of creation.
Our late King Adam Shewish, great-grandfather Chief Haayuupinuulh [born c.1830] was the King of the Tseshaht when mum-ulth-ne settlement started in the Alberni Valley. His name, meaning “getter of ten (whales)” signified his status as a prominent chief, including his King’s right to hunt whales.
Tseshaht hahuulhi changed through marriage and alliances, a series of wars, and the incorporation of affiliated groups. A prime example was a historic conflict with the Tsumas7ath, already living on the Somass River, the Hikwuulh7ath and the Hach’aa7ath established themselves at on the Somass River.
These hahuulhi enhancements continued as the Tseshaht absorbed the Hikwuulh7ath and the Hach’aa7ath. As well as once exclusive properties of the Nash7as7ath, Maktl7ii7ath, Ts’umaa7as7ath and the original Ts’ishaa7ath.
This meant that the hahuulhi of the these groups in the Broken Group Islands, central Barkley Sound, a large extent of the Alberni Inlet and the lower Alberni Valley became Tseshaht territories.
Tseshaht Tutuupata, the plural of tupaati, refers to the hereditary privileges or prerogatives that governed the ownership and use of practically everything of value in Tseshaht society. These included resources like rivers, fish trap sites, and plant gathering sites, as well as intellectual property resources like names, ceremonial songs, dances, and regalia.
Tutuupata determined rank in Tseshaht society, and were inherited within a family.
Tseshaht Seasonal Round
The traditional Tseshaht economy was determined by tupaati - the ownership of resources. Tseshaht tupaati included both “outside” and “inside” resources throughout this territory. This meant that in late winter and early spring the Tseshaht travelled to their “outside” tupaati to utilize the resources of these traditional sites such as sea mammals, halibut, rockfish and salmon and procurement areas in Barkley Sound. As the seasons changed, the resources changed, and the Tseshaht moved back to their “inside” tupaati, following the salmon up Alberni Inlet to the Somass River.
The Tseshaht now exert our jurisdiction over our hahuulhi based on our history.