First Nations Peoples of the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest region’s Coast Salish First Nations peoples established communities in the area several thousand years before non-native settlement. Victoria continues to have a sizable First Nations presence, composed of peoples from all over Vancouver Island and beyond.
The Nuu-chah-nulth traditional home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island. They were among the first Pacific peoples to come into contact with Europeans when the Americans, British and Spanish attempted to control the Pacific Northwest and the trade in otter pelts. Nootka Sound was a focus of the European’s rivalries, which resulted in the Nootka Crisis.
The Nuu-chah-nulth speak a southern Wakashan language, and are related to the Makah of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. In pre-contact and early post-contact times, the number of nations was greater, but smallpox and other consequences of contact resulted in the disappearance of some groups, and the absorption of others into neighbouring groups.
The Coast Salish, the largest of the southern groups, are a loose grouping of many tribes with numerous distinct cultures and languages. On Vancouver Island, Coast Salish peoples territory extends from the northern limit of the Gulf of Georgia on the inside of Vancouver Island to most of southern Vancouver Island. Distinct nations within the Coast Salish peoples include the Chemainus, the Comox, the Cowichan, the Esquimalt, the Saanich, the Songhees, and the Snuneymuxw.