Ahousaht First Nation

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Territory of the Ahousaht First Nation

The Ahousaht First Nation is a First Nation government based on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, focused on the community of Ahousaht, British Columbia. It is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. It is led by the "Tyee Haw'iilth - Maquinna" (Chief Lewis George).

It has about 1800 members, almost half of whom live in Marktosis Indian Reserve No. 15 ("Marktosis" is an English-style adaptation of Maaqtisiis in the Nuu-chah-nulth language). The Ahousaht Nation is the most populous First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island.


The Ahousaht First Nation is the largest Nuu-chah-nulth Nation. The Nation is a confederation of multiple former tribes: the Ahousaht, Manhousaht, Kelthsmaht, Piniit-thlaht, Qwaacwi-aht, O-inmitisaht, and Otsosaht. This joining of nations began even before the arrival of the Europeans to their respective shores. Ahousaht’s population of approximately 1900 people has been growing at an average rate of 2.6% per year and is projected to increase to 3125 by 2024. Seventy-seven percent of members are under 40 years of age and 41 percent under 19 years. Ahousaht means people (aht) of Ahous, a small bay on the west side of Vargas Island. The Nation’s territory encompasses much of Clayoquot Sound. Currently 36 percent of Ahousaht members live at Marktosis Indian Reserve (IR # 15) located on Flores Island north of Tofino. Marktosis has a large community hall, a gym, a youth center, a restaurant, a health center and a school for children K-12. Recently, work has begun to expand the elementary/high school to better meet the needs of the students and the community.

Marktosis is the only one of 25 Ahousaht reserves occupied year-round. Others are traditional fishing stations and areas of seasonal resource extraction, considered uninhabitable for year-round settlement. Many of these reserves, designated by the government of the day, tended to mark the general areas that were inhabited by the various members of the nation at the time of contact. It is only after contact that the bulk of members came to live on I.R 15 (Marktosis). All Ahousaht reserves are accessible only by boat or floatplane. The Nation reports that there is a strong interest among members living "away from home" to return if housing and employment were available.

The reserves of Ahousaht, and of neighboring coastal nations, are relatively small in size to the numbers of the population. It is believed that the reserve designations were tiny because the members of the Ahousaht nation, at the time of contact, relied very heavily on Oceanic resources as a main staple of dietary and other needs. The ocean was considered to be "the garden" of the people; hence, it was presumed that little land-base was needed to fulfill the ongoing needs of the people.

A great strength that Ahousaht is known for is its rich tradition of song and dance. The young men, led by Joseph George Sr. offer a thunderous voice for the nation when performing their art. A new group, the Soulshakers has become widely known for not only continuing to share our history of song, but also for composing new and exciting songs/dances to share with family, friends and with any who is there to see.

Hereditary system

The Ha’wiih (Hereditary Chief) role in the Ahousat governing system is to look after their Ha- Ha’houlthee (territory and resources). The Ha’wiih system is still alive among Ahousat people. It is the most important part of our history. Laws, under the Ha’wiih system, outline chieftainships and governance. The keepers of these laws are the Wit-wok. No Ha’wilth (Hereditary Chief) is above the law. Every Hereditary Chief has advisors. No Chief can make his own decision. A Council (not the elected council, per se; rather, it is the people who are responsible to be an advisory to the chief) is depended upon for good, solid advice, before any decision is made for Ahousaht. No Ha’wilth speaks for himself, unless he has good news, or something good to share. All Ha’wiih have speakers, who are trained, from an early age, for these duties. Speakers must be fluent in our language and have a very strong knowledge of the history of the Ha’wilth seat (including lineage) and his Ha’houlthee. There are misconceptions about our Ha’wiih system being similar to fiefdoms, but people must understand that it is a much more inter-connected system of governance with numerous accountability mechanisms. No Ha’wiith can hold tremendous power without the support of a number of people who are the bearers of customary laws. Each Ha’wiith holds a Ha’houlthee that includes land, sea, resources and people within his territory, which had clearly defined boundaries and people who watched over the boundaries between nations. We have stories in our history, which tell of how important these boundaries are and how they were protected.

Ha’wiih have the power to create Dik-qo-wilth, Seat (a similar position could be the one of "noble". A person given their own smaller portion of the territory to own and care for in return for great service to the nation and the chief.) Our history tells of two, which were created by our Ha’wilth to recognize the constant support provided by these two individuals. Their importance was such that, at a potlatch, they were recognized before the Ha’wilth when a Ha’wilth dance was performed.

The Ahousaht have oral history, which goes back 17 or 18 generations, of all of our Ha’wiih, and it includes when one hereditary position became three. Each Ha’wilth heads up a house and each house has a name. Maquinna is the Tyee (the head-ranked Ha’wilth of Ahousaht). As a collective, all three Ha’wiih comprise the principal Hereditary Chiefs of Ahousaht. Currently these individuals are:

  • Maquinna: Lewis George
  • klaakish-wiiya: JJ Keitlah
  • Ah-in-chut: Shawn Atleo

Ha’wiih of the three tribes that amalgamated with Ahousaht: Kelthsmaht – Vargas Island, Manhousaht, Quatswiaht, and Oo-in-mitis, continue to be recognized by principal Hawiih. These individuals are:

  • For Kelthsmat: Haan-uu-quii (Nate Charlie)
  • For Manhousaht: ?Uu-Kwa-Qum (James Swan)
  • For Quatswiaht: Too-Moos (Ron George)

The Oo-in-mitis seat is currently vacant.

An appointee held the important role of welcoming visitors. In the case of Ahousaht, Hi-yupin-ulth (Bill Keitlah, Jr.) currently serves that role as a Ha’ilth. In the case of Kelthsmaht, the beach keeper (welcoming person) was appointed or had a Dik-o-wilth. He is Kanupiit (Rocky Titian). Our current Tyee Ha’wiih, Maquinna (Lewis George) acquired the seat from his late father, Earl George. Earl George first passed the seat to his eldest son, Uu-qua-qruum (Corbett George). When Uu-qua-qruum (Corbett George) encountered some difficulty in his life Earl George took the seat back and just prior to his passing, he named Maquinna (Lewis George) as his successor at Hupacasath. In November 2007, Maquinna (Lewis George) held a major potlatch to declare his seat. Hi-yupin-ulth (Bill Keitlah Jr.) acquired his seat from his father, Bill Sr., in 2004. Ah-in-chut (Shawn Atleo) acquired his seat from his father Ooh-meek (Dr. Richard Atleo).

Elected system

In addition to the governing body through the Hawiih, Ahousaht has a mandated body of elected officials. This is the Ahousaht Chief and Council. The number of councillors is determined by the overall size of the population. For every 100 members of a nation, there is to be elected one council member, to a maximum of 12 members (as per the Indian act.). Elected Council’s role is to be accountable to this Indian Act.[1] Overall, both Ha’wiih and Chief and Council are ultimately there to represent the Ahousaht membership and honour our long history. Ahousaht’s first Council was appointed by the Ha’wiih rather than elected by the membership, sometime in the early 1950s. The late Paul Sam, (Stanley Sam’s father), was the first Chief Councillor. We eventually went to the elected system, as dictated by the Indian Act. Coincidentally or not, it has since been down hill in many ways — economically, socially and culturally, as we struggle with two systems of governance. Work has been done to bridge the gap between the two systems by both the elected and the hereditary leaders, with both sides quite interested in supporting and supplementing each other's goals and objectives.

The Councillors and our Chief Councillor were usually elected on two-year terms; however, due to a court decision (Courbier decision) this has caused changes to be made, and Ahousaht are adopting a new process for holding elections. One significant change will be the change from two to four year terms for council to sit. Another important change is the inclusion of all members of the nation in the voting process. Previously, only those living 'on-reserve'(I.R15 - Marktosis reserve) were allowed to participate in this voting process.

Council is responsible for appointments to other boards on behalf of the Ha’wiih.

  1. ^ Indian Act, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
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