Kwakiutl Indian Tribe Lesson Plan

“We are the Kwakiutl. We have lived here, on the northeastern shores of Vancouver Island, since time immemorial. Our ancestors hunted and fished on these lands and waters, and developed a rich culture through which they celebrated the diversity of life around them. We continue to be strong by honouring all that our ancestors have taught us.”-Kwakiutl Indian Band Greeting-Homepage

Ideas for Discussion and Reflection

1. In the quote above, the Kwakiutl have named things that their ancestors endowed to them. What are they?

2. Name some things that your ancestors have left for you in your culture.

The Kwakiutl: A Brief History

From the Kwakiutl home site:

We have been called the Kwakiutl ever since 1849, when the white people came to stay in our territories. It was a term then applied to all the Kwakwaka’wakw—that is, all of the people who speak the language Kwakwala. Today, the name Kwakiutl only refers to those from our village of Fort Rupert. Other groups have their own names and villages

Archaeological evidence shows that our people have occupied Vancouver Island, the adjacent mainland, and the islands between for about nine thousand years. Before the Canadian government contracted traditional boundaries to enclose small reserves, each tribal group owned its territory. During the winter, each occupied a more permanent site, where the people engaged in intensive ceremonial activities while enjoying the abundant supply of foods from the sea and land that they had gathered earlier in the year.

With the introduction of European technology and food, much of the traditional subsistence cycle was altered. A variety of salmon and shellfish are still gathered and preserved by freezing, canning, or smoking, and the spring runs of eulachon (candlefish) in Knight and Kingcome Inlets are still harvested and rendered into oil.

According to Mungo Martin, the Kwakiutl lived at Kalugwis before 1849, when the Hudson’s Bay company built a fort at Fort Rupert. When they moved to Fort Rupert the village site was at times occupied by the Lawit’sis. Before the middle of the 19th century, the present area of Fort Rupert village had very little permanent settlement, but was the site of an enormous bank of clamshells, two miles long, half a mile wide and fifty feet high. The shells were the last vestiges of enormous feasts held here for generations and they came to play a part in local history in World War II when they were used to level the nearby Port Hardy airport. Other visible aspects of Fort Rupert’s cultural fabric include a historical graveyard, the old chimney which marks the site of a former Hudson’s Bay Company fort and an impressive Big House.

Kwakiutl Today


The Kwakiutl Band operates under a set of custom election regulations. Where the regulations are silent on a particular topic or issue, the relevant Indian Act regulations are used. At present, the Band is in the process of developing a more detailed and comprehensive set of regulations that will ensure the integrity and transparency of Kwakiutl Band Council elections…There are schools and literacy programs that teach the native language to children and to adults.


Many Kwakiutl were employed in the commercial fishing industry until the early 1990s. The local Kwakiutl communities are being challenged by the salmon aquaculture industry for their local food source, which is fish. The industries are creating fish farms. Studies have shown a connection between these fish farms and a rising sea lice population which is decimating the wild salmon stocks, belonging to the Indians. The result is that there is a high unemployment rate among the Kwakiutl, who now must rely on government assistance. In addition, changes in local aquatic ecology will have an impact on the residents living on reserves, because the mainstay of their diet is local fish, seal, seaweed and barnacles.

Source: Kwakiutl People site

Exercise 1 Vocabulary Practice

Directions: The following vocabulary words are from the reading selection you’ve just finished. Find the words in  bold the paragraphs, then infer the meanings from the context. Highlight any additional words that you aren’t familiar with and do the same with those. Check your answers with your group members, and then refer to your dictionary or thesaurus to confirm your guesses.

 1. Archaeological evidence shows that our people have occupied Vancouver Island, the adjacent mainland, and the islands between for about nine thousand years.

 2. Before the Canadian government contracted traditional boundaries to enclose small reserves, each tribal group owned its territory.

4. The government contracted traditional boundaries to enclose small reserves, each tribal group owned its territory.

5. The  people engaged in intensive ceremonial activities while enjoying the abundant supply of foods from the sea and land

6. With the introduction of European technology and food, much of the traditional subsistence cycle was altered.

7.  The Knight and Kingcome Inlets are still harvested and rendered into oil.

Exercise 2 Discussion Questions for Comprehension

1. The Kwakiutl can trace their ancestry back nine thousand years. Explain how.

2. Who gave the people the name Kwakiutl? Why?

3. How did the people survive during the winter months?

4. How were salmon preserved?

Exercise 3 Research Activities

Directions: Choose a person or an event from the following list for research and prepare a presentation for class or for group discussion.

World War II

Kwakiutl Wild Salmon Reserves

Fort Rupert

Fish Farms

Exercise 4 Writing Activities

  • Write an essay in which you express your opinion on the conflict between the Fish farmers and the Kwakiutl Indians.
  • Write an essay in which you discuss the effect of fish farms on the health and welfare of the Kwakiutl people.


Kwakiutl Cultural Page

A Kwakiutl Myth: The Raven and the Moon

1.One day Raven learned of a strange box which belonged to an old fisherman and his daughter. The box was filled with a very bright light called the moon. Raven wanted that moon, and he vowed to get it.

2. He changed himself into a leaf on the berry bush that grew near the fisherman’s house. When the fisherman’s daughter passed by, Raven fell into her body. In time, the daughter gave birth to a baby with dark hair and a long hooked nose. As soon as he could crawl, the child knocked on the strange box and cried, “Moon, shinning moon.” Finally the fisherman said, “We may as well give him the ball of light to play with.”

3. His daughter opened the strange box; inside it were many boxes, one nested in the other. When she opened the last box, the room was filled with light. The mother gave the ball of light to her son, who smiled happily.

4. The next night the child cried, “Stars, stars.”  He wants to see the night stars through the smoke hole, but it is covered by the roof board,” said the girl to her father. “Open the smoke hole,” said her father. No sooner had she opened it than the child changed back into the raven he really was and flew off with the moon in his beak. He threw the moon up into the night sky, where it remains today.

1. Reading Exercise/Content/Scanning

Directions: Find the answers to the following descriptions by quickly scanning the story you just read. Write the number of the paragraph in which the answers can be found.

1. ____ The thing Raven changed into before meeting the fisherman’s daughter.

2. ____ The description of the daughter’s child.

3. ____ The thing the smoke hole was covered by.

4. ____ What was the first thing the child cried for.

5. ____ What Raven held in his beak as he flew away.

2. Vocabulary/Meanings

Directions: In your own words, explain what the underlined words mean. Try to get the meanings from the myth itself.  Use a dictionary to help. Review them afterwards.

1. Raven wanted that moon, and he vowed to get it.

vowed means___

2. “He wants to see the stars through the smoke hole…”

a smoke hole is___

3. “…but it is covered by the roof board.”

a roof board is___

3. Fun With Totems

Directions: Read the meanings of totems as a class. Then divide students into pairs or groups and have them choose their totem. Share results as a class.

The Significance of Totems

Thunderbird carved atSkidegate, Haida Gwaii

The Kwakiutl Clans would construct totem poles, which showed family legends, events, or symbols. Made of wood and carved with figures of animals or people, totem poles became family identification symbols.
A totem can be the symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. There are different animals that will accompany each person through life, acting as guides. Different animal guides come in and out of our lives depending on the direction that we are headed and the tasks that need to be completed along our journey.

Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit.

With this one animal a connection is shared, either through interest in the animal, characteristics, dreams, or other interaction.

This Animal Guide offers power and wisdom to the individual when they “communicate” with it, conveying their respect and trust. This does not necessarily mean that you actually pet or spend time with this animal, more that you are open to learning its lessons.

For some, knowing what is their totem animal is almost an innate process. It’s as if they’ve always known, inexplicably drawn to the animal or having a special feeling for the animal’s energy. For others, they wonder how to tell what their animal totem is.

How To Find Your Animal Totem

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering what your animal totem is:

  1. Have you ever felt drawn to one animal or another without being able to explain why? This could be animal, including birds and insects.
  2. Does a certain kind of animal consistently appear in your life? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical appearance, it could be represented in other ways such as receiving card and letters with the same animal pictured over and over, unexplainable dreams of a particular animal, watching television and seeing the same animal featured time and time again, or, actually having the animal show up.
  3. When you go to the zoo, a park, wildlife area, or forest, what are you most interested in seeing?
  4. Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?
  5. Is there a particular animal that you see frequently when you’re out in nature?
  6. Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal?
  7. Have you ever had a recurring dream about a certain animal, or a dream from  childhood that you have never been able to forget?
  8. Are you drawn to figurines or paintings of a specific animal?

The totem itself is a symbol that represents this animal.  This could be any number of items – a crest, a totem pole, an emblem, a small figurine or anything else that depicts your animal guide.

Animal Characteristics &  Their Meanings


Maternal, revenge oriented, quickness, aggression, and basic survival instincts.


Group minded, determination, patient, active, and industrious


Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness.
Active, agile, jumpiness, and willing to sacrifice
Safety oriented, grounded, and has boundaries

Courage, aggressive, healer, having problems relating to others, and energy conduit
Rebirth, longevity, secrecy, initiation, good listener, and long life
Industrious, instinctive, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, will power, self-preservation, introspection, and great strength.
Determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, and protector

Organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life
A very powerful totem – prosperity, spiritual strength, organized, self-reliant, fearless.
Insight into the past, fertility, rushing into things without proper preparation.
Metamorphosis, transformation, balnace, grace, ability to accept change
Survival, positive, accomplishments
Traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity

Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic, and independence
Swiftness, insight, focus
Leadership, loyalty, courage, taking responsibility, foresight
Swift, insightful, and focused

Trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folley, guile and innocence
Swift and decisive

Good luck, protection and success
Solitude, justice, longevity, independent, intelligent, and vigilant
Ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately
Justice, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, energy, community sharing, and balance
Compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subtlety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, and seller of adventure

Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, and guidance
Kind, salvation, wisdom, happiness, playfulness, prudent, capable of deep emotion, and happy.
Cross-world communication, spirit messenger, peace, gentleness, love
Longevity, richness, prosperity, infinity, wisdom, power, and fiery
Flighty and carefree, strong imagination, higher aspirations.
Water energy, helper of seers, can clearly see/deal with emotions
Divine spirit, sacrifice, connection to creator, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taker
Strength, power, affection, loyalty, royalty, and wisdom
Strength and agility, pride, majestic, independence, purification, strength, and nobility
New beginnings, adventure, passionate, and leadership.
Graceful, slyness, open-minded, quick to change one’s mind.
Heart healing, psychic, people person, flirtatious.

Cunning, agility, quick-witted, diplomacy, wildness, feminine magic of camouflage,shape shifting and invisibility
Water energy, cleansing, rebirth, sensitivity, medicine, hidden beauty, peace, adaptability, poor character judgment and power.
Communication, intuition, attaining the unreachable, seeing the future
Surefootedness, stubbornness, independence, diligence, lack of foresight.
Self-demanding, reliable, prudent, rigid, vigilance, parenthood, and productive.
Family-oriented, intelligence, strength, environmental protector, keeps peace through aggression.
Good luck, abundance, forward, progressive.
Personal power, enlightenment.
Messenger, intuition, victory, healing, nobility, recollection, cleansing, visionary power, and guardianship.
Aggressive, self-determined, self-reliant, multi-tasking, balanced.
Power, creation, imagination, healing.
Freedom, stamina, mobility, the land, travel, power, and freedom.
Messenger, timelessness, healing, and warrior.
Chaos, shape-shifter, aggressiveness, power.
Forward, balance, creative, stamina.
Family, strength, energy, courage, guardian and protector.
Conservation, vision, self-protection, hidden defenses.
Comforting to others, secure.
Keeper of secrets, guardian, listener, and guide.
Sensitivity, guidance, searching.
Ability to change the environment, health, success.
Headstrong, longevity, steadfastness, and wisdom.
Scrutiny, order, organizer, and an eye for details.
Intelligence, camouflage, nocturnal.
Diversion, strategist, and deceiver.
Grounded, practical.
Playful, friendly, dynamic, joy, helpfulness, and sharing
Deception, clairvoyance, insight, messenger.
Sacrifice, chastity and self-denial
Protection, hidden emotions, introspection, caution, careful decisions
Communication, beauty, guide for wisdom, mockery, thinking before speaking
Immortality, dignity, and self-confidence
Resilient, unselfish, rising above.
Self-discipline, grace, self-confidence, spiritual
Innocence, companionship, and trust
Prairie Dog
Swiftness, industrious, constructive, preparedness
Companion on journeys to other worlds, grace, silent power
Group-work, team play, creator of harmony and group tolerance, protectiveness (especially toward children)
Fear, timidity, nervousness, humility, rebirth,
Curiosity and cleanliness
Stoic, sensitive, persevering, curious, imaginative.
Fertility, stealth, scavenging, intelligence, enjoys luxury
Introspection, courage, self-knowledge, magic
Wisdom, solitary, insightful, solid.
Mental agility, speed, opportunistic.
Vanity, likes to be showered with gifts and attention, early riser, settling for nothing less than the best
Proud, intense, confident, wisdom, inspiration
Transforming, strong, inspiring, chaotic,  passionate
Versatility, loud, easy-going nature, creativity, laziness
Confidence and grace
Love, longing, dilemma, active imagination, creativity
Hunter, survival, and adaptability
Reputation, presence, and strength
Protective, aware, solitary.
Impulsive, shrewdness, rebirth, transformation, initiation, and wisdom
Balance, wisdom, creativity, communication
Planner and gatherer
Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, signs.
Grace, balance and innocence, soul, love, beauty, of the self
Strength, valor, power, and energy
inner strength, luck, self-examination
Generosity, life-giver, and sharer

Nurturer, shy, and protecting
Strength, energy, ingenuity and stealth
Wisdom, provider, intelligence, and kindness.
Loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, and spirit
Sensitive, protective, and devotion
Agility and individuality

Teachers’ Guide & Answer Key

Note To Teachers:
 The goal of this material is to raise students’ awareness of the American Indian people living in the United States today, and to encourage learners to view Native Indians as an integral part of American society. My hope is that students will see the native people of this country as workers, students, professionals, parents, and leaders of their communities.

 The construction of the exercises makes the reading material more of a communicative activity, and helps students to better understand the content. There are various pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading tasks for each reading selection. Although the majority of the exercises are suggested for group work, especially during class, students can complete the activities independently as homework assignments. At the following class meeting, their responses can be used as the basis for group discussions. The research activities can also be completed individually or as collaborative group projects. I offer some suggestions for some of the activities throughout the lessons.

Language Skills
: The target skills for the lessons are primarily reading and speaking, however, tasks for writing, and research activities are also included. These exercises are intended for ESL students, but everyone can use them. Although the reading level is high-intermediate to advanced, teachers can modify the material as needed for their level of learners.

Answer Key

Exercise 1 Vocabulary Practice

1. Archaeological -adjective-the study of human activity in the past, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind.

2. traditional-adjective-existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established: the traditional festivities of the church year.

3. reserves-noun-a place set aside for special use, in particular: an area designated as a habitat for an indigenous people.

4. abundant-adjective-having plenty of something: the riverbanks were abundant in wild plants.

5. subsistence-noun-the action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself at a minimum level: the garden provided not only subsistence but a little cash crop.

6. Inlets-noun-a small arm of the sea, a lake, or a river.

Exercise 2 Discussion Questions for Comprehension

1. Through archaeological evidence the Kwakiutl can trace their ancestry back nine thousand years.

2. The first white people to come to the land gave the Indians the name Kwakiutl. It was a term then applied to all the Kwakwaka’wakw who spoke the Kwakwala language.

3. During the winter months the people ate the abundant supply of foods from the sea and land that they had gathered earlier in the year.

4. Salmon were preserved by freezing, canning, and smoking.

Exercise 3 Research Activities

Students’ choice.

Exercise 4 Writing Activities

Students’ choice.

A Kwakiutl Myth:The Raven and the Moon

Reading Exercise/Scanning

1. Raven changed himself into a leaf

2. The daughter gave birth to a baby with dark hair and a long hooked nose.

3. The smoke hole was covered by the roof board.

4. The first thing the child cried for was the shinning moon.

5. Raven flew off with the moon in his beak.


vowed -noun-a solemn promise.

smoke hole -noun-before the invention of the smoke hood or chimney, dwellings had smoke holes to allow the smoke from the hearth to escape.

roof board- noun- a board used to cover a smoke hole.

 Fun With Totems

Students just have fun with this one!