October 23, 2007

Who were the Wakashan Kwakiutl?



I am a descendant of Adrienne Lucier-Lachapelle. She is my fourth great grandmother. Her parents are Etienne Lucier, a French Canadian fur trapper who worked with the Hudson Bay Company.

He was part of the Astorians of 1881. He married Josephte. I have seen her surname as Nouite and Noutie. The work Nation has always followed. I recently came upon a photo of Adrienne and the caption states that her mother was Josephte Noutie “Wakashan Kwakiutl” by nation. What does this mean?

Josephte has also been referred to as a Princess. Since all of this took place in the 1800’s, I am sure that I will never know the whole story. Josephte was the mother of six children and died in St. Paul, Oregon.

My main goal is to know the name of the Tribe that my family is from so that I may research this group of people for my family history book.

~~Submitted by Deborah G.~~


There are no princesses in indian societies

As far as I know, none of the Indian tribes of North America had or have “Princesses,” except the modern kind that represent pow wows and talent contests. Some tribes, like the Kwakiutl, did have a caste system, but they did not call the people at the top of their class system royalty or kings or princesses.

This is probably a misnomer perpetuated by early Europeans whose own class system included such positions. In early conversations with indigenous tribes, so much of the nuances and meanings of their words were lost in translation when sign language was misunderstood or translators used similar words from their own vocabularies to replace phrases they didn’t quite understand or couldn’t pronounce. The Wakashan languages are especially hard for non-native speakers to pronounce because long strings of consonants often occur in complex clusters.

Kwakiutl society was divided into three main castes based on heredity: slaves, commoners, and nobles.

However, one could change their class through other means than inheriting it, and individuals usually changed their class several times throughout their lifetimes.

You could marry into another line and assume that family’s class. One could give their heriditary class away. For example, a noble could give his class to a commoner as a gift, perhaps to show gratitude for saving one’s life, or even because the individual was admired for some talent, thus becoming a commoner himself in the process.

Or you could gain class by having a particular skill or talent that was admired by others in the tribe, such as owning a powerful song or being a skilled warrior or hunter. You could become a noble if you had material wealth, and shared it by giving a great feast called a potlatch, where you served a lot of favored foods and gave away many gifts to people who had less than you did.

You could become a noble through inheritance, marriage, the posession of supernatural powers, acts of leadership and bravery, artistic talent, or shared wealth.

In 1800s, “Kwakiutl” included several tribes

The Indian tribes referred to as “Kwakiutl” in the 1800s are actually a whole group of First Nation Pacific Coast tribes, located primarily on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada and the northwestern corner of the Olympic Penninsula of Washington State in the United States.

This would fit with what you told me, since both the Hudson’s Bay Company and Pacific Fur Company had trading posts on or near Vancouver Island in the 1800s, so lots of fur trappers frequented the area. The Pacific Fur Company was founded by John Astor, and their main headquarters at the mouth of the Columbia River was called Fort Astoria (also known as Fort George). At various times, this company was known as the Pacific Fur Company, the American Fur Company, and the Astoria Fur Company.

The Hudson Bay Company had trading posts at the mouths of the Rupert, Albany and Moose Rivers and both companies established relationships with the local tribes.

The Astorians

John Astor sponsored an overland wagon train in 1811-1812 that brought 62 men, 1 woman and two children to the area in 1811, and David Stuart, acting for the Astoria Fur Company established Fort Okanogan, the first white settlement in Washington State in 1811.

People on this wagon train were referred to as the Astorians, after the name of the man who sponsored the trip. The wagon train was guided by a man named Hunt.

This was the second overland expidition to the Pacific Northwest, preceded only by Lewis and Clark. On the return trip, they discovered South Pass, actually already an established route of the Indians. This became one of the passes over the mountains used by people on the route that later was called the Oregon Trail. On the return trip, they also built what is credited as being the first log cabin in Montana.

I found a reference on to “Adrienne Lucier, Metis, (1824-1919) born Fort Vancouver (Portland Oregon) daughter Etienne Lucer and Josephte Noutie (Wakashan Kwakiut); 1st married unknown, 2nd married Andre Lachapelle.” The same page also lists an “Andrie Lachapelle (1781-1881)” as an employee of the Pacific Fur Company in 1811 at the Columbia River Fort Astoria (Fort George).

The Metis are generally people of mixed heritage, often of Spanish and Indian ancestry in this area but can be of various mixed races and/or mixed Indian tribes in various areas of the US and Canada. In Mexico, they are referred to as Meztisos.

Wakashan is a language group

It has two sub-divisions and contains seven distinct languages. It includes:

I. Kwakiutlan (Northern Wakashan)

   1.Haisla (a.k.a. Xa?islak’ala)

   2.Kwak’wala (a.k.a. Kwakiutl, spoken by Southern Kwakiutl, and Kwakwaka’wakw people)

      A. Heiltsuk-Oowekyala (a.k.a. Bella Bella)

   3. Heitsuk


II. Nootkan (Southern Wakashan)

   5. Makah

   6. Nitinaht (a.k.a. Nitinat, Ditidaht, Southern Nootkan)

   7. Nuu-chah-nulth (a.k.a. Nootka, Nutka, Aht, West Coast, T’aat’aaqsapa)

The Wakashan family of languages is spoken in Britsh Columbia around and on Vancouver Island, and in the northwestern corner of the Olympic Penninsula of Washington state, on the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Who the Kwakiutl tribes are now

Until the 1980s the term Kwakiutl was usually applied to all of the various First Nations peoples of northern Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Strait, and the Johnstone Strait whose traditional Wakashan language was Kwak’wala and also a group of peoples erroneously called for many years the “Northern Kwakiutl”, who are speakers of the related languages Haisla, Oowekyala (Owekeeno) and Heitsuk.

Over time those First Nations began to resurrect thier individual tribal identities and insist on the use of their own names for themselves and Kwakiutl, pronounced something like “kwag-yewlth”, came to refer more specifically to the First Nation whose home community was at Fort Rupert near Port Hardy.

The preferred collective term for these nations became “Kwakwaka ‘walw” which means, those who speak the language Kwak’wala, although one Kwakwaka’wakw tribal council organization continues to call itself the Kwaktutl District Council.

There were six principal tribes of Pacific Coast First Nations. The most northerly tribe was the Haida, who occupied the Queen Charlotte Islands. They were the only member of the language family called Haida.

The Tsimshian, who lived on the mainland coast directly across from the Queen Charlottes, were divided into three groups, all of whom spoke languages belonging to the Tsimshian language family. The Tsimshian lived at the mouth of the Skeena River, the Gitksan lived farther inland along the Skeena, and the Nisga’a at the basin of the Nass River.

The southernmost Pacific Coast tribes were the Nootka and the Coast Salish. Occupying the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Nootka spoke a language belonging to the Wakashan language family.

The Coast Salish were found on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island and on the mainland just opposite, from Bute Inlet to the mouth of the Columbia River. They spoke languages belonging to the Salishan language family.

Between the northern and southern tribes were found the Kwakiutl and the Bella Coola. Like the Nootka, the Kwakiutl spoke a language belonging to the Wakashan language family. They lived on the northern end of Vancouver Island and on the nearby mainland.

The Bella Coola lived on the banks of the Dean and Bella Coola rivers and on the fjords into which these rivers flowed. They belong to the Salishan language family.

Based on the Wakashan language affiliation connected to a Kwakiutl reference, you are most likely looking for a Kwak’wala speaking tribe, but there are also several historal references of the Hudson Bay Company men interacting with the Nootka, who also speak a Wakashan dialect. Based on the tribal groupings of the 1880s, it could possibly be any of the Wakashan speaking tribes referred to as Kwakiutl at that time.

I also found one reference to Etienne Lucier, which mentions his wife as being a Spokane indian, which, of course, does not jive with the Wakashan Kwakiutl reference given in most resources, and could be a different wife. (See links below.)


British Columbia First Nation tribes

The Kwakiutl Indian Band, Ft. Rupert

First Nation #626

PO BOX 1440


Phone (250) 949-6012

Fax (250) 949-6066

Canadian Historoy

Plan to spend some time exploring this web site. It has extensive timelines of Canadian History from 420 million years ago to the present, focusing on Alberta and British Columbia, the Metis, Canadian Indians, and some genealogy information.

RootsWeb – Josephte Nouette Wakashan Kwakiutl NOUTIE

I found a reference to a “Josephte Nouette Wakashan Kwakiutl NOUTIE” born about 1800 on North Vancouver Island, BC who died about January 10, 1840 in French Prairie, Marion,Oregon, of diptheria. It also states she married Etienne Lussier (Lucier 1796-1853) on January 23, 1839, and had five children with him, with Adrienne being her second child.

However, if she died in 1840, just one year after their marriage, then most or all of her children may have been from a previous marriage, (the date given for Adrienne’s birth is 1824) or else one or more of these dates may be incorrect. Another possibility is that they were previously in a common law relationship together for many years prior to their recorded marriage in a church in 1839, a common practice in the fur trapper era.

There is also information on Adrienne (Adrian) LUCIER and on Etienne LUCIER at this website.

Picture of Adrienne Lucier and Andre Lachapelle

There is a small picture of Adrienne Lucier (1824 – 1919) and Andre LaChapelle here with a caption that says she was born in Fort Vancouver “at the moment it was founded.”

Hudson Bay Families

Genealogy information on quite a few families who worked for the Hudson Bay Company, including several Lucier’s.

Genealogy information on Andre LACHAPPELLE

A few facts about Etienne LUCIER

The Astorians

Within in a two year period, the Astorians established trading posts on the Columbia, Willamette, Okanogan, Spokane, and Snake rivers. These fur trading posts, especially Okanogan, and the Oregon Trail were major factors in the boundary between the United States and Canada being at the forty-ninth parallel, instead of at the Columbia River.

Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest Vancouver

A series of 7 books for historians and genealogists who are seeking information on early Oregon and Washington settlers. It contains an accurate translation and transcription of the first Catholic church registers for the Oregon Territory. It is completely indexed. It contains biographies for more than 300 of the main players, including Josephte Nouite in the second book.

French Fur Traders and Voyageurs in the American West

By Le Roy Reuben Hafen, Janet Lecompte

This book has a chapter on Etienne Lucier, which mentions his wife as being a Spokane indian. However, it also says “he may have had an unrecorded sucession of mates; however the Nouite wife was current at the arrival of the priests in 1838, being baptised by them and given the name Josephte.”

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