Nootka Island, British Columbia V0P, Canada

First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization


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About the Tribe

Among the ethnographies of the area, Drucker's ( 1951 ) on the Nootka (see also Drucker, 1965, chap. 7, for a dramatic account of Nootka whaling) and Elmendorf's ( 1960).

In the extreme south, the Yurok and the Tolowa proportions of gathering/ hunting/fishing are 40/10/50 percent and 40/20/40 per cent, respectively. This is an area where acorns were used and naturally the proportion for gathering is greater. From here northward the most common figure for gathering is 20 percent ; only the Puyallup and Kwakiutl have 30 per cent, while the Coos, Quiieute, Twana, and Klallam have 10 per cent. The Puyallup are a coast Salish group living inland from Puget Sound who quite likely did depend more on roots and bulbs than did their salt-water neighbors, though with the complex exchange systems of the area we cannot be sure. But there seems no reason at all to give the Kwakiutl a higher figure than the Nootka, Bella Coola, and coast Salish of northern Georgia Strait, all of them adjacent to Kwakiutl and all given 20 per cent.

(excerpt about plants)

 Altogether it does not seem to me that the Kwakiutl would have been very different from the Nootka, of whom Drucker writes :

There was a tremendous emphasis on fats--oils and greases-in the dietary pattern. Probably the fats made up for the virtual lack of starch and sugar forms of carbohydrates. Prior to the introduction of potatoes, flour, and pilot bread in historic times, starch foods were limited to the very occasional meals of clover and fern roots, and the few other roots. It is obviously impossible to judge at this late date, but one receives the impression from informants that if the average person ate a dozen or two meals of roots in the course of a year, it was a lot. Berries provided the only sugar prior to the introduction of molasses, and were highly prized. But the berry season was rather short, except for that of salal berries, and the few baskets of them women picked seem to have adorned rather than materially augmented the diet. Instead of these things, one hears constantly of fats and oils ( 195I , pp. 62-63).

To me this statement hardly implies the 20 per cent gathering given the Nootka by the Atlas. On the other hand, some of the coast Salish groups probably did have more vegetable food in their diet than the Nootka and Kwakiutl, yet two of them ( Klallam and Twana) were assigned only 10 per cent-my original guess for those I am calling the "central" groups, which include the Lummi, who are given 20 per cent by the Atlas. I can only conclude that the question should be left open. I agree with Lee that shellfish gathering has more in common with the gathering of plant foods than with fishing. Both plants and shellfish are immobile and were collected (on the Northwest coast) mainly by women using digging sticks and baskets. They differ only in food value. But sea-mammal hunting and fishing can


Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

It is true that George Hunt recorded 44 recipes for preparing vegetable foods and instructions for preserving some fifteen of them (Boas, 1921 , part I ). But the texts indicate that some of these foods were quite restricted in where they grew and the small quantities served to feast a village. Some too were described as emergency foods and evidently dangerous if eaten in quantity. Most of the roots were in fact so small that it is hard to imagine gathering large amounts of them.

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Transition to Industrialized Food Products