June 25th, 2014

Nuu-chah-nulth canoes are alive on the west coast.

The Nuuchahnulth Canoe
The significance of the traditional dugout canoe is such that it has become a symbol of  Nuuchahnulth culture and pride. It is the vehicle which Nuuchahnulth accessed their territories from in former times.

A resurgence of canoe travel culture has emerged with the creation of modern canoe tribal journeys; which necessitates these traditional canoes for multi-day inter-tribal journeys to a common destination each summer.


There is also an increase in the use of canoes for ceremonial and practical purposes. It is an exciting time of reconnecting with caneoing roots for coastal native people.

The basic Tla-o-qui-aht design evolved for the many moods of the Pacific ocean and has remained unchanged for as long as our people can remember.


The canoes are built with a high bow which enables landing on surf beaches. The canoe is backed in towards the beach with the bow facing incoming waves. The waves split off the high bow and don’t swamp the canoe.
The hull shape is a fine-tuned with a gradual swell which is conducive to  retaining speed.In the past Nuuchahnulth people hunted large sea mammals including various kinds of whales from these canoes. The whales were often much larger than the canoe and could tow the canoe on rough seas.

nuu-chah-nulth canoe

For this purpose, the canoe had to be seaworthy and the crew had to be knowledgeable and experienced. The favoured size for a whale hunting canoe is 32- 35 feet.


The red interior of the canoe represents life, the color of blood, because the canoe is an access tool for resources providing life. The outside is  traditionally singed black which hardens the wood and can lengthen the canoes’ lifespan.


The prow piece has a groove carved into it to hold a harpoon or sail mast.

dugout canoe gisele martin

The white stripes at each end are for peace when travelling through other tribes territories.


The prow is shaped like a wolfs head. The wolf is the character in our stories who is a keeper of natural law and is very disciplined. The wolf is much respected in Nuuchahnulth communities.

traditional dugout nuiuchahnulth canoe

The Nuuchahnulth canoe is not as commonly seen as in the past, but the life of these canoes is far from over. This is a time of resurgence as today the Nuuchahnulth canoe is carved, and carried off the beach and into the ocean more and more often to taste the salty seas.