Part of the Kwakwaka’wakw language group, the ‘Nakwaxda’xw traditional territory is located between Cape Caution and Blunden Harbour on the mainland, including Seymour Inlet. The ‘Nakwaxda’xw called themselves “the assembled people” or “the people from all around.”
The ‘Nakwaxda’xw moved around their territory seasonally: fishing, hunting, and gathering various materials, but between 1884 and 1964 one of their main villages was at Ba’as (also written as Paas or Pahas), at Blunden Harbour.
The name Blunden Harbour was bestowed by Captain Pender of the Beaver in 1863, after Edward Raynor Blunden, who was an assistant on the Hecate (1861) and the Beaver (1863), which surveyed the area. Long before the area was surveyed it was home to the ‘Nakwaxda’xw.
Ba’as was an old village site, although during the historical period prior to 1883 the main winter village had been at Kequesta (inside Seymour Inlet near Nakwakto Rapids). By 1884 a number of families had moved and there were 12 houses at Ba’as.
Due to their isolation, the Nakwaxda’xw were one of the last First Nations on the coast to retain a traditional way of living, and as a result were of great interest to ethnographers, photographers, and film-makers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In 1901 the village was visited by an anthropologist from the Royal BC Museum, Dr. Charles Frederick Newcombe. He took a number of photos of the village, one of which was loaned to Emily Carr, and became the inspiration for her famous painting “Blunden Harbour,” painted about 1930.
In 1914 Ba’as was one of the locations where the short pseudo-documentary “Land of the War Canoes” was filmed.
In 1914 the McKenna McBride Commission heard testimony from First Nations relating to the allocation of reserve lands. From the ‘Nakwaxda’xw, Chief Pokleetami told the Commission (through interpreter William Brotchie): “… I will now speak of my land which was always owned by my forefathers and now I come into possession of them myself — This is what I want to say — that the Reserves which are measured out for us — I think they are too small — there is hardly room to turn around in them where we get our livelihood.”
One of the requests made was that Seymour Narrows be closed off to any white men. The Commissioners refused this request.
When asked about what income was available to them (in 1914), the people of Ba’as reported working for the canneries and noted that two men fishing one boat would earn $100 in five weeks ($50 each) and a woman working in the cannery would earn about $25 for the same period.
The Commissioners also asked if any of the village children had received schooling. The response was that two local children had gone to the residential school at Alert Bay for a month, but they didn’t learn anything, so they had taken them back home.
In 1964 the ‘Nakwaxda’xw remaining at Ba’as were pressured into accepting a government relocation to Port Hardy, and most of the remaining village was burned.
Brenda McCorquodale is a Port Hardy resident and North Island history enthusiast. If you have any stories or local lore you’d like to share, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of her past articles is available on her blog at undiscoveredcoast.blogspot.ca/.