We are the c̓ išaaʔatḥ
We are the C’išaaʔatḥ (sis sha ahtah or Tseshaht) a vibrant community with an active and progressive natural resources-based economy. We are one of the 14 Nations that make up the Nuu-chah-nulth [Nootka] people of western Vancouver Island. We are proud of our culture and work as a community to preserve our traditional values and teachings.
At the core of Tseshaht culture is our chronicle of creation; our spiritual origin. We were created at C`išaa (sis-shaa), a place on what is known today as Benson Island, one of the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound. It is here n’aas or nahs (our creator) granted our first ancestors (Tseshaht man and woman) the highest spiritual responsibility and stewardship of the Broken Group Islands. Tseshaht translates as “people of a rancid smelly place” because the inhabitants were such great whalers and their village reeked of whale oil, signifying great wealth.
The end meaning of ʔatḥ or ahtah literally means “people of C’išaa” or C’išaaʔatḥ
Our ownership of land is based on the Nuu-chah-nulth laws of hahuułi or ha-houlthee, which means the territory of a nation under the stewardship of a hawilth (King). This position was hereditary as the senior representative of the spiritual bloodline most closely linked to our chronicle of creation. Our most recent King was Adam Shewish, a traditionally trained hawilth, who passed away in 1990. His great-grandfather Chief Haayuupinuuł or haa-you-pinulth, (born c.1830) was the King of the Tseshaht when European settlement started in the Alberni Valley. His name meaning “getter of ten (whales)” signified his status as a prominent chief, including his King’s right to hunt whales.
Tseshaht hahuułi changed over time through marriage and alliances, warfare, and the incorporation of affiliated groups. These hahuułi enhancements continued by increasing the land controlled. The Tseshaht absorbed the HikwuulhɁatḥ (Hee- qulth-ahtah) and the Hach`aaɁatḥ (Haa-chaa-ahtah) who brought their lands with them as well as the once independent territories of the NašɁasɁatḥ (Nash-as-ahtah), MaktlɁiiɁatḥ (maktl-ee-ahtah), sum-as-ahtah and the original C’išaaʔatḥ.
Eventually Tseshaht lands included the hahuułi of the assimilated groups in the Broken Group Islands, central Barkley Sound, much of Alberni Inlet, and the Alberni Valley.
The ownership and use of these lands and practically everything of value in Tseshaht society were governed by tutuupata (the plural of tupaati), a complex set of hereditary privileges or prerogatives. Tutuupata instructed the ways in which both economic resources like rivers, fish trap sites, and plant gathering sites, as well as intellectual property resources like
names, ceremonial songs, dances, and regalia should be owned and utilized. Tutuupata determined rank in Tseshaht society and were inherited within a family.