Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview


146 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1084-X
DDC 299.7'8955





Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Terrace,
British Columbia.


Books that attempt to describe the worldview of one culture to a general
readership often assume either too little or too much knowledge. They
may be too simplistic for a sophisticated reader who seeks insight into
the history and culture of the particular society or too complex for a
reader without detailed knowledge of the culture or the language of
anthropology. Tsawalk represents a refreshing change by avoiding those
two extremes—it presents a sophisticated theory of cultural
integration through an engaging mixture of techniques that include
philosophical inquiry, origin stories, family history, and delightful
personal anecdotes.

The Nuu-chah-nulth of western Vancouver Island have a long history of
contact with non-Aboriginal peoples and in recent years have been
prominently engaged in struggles over resource development and land
rights. Despite this long association, the author repeatedly
demonstrates the profound and continuing nature of the cultural
misunderstandings between the Nuu-chah-nulth and the settler society.
The Nuu-chah–nulth were for many years referred to as the
“Nootka”—a name first applied to them by James Cook in the late
17th century. At the beginning of the book Umeek relates the story of
how his ancestors found Captain Cook lost in the fog just outside what
is now called Friendly Cove. Cook apparently misheard and misinterpreted
the words being used to try and give him directions and came to call the
people “Nootka.” What he was really being told was to “turn
around”! One wonders how many times Aboriginal peoples became
identified with the terms they may have used to tell outsiders to go

From a general outline of Nuu-chah-nulth culture, worldview, and
society, the author progresses to a most engaging description of how
traditional teachings and values have been sustained through the
colonial period despite legal and cultural persecution. The book also
describes how those traditional teachings and values continue to have
resonance for the problems facing both Nuu-chah-nulth and non-Aboriginal
communities alike. The last section of the book attempts to develop a
theory of how the Nuu-chah-nulth worldview, which emphasizes unity and
interconnectedness, can be verified scientifically, but the analysis is
very brief and relies heavily on anecdotal evidence. The strength of
Tsawalk lies in its description of a rich cultural tradition and its
compelling argument for a more harmonious and balanced relationship
between all peoples and the natural world.


Atleo, E. Richard., “Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14724.