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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An integrated approach to studying settlement systems on the Northwest Coast : the Nuxalk of Bella Coola, B.C. Lepofsky, Dana Sue


The major factors which influenced the settlement system of the late prehistoric Nuxalk of the Bella Coola valley are examined in this study. Detailed data on settlement, subsistence, environment and the socio-political and socio-economic worlds of the Nuxalk are presented. Ethnographic, ethnohistoric, archaeological and environmental data have been compiled for this purpose. The theoretical approach applied in this thesis differs from other comparable studies on the Northwest Coast. Many studies are concerned only with the relationship between energy gains and settlement. In this study the potential determinants of settlement patterns are compiled from both the natural and cultural environment of the Nuxalk. Each determinant is examined within a cultural framework that would have been relevant to the Bella Coola valley Nuxalk. The nature of the analyses and methodology employed here also sets this study apart from other settlement studies. Salmon-settlement studies investigate the importance of a single species at several sites, while site catchment studies concentrate on the relative importance of several resources at a single site. Here, several different sites are compared according to eight different determinants (the presence of salmon, other aquatic resources, plant resource, animal resources, mineral resources, trade, shelter from the elements and protection from raiding); each determinant is measured in a different manner according to the nature of the data set. A rank order of each village location is produced according to its accessibility to each determinant analysed. From this, an overall ranking of settlements which combines all the determinants is generated. The Nuxalk results are then compared to the settlement systems of other Northwest Coast groups, as a means of identifying more general statements concerning the pre-contact settlement systems of Northwest Coast Native peoples. Results indicate that the presence of a range of food resources, especially plants and fish, was among the most important criteria for a preferred settlement location in the Bella Cool a valley. The presence of a variety of other resources and cultural attributes was the minimum requirement of a suitable Nuxalk village location. Among other coastal groups, preferred village sites were those which offered the greatest number of resources from a single location. In the instances where primary villages were situated in areas that did not offer a range of resources, other (cultural) factors seem to have influenced the decision to settle in a specific location. Additionally, it is hoped that this study contributes to the field of ecological anthropology by offering new methods for quantifying economically important plants. Previously uncollected information from Nuxalk elders adds to the body of knowledge concerning land use among the Nuxalk people specifically and the peoples of the Northwest Coast in general.

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