Yuquot seeks designation as a World Heritage Site

Eric Plummer, August 11, 2017

A statue overlooking the shore of Nootka Island welcomes visitors to Yuquot, which currently has just four permanent residents. As the largest archaeological site on the west side of Vancouver Island, an application has been made by the Mowachaht Muchalaht First Nation to have Yuquot designated by UNESCO. (Eric Plummer photos)

Yuquot, Nootka Island, B.C. — 

Citing the ancient place’s importance to both Nuu-chah-nulth-aht and European settlement on the West Coast, an effort is underway to have Yuquot gain UNESCO designation.

This year the Mowachaht Muchalaht First Nation made an application for Yuquot to be placed on Canada’s tentative list for World Heritage Site status under the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It’s the first step to place Yuquot among over 1,000 sites deemed critical for the world’s heritage, a list that includes the United Kingdom’s Neolithic Stonehenge, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks and the 18th century remains of the village of Ninstints west of Haida Gwaii, a Haida relic recognized as “a visual key to their oral traditions,” according to UNESCO.

Archaeological digs have determined habitation in Yuquot for at least 4,300 years. Since 1923 Yuquot, or Friendly Cove, has been a National Historic Site of Canada.

“The heritage value of Yuquot lies in its association with the Mowachaht Muchalaht First Nations and their social, political and economic world. Continuously occupied for over 4,300 years, Yuquot village became the capital for all 17 tribes of the Nootka Sound region,” stated Parks Canada in its description of the historic site, noting the landing of British Capt. James Cook in 1778. “In the late 18th century, Yuquot also became an important site of early contact between First Peoples and European explorers and traders. Explorers were attracted to the security of the harbor, which they named Friendly Cove.”

In the 1960’s the Mowachaht Muchalaht moved their reserve from Yuquot to Gold River, but since 1992 the First Nation’s members have ventured to the site for a week of camping each summer. In July Hereditary Chief Michael Maquinna reflected on the importance of UNESCO recognizing his people’s ancient ties to the site.

“It’s a long process and you’ve got to get in line to get considered,” Maquinna said. “We realize that we have a story to tell. We hope that it’s going to benefit the First Nations people by recognizing the chief of the area – not just the explorers who came through the area.”

Yuquot’s UNESCO application was made with the assistance of Traditions Consulting, who contacted Alan McMillan to draw upon his decades of exploration into Vancouver Island’s pre-history. McMillan is an adjunct professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University.

“Yuquot is extremely important. It’s one of the great many Nuu-chah-nulth big village sites,” he said. “It was there that Cook sailed in and the people that became the Mowachaht welcomed him to that bay with incredible historic consequences.”

Yet what happened after European contact is just on piece of the site’s vast history. Maquinna hopes that World Heritage Site designation could improve the public’s understanding of Yuquot’s meaning to the history of human habitation on the West Coast.

“The explorers were here just as a chapter,” he said. “We put a lot on the travelers, or the explorers, and how much they’ve benefitted their exploration. To just have the Indian people, or the First Nations people, as a footnote to their history, there’s got to be some kind of correction somewhere.”

“A number of nations converged at Yuquot,” noted McMillan of the events that began in the late 1700s. “But that’s really just a final late veneer to a much longer history at that point.”

A response on the progression of the UNESCO application is expected this fall. In the meantime Yuquot, which means “where the winds blow from many directions,” awaits more summertime visits from the Mowachaht Muchalaht.

“Everyone changes when they come out here,” said Maquinna. “This is what it’s for -  it’s for the kids in letting them know where they come from. It’s a place called Yuquot.”