184 pages, 8 x 10
69 illustrations, 15 in colour
Release Date:01 Jan 1989

Assu of Cape Mudge

Recollections of a Coastal Indian Chief

UBC Press

Harry Assu, a chief of the Lekwiltok -- the southernmost tribe ofthe Kwagiulth Nation -- was born in 1905 in Cape Mudge, Quadra Island,British Columbia. His father was Billy Assu, one of the most renownedchiefs of the Northwest, who led his people from a traditional way oflife into modern prosperity.

As well as being a family chronicle, Harry Assu's recollectionstell the little-known story of the Lekwiltok from legendary times tothe present. Drawing on the oral traditions of his people, he narratesthe story of the 'Great Flood' which gave sacred sanction toterritories settled by them. Hand-drawn and historical maps illustratehis account of coastal alliances and raids by other tribes over thelast two centuries and provide an understanding of the current land andsea claims of the Kwagiulth Nation.

Supernatural beings inhabited the worlds of his ancestors and ofAssu's boyhood, and he recalls encounters with birds and whaleswhich held particular significance for his family. His description of amore recent experience -- his own potlatch in 1984 -- is perhaps themost complete record of a modern potlatch. As well, his account of theseizure of potlatch regalia in 1922, the jailing of the leaders and thesubsequent restoration of these family treasures is a rare view frominside Indian culture.

Harry Assu put his faith in education and welcomed the efforts ofteachers sent by the Methodist Missionary Society. He remains an elderand supporter of the United Church at Cape Mudge. Symbolizing theachievement of his tribe in bringing into harmony a traditional culturewith commercial fishing, in which he was involved for sixty years,Harry Assu reminisces about the old cannery days on the coast and tellsof the continuing struggle by his people to maintain a place in themodern fishing industry.

Assu of Cape Mudge is illustrated with drawings of supernaturalevents by artist and author Hilary Stewart which were drawn near CapeMudge while Harry Assu described the dramatic occurrences. The Kwakwalawords have been transcribed by Peter Wilson, with a full record oflanguage association, meaning, and optional spellings. Also included inthe book and of general interest are an appendix of ancient tales toldby the Lekwiltok and a genealogical chart of the Assu family.

This personal memoir by an important Native leader of BritishColumbia will delight anthropologists, historians, and all those withan interest in Native studies and autobiography.


  • 1990, Winner - Special Commendation Award for superior production of an indigenous oral history, American Society for Ethnohistory
Harry Assu was the first elected Chief Councillor ofthe We-Wai-Kai band at Cape Mudge, where he still resides. He continuesto promote preservation of the Kwagiulth traditions he learned in hisyouth. Joy Inglis is a specialist in coastal Indianculture, with a particular interest in the art, myth, and ceremony ofthe Kwagiulth Nation. She has lived on Quadra Island since 1974 andfrequently teaches continuing education courses.

Maps and Illustrations. Abbreviations. Foreword. Acnowledgments.Introduction.


1. Origins of My People

2. Organization of My People

3. Our Local Waters

4. Potlach and Privilege

5. My Life in the Fishing Business

6. Life in the Village of Cape Mudge 7. Renewal of the Potlatch atCape Mudge


Notes. Appendices. Sources. Index.

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