Bella Coola

views updated

Bella Coola

ETHNONYMS: Bellacoola, Belhoola, Bilqula

The Bella Coola are a North American Indian group numbering about six hundred who live on and near a reserve at Bella Coola, British Columbia. The Bella Coola language is classified in the Salishan-language family. In the late nineteenth century the Bella Coola numbered about fourteen hundred and occupied the shores of the Bella Coola River and its tributaries in British Columbia. Contact with White traders was limited until the discovery of gold in the Bella Coola territory in 1851. During the late nineteenth century, the tribe was decimated by smallpox, liquor, and starvation.

Subsistence was based on fishing, hunting, and gathering and included some trade. The social structure was complex, consisting of chiefs, shamans, an aristocracy, commoners, and slaves. The Bella Coola were divided into five geographical groups, with the main political units being autonomous village communities headed by chiefs.

The traditional Bella Coola cosmology consisted of two heavens above the earth and two hells below and was ruled over by a supreme female deity named QAma'its.


Boas, Franz (1900). The Mythology of the Bella Coola Indians. American Museum of Natural History, Memoir no. 2, 25-127. New York.

Kopas, Cliff (1970). Bella Coola. Vancouver: Mitchell Press.

McIlwraith, T.F. (1948). The Bella Coola Indians. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1948.