A Return to Tradition
Names are important.
They help to identify the people, places and things in our world, and for many cultures, the naming of something lends it a certain power and strength. Names are also a source of pride, especially when associated with tradition and ancient history.
That’s why, for the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (pronounced Yuu-thlu-ilth-ath) First Nation of Vancouver Island, it was important to reclaim the traditional name of a beach near Ucluelet, BC.
The beach, once widely known as Wickaninnish, has returned to officially being called by its original name “Kwisitis.”
Wickaninnish was the name of a highly respected Tla-o-qui-aht chief. But although the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation indeed hails from Vancouver Island, and is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture/area grouping that includes the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, it was deemed more appropriate to reclaim the beach’s traditional Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ name.
Kwisitis means “the other end of the beach” or “around the rock”, and was derived from literal directions of how to get to that particular beach by canoe, which was the main mode of travel for the Nuu-chah-nulth. In fact, all the different Nuu-chah-nulth nations used hand-carved canoes to access and defend their ancestral lands, for special ceremonies and also to hunt prey such as seals and even whales.
The process to reclaim and re-establish the Kwisitis name started several years ago, when the visitor centre name was changed from Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre to Kwisitis Visitor Centre upon the advice of a Nuu-chah-nulth Working Group, and with the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation.
The beach itself is located in the Pacific Rim National Park, right near the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet. The sandy beach is popular, as it is one of the larger beaches in the park and it is very easily accessible, plus visitors from the nearby resorts enjoy walking the beach during their stay. The area is pretty spectacular for sightseers, and truly is where sea, land and sky meet. The beach is covered in both fine white sand and small pebbles, and offers a picnic shelter and picnic tables. In the summer, this is where you’ll find locals and tourists alike, surfing, swimming, sun tanning and building sand castles. In winter, it’s the best place for storm watching.
On the east end of the beach you’ll find the Kwisitis Feast House, a superb eatery with a menu inspired by authentic First Nations cuisine. Here, you can enjoy traditional fish soup and bannock while watching surfers ride the waves, or sample six different types of meat, fish and fowl. Depending on the season, you can find things like crab, sea urchin, deer, duck, clams, oysters and mussels on the menu, and the restaurant serves both traditional and non-traditional cuisine.
You’re also likely to see those dugout canoes out on the ocean while at Kwisitis Beach, as recently there’s been a resurgence of First Nations canoe travel culture and an increase in the use of canoes for ceremonial and practical purposes amongst the Nuu-chah-nulth.
With Aboriginal culture, history and tradition returning and flourishing in the area, Kwisitis is also the name of a success story.