Kwakwaka'wakw Art: A Northwest Coast Tradition

Kwakwaka'wakw art has a long history of tradition and innovation, of legacy and inventiveness. Since the beginning, it’s been an evolving exploration of expression, design and form.

But first: Who are the Kwakwaka’wakw?

The Kwakwaka’wakw (pronounced Kwak-wak-ya-wak), or Kwagiulth, are the original inhabitants of northern Vancouver Island, the adjacent mainland and the islands in between. Kwakwaka'wakw literally translates as "Those who speak Kwak'wala", describing the collective nations within the area that speak the language.

Until the 1980s, the term Kwakiutl was used to describe all First Nations peoples in the area, regardless of the language they spoke. Today, the name Kwakiutl only refers to those from the village of Fort Rupert. Other Kwakwaka'wakw also have their own names and villages, as each of the 13 nations are considered separate, independent entities.

Kwakwaka'wakw Art

Kwakwaka'wakw art is one of the most distinctive forms of northwest coast art. Kwakwaka'wakw artists have always been among the most innovative artists on the coast, using an individualized approach to expression and form and colours that go beyond the traditional. Haida artist Bill Reid was quoted as saying that the Kwakiutl were explosive. If there was a colour, they used it.

The resurgence of Kwakwaka'wakw northwest coast art in the 1950s is largely credited to Mungo Martin, one of the most distinguished Kwakwaka'wakw carvers. In 1951, he was hired by the Royal BC Museum for a program of restoration and replication—a program that played a major role in the survival and transmission of northwest coast art traditions. Martin brought traditional Kwakwaka'wakw culture and knowledge out of the banned potlatch era and into the open, inspiring a new generation of northwest coast artists.

Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt is a member of the Order of Canada and was the first Native artist to receive the prestigious Order of British Columbia. The Canadian Mint recently used his Kwaguilth design, Two Loons, on a new $1 silver coin honouring the 25th anniversary of the Canadian loonie.

Kwa-Giulth Sun with Eagle Face

Northern Frog


 Francis Dick 

Born in 1959 into the Musqamakw Dzawadaenutw Band (the four tribes of Kingcome Inlet), Francis Dick is a contemporary aboriginal artist and a member of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation. She is a descendant of the supernatural Wolf, Kawadelekala, who became the first of the Kingcome people.

Long Beach


Rande Cook

Rande Cook is from the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation on Cormorant Island, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. He has worked with many great artists, including mentorships with native artists Robert Davidson (metal work) and Calvin Hunt (woodworking), and an apprenticeship with master carver John Livingston.



Tony Hunt Jr.

Tony Hunt Jr. is a Kwakwaka'wakw artist and dancer from Port Hardy, on the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island. He comes from a long line of cultural leaders: His great-grandfather was Mungo Martin, and his late grandfather, Henry Hunt, and his father, Hereditary Chief Tony Hunt, are both renowned Kwakwaka'wakw carvers.

Kwagiulth Bukwus

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