British Columbia

Meet the last Indigenous man living in area of B.C. where Europeans first landed

The small settlement of Yuquot on Nootka Island, just off the west coast of Vancouver Island, has a population of only five people, according to the most recent census.

Ray Williams and his wife, Terry, are the last Mowachaht to live in Yuquot

Ray Williams says his heart, mind and soul told him to stay "where he belongs" in Yuquot. (Grant Lawrence/CBC News)

The small settlement of Yuquot on Nootka Island, just off the west coast of Vancouver Island, has a population of just five people, according to the most recent census. 

But at its peak, more than 1,500 Indigenous people from 17 different tribes would spend their summers together on Yuquot's shores, sleeping in multi-family longhouses.

Yuquot, known also as Friendly Cove, was the traditional lands of the Mowachaht First Nations. Now, one Mowachaht family still remains there: elder Ray Williams, his wife, Terry, and their grandchildren.

"Our heart, our soul and our mind has told us to stay here. This is where we belong," said Williams, whose Mowachaht name is Ghoo-Noom-Tuuk-Tomlth, meaning Spirit of the Wolf.

Together, they are the protectors of Yuquot's ancestral lands, where, in 1778, Captain James Cook first touched ground on what would eventually become known as British Columbia . 

Yuquot, also known as Friendly Cove, on Nootka Island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Grant Lawrence/CBC News)

Coming home

When tourists come to visit Yuquot, they are greeted by 78-year-old Williams. And who better than someone who has spent all but one year of his life living on this land?

There was still a strong community living in Friendly Cove until 1966 when the federal government moved members of the Mowachaht and Muchalaht First Nations to a reserve in Gold River, B.C., on Vancouver Island, according to the Institute of Coastal and Oceans Research at the University of Victoria.

"The department of Indian Affairs...told our people 'we're going to move you,'" said Williams.

Along with his community, Williams left. But he didn't last long at the reserve.

"I didn't like it. It was just too stinky," said Williams of the Gold River pulp mill where he worked.

He moved back to Yuquot a year later.

"I've been here since," said Williams.

Today, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations operate a few rental cabins, a small cultural centre inside the Catholic church that was built there in 1956, and summer tours.

Ray Williams stands behind a totem pole that rests only a few metres from his front door on Friendly Cove/Yuquot. (Grant Lawrence/CBC News)

Maquinna and John Jewitt

Yuquot is probably most famous for the story of Chief Maquinna, from the Nootka First Nations tribe, known today as Mowachaht, and the enslavement of English armourer John Jewitt in 1803.

As Jewitt later recounted in his memoir, the day before his ship, Boston, was set to depart Nootka Island, Maquinna and his tribe attacked and killed all except for Jewitt and another man.

Jewitt then lived as a slave with the Nootka until he was rescued in 1805. 

His memoir went on to become one of the biggest sources of information on Indigenous life on North America's Pacific Northwest coast.

But Williams says the memoir paints a lopsided picture.

"The stories that are written about our people are totally wrong," he said. "It was never ever told in our version, our way of telling the story.

"Our history is so strong...and I totally believe in that."

By staying in Yuquot, Williams hopes to clarify the narrative.

You can listen to the full interview below;

North By Northwest guest host Grant Lawrence speaks with the last Mowachaht man living in Yuquot, the place where Captain James Cook first stepped foot on what would eventually become British Columbia. 11:36

With files from Grant Lawrence