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Hydah Indian Manners, Relations, and Slavery

The Indian generally, is an ill-mannered brute, who steals into your presence without warning, handles whatever he sees without permission, smokes if you allow it, and seldom, especially if a middle-aged or old woman, leaves you without begging a potlatch. He exhibits very little deferential respect for his superiors, seldom expresses gratitude for favors, and more rarely does them without expecting compensation. At their homes, however, there is much to be commended in their conduct. There they are generally quiet and peaceable, converse in low tones, and treat their children with kindness. There is a noticeable difference in favor of the deportment of those Hydas of Massett and Skidegate who have come under the influence of missionary training.

Domestic Relations

The Hydas generally enter the marriage state in early youth, the females frequently between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Matches are often arranged by the parents before the children are old enough to choose for themselves. In such cases when of suitable age, the young man and woman begin to live together without other ceremony than a mutual agreement and understanding between them and their relatives, and the bestowal of presents and dowry upon the bride. When the parties make their own selections, which is now oftenest done, and the young man falls in love, he tells his mother, who goes to the mother of his sweetheart, (ka-ta-dha,) and makes a declaration of her son's affection for and desire to marry the girl. If the proposal is favorably received, the parents and friends of the groom assemble at an appointed time at the house of the bride's parents, where, all sitting around the fire, the good qualities of the young man are praised by his friends to the father of the girl. She is present, also, and if satisfied after listening to all the gracious words in favor of her intended, she rises from her place, goes and sits down beside her lover, and taking his hand in hers the ceremony is complete. Among those Hydas who profess Christianity, marriage is solemnized by a ceremony, at which a missionary or Justice of the Peace officiates, the same as among the whites, and other unions are not regarded as binding. Polygamy was formerly much practised, especially by the chiefs, who took young women for their wives as often as they desired them, but none of the natives, so far as my obervation extended, now have more than one wife. Married women are generally well treated, and instead of being mere menial servants as frequently represented, they oftener carry the purse than the men, and have an equal voice in the management of family affairs. Indeed, the only domestic unpleasantness which I witnessed were cases of young wives vigorously asserting authority over the "old man." The marriage relation has, however, undergone a radical change since so many females, from their own earnings, not only bring most of the money into the household, but frequently support the men in idleness.


Slavery has existed among the Hydas, as with the other native races, from the earliest times. Until a comparatively recent period they were always at war with some of the coast tribes, and, being generally victorious, made many captives, whom they held in bondage, usually attached to the household of the conquering chief, who became their absolute owner and master, even to ordering their sacrifice, which has occurred on many occasions. A slave, (elaidi), was formerly valued at from one hundred and fifty to two hundred blankets, but now, though there are still a number upon the island, they are no longer bought and sold, but enjoy unrestrained freedom. Many prefer to remain with or near their former masters and render service for food and protection--especially men--rather than return to their native villages and endure the disgrace and taunts for having been overcome in battle. Several white men have been captured and held as slaves by the Hydas within the last thirty years.

Official Report of the Exploration of the Queen Charlotte Islands for the Government Of British Columbia, 1884


Hydah Indians

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