The term ‘Penelakut’ is used to refer to all the Hul’qumi’num people who, at one time or another, have lived on Kuper Island. Historically, there were three permanent winter villages on Kuper Island: at Penelakut Spit, Telegraph Harbour, and Lamalchi Bay. There were also villages at Chemainus Harbour and on Galiano Island.
Penelakut Spit extends off the northeast end of Kuper Island, and was the site of the largest Hul’qumi’num village on the Gulf Islands. Penelakut comes from the Hul’qumi’num name for this place, penálaxeth’, which means ‘log buried on the beach’ (perhaps a reference to houses being partly buried by sand on the beach).
This village had fifteen or more large houses on the beach, located almost at sea level in the area just to the south of the spit. As noted earlier, Indian Land Commissioner Gilbert Malcolm Sproat visited this village in 1877, describing it as looking like “one long house, 3 or 400 yards in length, but in reality it is divided into 15 large compartments” (Sproat 1877).
Telegraph Harbour on the northwest coast of Kuper Island was the site of another Penelakut winter village. The Hul’qumi’num name for this place is yexweló7es, meaning ‘place with eagles.’ This area had abundant food sources, including beach foods such as clams, cockles, oysters, sea urchins, and crabs (Rozen 1985, 94-95).
Today, this is the site of the ferry landing and the Kuper Island Residential School (now abandoned). Rozen (1985, 95-96) reports that the residents at Telegraph Harbour were amalgamated with residents of Penelakut Spit by 1916 for the purposes of administration by Indian Agents and others.
The third winter village on Kuper Island was at Lamalchi Bay, on the southwest coast. ‘Lamalchi’ is the anglicized version of the Hul’qumi’num name for this place, xwlemálhtse meaning ‘lookout place’ and residents of this village were referred to as the ‘Lamalchis’. According to Rozen (1985, 97), this site has not been occupied since the early part of the 20th Century, when the residents were amalgamated with residents at the Penelakut Spit village.
In his book The Terror of the Coast, Chris Arnett (1999) describes the conflict between Lamalchis and the colonial authorities during the 1860s. In pursuit of a number of Lamalchi believed responsible for the murder of two white settlers, the colonial authorities shelled the village and subsequently seized several Lamalchi suspects.
These suspects were brought to trial in Victoria, found guilty (in a trial widely regarded as a miscarriage of justice) and promptly executed. In an effort to punish and subdue the Lamalchi, the village was destroyed and in 1864 Sir James Douglas (Governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island) forbade any settlement on this site.
There was a Penelakut winter village at Bare Point, near Chemainus Bay and just south of the town of Chemainus (close to where the Chemainus Sawmill is now situated). This village, called sén’ewináts, probably had four or five houses at one time, but the residents eventually were forced to move to Kuper Island (Rozen 1985, 121).
Penelakut elders speak of the residents of this village being forcibly moved to Kuper Island in the early part of the 20th Century. This move remains a sore point in the history of the Penelakut people. Finally, there was a Penelakut village at the Virago Point-Race Point area in Porlier Pass, on the northern tip of Galiano Island (site of the current Indian Reserve, Galiano Island No. 9).
This village was named xínepsem (meaning ‘caught by the neck’ or ‘caught in the neck’). This was a small village, with only a few permanent houses, and mostly occupied during summer months for food gathering purposes. As noted earlier, this village was linked to the Cowichan village at Green Point, which has the same name.