First employed as an interpreter for Commissioner Israel Powell in 1879, George Hunt greatly assisted photographer Edward S. Curtis with the filming of In the Land of the Head-Hunters, serving as Curtis' staging director, costume supplier and casting director from 1911 to 1914.

More importantly, George Hunt worked for 45 years as an informant and translator for the anthropologist Franz Boas, supplying artifacts and stories from 1888 until Hunt's death at Fort Rupert in September of 1933. Although Hunt is seldom credited as an author, the vast majority of Franz Boas' work based on Kwak'wala-language research, such as Kwakiutl Texts (1905 & 1906), was derived directly from Hunt's writing.

In 1910 Boas asserted his authority with a preface that stated, "The following series of Kwakiutl tales was collected by me on various journeys to British Columbia. In Volumes III and X of the Publications of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition I have published a considerable number of myths written down by Mr. George Hunt of Fort Rupert, B.C., who speaks Kwakiutl as his native language.

"These tales were written under my direction, and the language was revised by me phonetically, the text being dictated to me in part by Mr. Hunt, in part by other natives. Since all the texts contained in the Publications of the Jesup Expedition have been written down by the same individual, they present a certain uniformity of diction. In order to overcome this, I collected during the work of the Jesup Expedition, as well as at other times, tales from the lips of natives, and these present the necessary control material for checking the reliability of the language and form of the tales recorded by Mr. Hunt."

George Hunt's father Robert Hunt was a fur trader who arrived from England around 1830. In keeping with the Hudson's Bay Company policy of encouraging employees to marry into the families of Aboriginal chiefs, when convenient, Robert Hunt met and married Ansnaq, the Tlingit daughter of Chief Tongass, on the southern Alaska coast, and she became known as Mary Ebbetts Hunt. She belonged to the Raven phatry of Tongas. The couple moved to Fort Rupert on Vancouver Island where Robert Hunt bought out the Hudson's Bay Company post and inhabited the company headquarters, a log building with two fireplaces. There George Hunt was born on February 14, 1854. He was raised among the Kwakiutl, not the Tlingit, but his mother retained some of her Tlingit traditions as a weaver of Chilkat blankets. She refused to teach the local Kwakiutl women how to make the blankets, some of which were photographed for posterity and remain in museums. Her descendants include the carvers Henry Hunt, Tony Hunt (who operated his own Arts of the Raven Gallery) and Richard Hunt.

George Hunt's most significant role as a go-between was a dubious one: it was George Hunt who purchased the Yuquot Whalers' Shrine or Washing House from two chiefs at Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound, for $500 in 1904. He had first seen the Whalers' Shrine in 1903. Following instructions from Boas in New York, Hunt dismantled the centuries-old Yuquot "temple"; located on a tiny island in Jewitt Lake, behind Yuquot and hastily packed 88 carved human figures for delivery to the American Museum of Natural History where Boas was a curator. Along with these carvings and the skulls of great whalers, Hunt sent 68 pages of narratives pertaining to the site.

Hunt had gained access to the sacred site by assuring the Mowachaht he was a shaman. After a sick Aboriginal was brought to Hunt and the man recovered, Hunt was granted permission to visit and photograph the wooden figures that puzzled early explorers such as James Cook in 1778 and Camille de Roquefeuil in 1817. More than any literate person before and probably since, George Hunt was able to glean some understanding of the shrine's spiritual power and the cultural significance of its ghostly figures. Hunt described the Yuquot Whalers' Shrine as "the best thing that I ever bought from the Indians."; Unfortunately for Hunt and history, Boas left the American Museum of Natural History in 1905 in the wake of some friction with its administrators. The intricate shrine was never re-assembled for public viewing. (In 1992, a documentary film crew brought Mowachaht band members to New York City to view the whalers' shrine in the museum's storeroom. This visit has given rise to a formal request by the Nuu-chah-nulth to have the relics returned to Yuquot, the ancestral summer home of Chief Maquinna.)

By 1910, Hunt's main employer, Franz Boas, had become suspicious that Hunt was using his acquisition budget "for purposes other than collecting";-such as potlatching. Even though he himself was a special constable, Hunt was once charged with, but acquitted of, violating a clause of the anti-potlatch law that prohibited the 'mutilation of human bodies.' Twice married to Kwakiutl wives, Hunt was intimate with the secret Hamatsa society rituals. Hunt was occasionally criticized by Boas as "unbelievably clumsy" and "hard to deal with" and "too lazy to use his brain" but such comments probably reveal more about Boas than his assistant. Other Aboriginal or Métis ethnographers in the burgeoning field of anthropology undoubtedly experienced similar condescension from their patrons. Some of Hunt's peers in this regard were James Beynon (Tsimshian), Francis La Flesche (Omaha), Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), J.N.B. Hewitt (Iroquois), Jesse Cornplanter (Seneca), Essie Parrish (Pomo), John Joseph Mathews (Osage), William Jones (Fox), James R. Murie (Pawnee) and Ella Deloria (a Yankton Sioux who was a student of Boas at Columbia University). Full-blooded Aboriginals who collected artifacts for study in B.C. included Henry Moody, Charles Edenshaw, Charles Nowell and Louis Shotridge.


Hunt, George & Franz Boas. Kwakiutl Texts (Leiden: E. J. Brill; New York: G. E. Stechert, 1905; New York: AMS Press, 1975).

Hunt, George & Franz Boas. Kwakiutl Texts: Second Series (Leiden: E. J. Brill; New York: G. E. Stechert, 1906; New York, AMS Press, 1975).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005]