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The American ind of the Northwest coastline traditionally lived on a narrow belt the Pacific coastland and also offshore islands. The Northwest Coast society area stretches from what is currently the southerly border that Alaska to northwestern California. The Pacific ocean is the west boundary. Come the east are the mountains of the Coast range and the Cascades. In numerous places the coastal hills or mountains fall steeply come a coast or riverbank. Numerous rains support dense, towering woodlands that space rich in animal life. This environment noted a riches of sources for the Indians.

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Traditional Culture

Peoples and also Languages


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The Northwest shore was densely lived in when Europeans an initial made landfall in the 1700s. It was residence to peoples speaking Athabaskan, Tshimshianic, Salishan, and other languages. Renowned tribes included the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), coast Salish, and Chinook.


Northwest coastline tribes had actually no pressing food problems. They might get lot of of fish, shellfish, and also even whales, seals, and porpoises native the sea and local rivers. The men constructed weirs (underwater enclosures) and traps to catch substantial hauls the salmon and also candlefish together they swam upstream come spawn. The women maintained a year supply the salmon by drying the fish end a smoky fire and also pressed the oil from candlefish. The ind used huge amounts of this oil, dipping dried foods into it at meals. Other necessary fish to be herring, smelt, cod, and halibut. People likewise dug clams follow me the beach and also smoked them just as they did salmon.

Northwest coastline peoples differed their fish-based diet through hunting and gathering. Households traveled to the mountains, where the men hunted deer, elk, mountain goat, and also bear. The women accumulated bulbs, roots, berries, and also seeds.

Settlements and Housing

Most groups constructed villages near waterways or the coast. Usually residence sites and settlements were restricted to narrow beaches or terraces since the land fell so steeply to the shore or riverbank.

Like various other hunting and also gathering peoples, Northwest coast Indians had seasonal settlements. Summer was the moment for catching and gathering food and processing it for winter storage. In this season a home usually had several bases of operation. The members separated themselves into little groups that moved between great fishing and also berry-picking sites. In the winter most human being lived in their kin group’s main building, i beg your pardon was usually in a village on the coast. Many villages had several such buildings, every one the residence base that a large extended household group. There was also at the very least one very huge structure in i beg your pardon the highest-ranking team lived and also where the town could organize a large potlatch, or celebration.

Northwest coast Indians made their homes with wood from the forests, typically red cedar. The buildings were rectangular and up to 100 feet (30.5 meters) long. The Indians developed a framework of cedar posts and also attached pink to type the walls and roof. The planks might be take away down, invited onto canoes, and moved native one website to another. Most houses had a main fire pit.

In northwestern California, at the southernmost limit of the society area, people constructed smaller houses for single-family use. This peoples likewise built a merged clubhouse and sweat lodge, which was the focus of masculine activity. These frameworks were common in the California society area come the south.



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Dress was fairly simple among Northwest coastline peoples. Return ceremonial garments and some hats can be highly decorated, most clothing was worn for protection from the setting rather 보다 for show. Throughout the region women wore skirts or gowns of buckskin, soft leather, or woven wool or tree fibers. Men’s dress varied from people to tribe however was in basic quite minimal—most guys wore nothing but ornaments on heat days. For security from the rain, they had actually cedar-bark raincoats and a brimmed hat. Winter garb had a robe or a blanket. People of high standing wore robes made of or edged v strips the sea otter fur and yarn make of the structure of hill goats. Salish teams near the Georgia Strait wove robes of mountain goat structure and also of structure from a distinct breed of shaggy dog. The blankets were made of cedar-bark fiber, mountain-goat wool, dogs’ hair, and feathers.

Both women and men customarily wore some mix of necklaces, earrings, nose rings, bracelets, and anklets. These to be made of various materials, greatly shells, copper, wood, and fur. Some world rubbed grease and ochre (an earthy iron ore) onto their skin to create a red color, often accented through black. Tattooing was additionally practiced.

Technology and Arts


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Woodworking to be the superior skill that the Northwest Coast. Timeless carving tools included adzes, mauls, wedges, chisels, drills, and also curved knives, all made that stone. Sharkskin was provided for sanding or polishing wooden items. Boatbuilders hollowed logs through fire to do the canoes they paddled in the streams too as large seagoing whaling canoes. Various other woodworkers steamed and bent planks to make boxes, tying the edges along with spruce roots. Some of these box were constructed to organize the vast winter stores of dried food. Rather were offered for cooking, which to be done by adding hot rocks to the food in the boxes. Other daily items do of wood contained spoons and also ladles, canoe bailers, trinket boxes, room pots, fishhooks, and also even the triggers of pet traps.

Many items do by the woodworkers were artistic and also functional. Dishes, for example, were periodically in the type of animals or monsters. Faces of animals, birds, and also people were sculpted on boxes, residence fronts, house posts, boats, and grave posts. Woodworkers made wood helmets and masks for ceremonial dances and also dramatic performances. Many spectacular that the artworks to be the totem or memorial pole.

Northwest craftsmen also had some aboriginal copper to work with. Lock made few of their arrowheads native it, and also copper knives for weapons of war. They engraved draft on a plaque, referred to as a “copper,” that offered in the ar of a valuable bank note. One well known copper was valued in ~ 7,500 blankets.

Another an excellent skill of the Northwest Indians was weaving. The ladies wove long, ribbonlike strands of inner cedar bark right into mats and also beautiful baskets. Warehouse containers, receptacles because that valuables big and small, and rain hats were likewise woven.



Edward S. Curtis Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. No. LC-USZ62-51435)

The social company of the Northwest coast Indians was unusual amongst hunting and gathering cultures. Most such peoples formed only tiny bands in which everyone was taken into consideration to be society equals. This plan helped lock to meet the food needs of the team as a whole. Top top the Northwest Coast, however, food to be plentiful. Less work was required to fulfill the demands of the population, and also there were food surpluses. These scenarios were similar to those of part farming societies, such together those of the Southeast society area. As in the Southeast, the Northwest coast peoples emerged a system of ranked social classes. Their course system of judgment elites, commoners, and slaves to be unique among nonagricultural societies.

Tribes often organized themselves right into groups dubbed “houses.” these were made up of a couple of dozen to 100 or an ext people who considered themselves to it is in related, though occasionally only distantly. They lived together for in ~ least component of the year and shared the civil liberties to certain resources, such as sites because that fishing, berry picking, and also hunting. Residence groups likewise held a variety of other privileges, consisting of the exclusive usage of specific names, songs, dances, and, particularly in the north, totemic representations or crests.

Within a home group, each member had a society rank that was established according to the individual’s degree of relatedness to a founding ancestor. The highest possible in rank hosted a distinct title the in each language was interpreted into English as “chief.” generally a guy or the widow of a previous chief, this leader determined plenty of of the patterns of everyday life—when to relocate to the salmon-fishing site, as soon as to construct weirs and traps, when to do the an initial catch, i m sorry other groups should be invited to feasts, and so on.

In theory, world of high location had substantial powers. However, due to the fact that a residence group’s home was hosted in common, every adults other than slaves can voice your opinions on team affairs. Many leaders avoided abusing various other members that the house and community—not only were castle kin, however the chief additionally needed their cooperation to achieve even the most an easy tasks. Because that example, many solid arms and sturdy backs were essential to acquire, assemble, and also position the heavy materials forced to construct or repair a house.

Slaves, however, had couple of or no rights of participation in house group decisions. Lock usually had been recorded in childhood and taken or traded so far from your original houses that they had small hope of finding their way back. They were property and could be traded away, married, killed, or freed at their owner’s whim. A typical house team owned at the very least one slave but rarely more than a dozen.

The social standing of every member of a house group was hereditary but was not instantly assumed at birth. Such things had to it is in formally and publicly announced at a potlatch, an occasion sponsored by each group north of the Columbia River. The term originates from the trade jargon used throughout the region and method “to give.” A potlatch constantly involved the invite of another house (or houses), who members were obtained with good formality as guests and also witnesses of the event. Potlatches were used to note a wide variety of occasions, including marriages, the structure of a house, and also the funerals the chiefs.

Having observed the proceedings, the guests were provided gifts and also served a feast. The society statuses the the hosts and also guests were affirmed v the potlatch. Such events were really expensive come sponsor, which reflected the rank of the hosts. Gifts were spread according come the standing of each guest, through the more splendid gifts given to the guests of highest possible status. Whether hosting or acting as guests in ~ a potlatch, every members the a residence usually participated in the proceedings. This served to strengthen everyone’s identification through his or she group.

An interesting element of Northwest Coast society was the focus on teaching etiquette, ethical standards, and other society traditions. Every culture has processes whereby children are taught the behavior proper to their future roles, but often such to teach is not a officially process. ~ above the Northwest Coast, however, were instructed formally. This instruction started at period when were still in their cradles or toddling, and all elder relatives, an especially grandparents, participated in it. born to high status were offered formal instruction throughout childhood and also adolescence. They had actually to find out not only routine etiquette but likewise the prolonged traditions the went along with their rank, consisting of special rituals, songs, and also prayers.


The religious beliefs of the Northwest coast had several principles in common. One was that salmon were mythological beings that voluntarily took the kind of fish each year in order to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of humankind. On being caught, this spirit-beings returned to their house beneath the sea. There they to be reincarnated if your bones or innards were went back to the water. If offended, however, they would certainly refuse to return to the river. Thus the indians prohibited acts that were thought to offend the spirit-beings and also held a variety of ceremonies to gain their goodwill. Chief among them was the first-salmon ceremony. This rite affiliated honoring the very first salmon that the fishing season through sprinkling them v eagle down, red ochre, or some other sacred substance and welcoming castle in a official speech. Then the indians cooked the salmon and distributed your flesh, or morsels that it, to every the members of the group and any guests.

Another religious concept top top the Northwest shore was the accomplishment of personal power by seeking call with a spirit-being. Such call usually came v a supernatural experience called a vision quest, i m sorry typically involved isolation and also fasting. Among Coast Salish all success in life—whether in hunting, woodworking, accumulating wealth, armed forces ventures, or magic—was granted by spirit-beings encountered in the vision quest. From this spirits each person gained special symbols, songs, and also dances. Take away together, the dances constituted the major ceremonies that the Northwest coastline peoples. Well-known as the heart dances, they were performed during the winter months.

Shamans provided supernatural strength to cure the sick and also to recover souls that strayed from their bodies. It was commonly thought that part shamans had actually the power to cause illnesses and also to cure them. Witchcraft was provided to death others or to make them ill and was thought to be lugged out by malicious persons with knowledge of an enig rituals.

European call and social Change

The Tlingit to be the very first Northwest coast Indians to conference Europeans, once Russian traders arrived in Tlingit region in 1741. The Russians go not establish a short article in the an ar until 1799 and then just after boil resistance. Spain sent parties to the Haida in 1774, Britain come the Nuu-chah-nulth in 1778, and the United says to various groups in around 1800.

The colonizers sought sea otter pelts, i m sorry were an especially dense and also highly prized in China. Although the Russians required Aleut guys to hunting sea otters because that them, lock traded v Northwest shore peoples because that furs and also food. In exchange they lugged manufactured goods, such together steel blades, come the tribes. Some aboriginal peoples profited significantly from this trade. The Tlingit sold large quantities that fish, game, and potatoes to the commerce posts. The Tsimshian and others gained regulate of major trade routes, demanding fees for passage and also vessel rental. Still other groups hired out their slaves as prostitutes or laborers.

Beginning in the 1840s the Northwest coastline tribes faced a flood of inhabitants from the eastern joined States and also Canada. In the United claims this occupation to be accompanied through the remove of the people to tiny reservations in what are currently Washington and also Oregon. Missionaries taught the ind not only Christianity but likewise etiquette, punctuality, and other aspects of the leading culture. Classic ceremonies, such as the potlatch and spirit dancing, were banned in Canada because that decades. In addition, the officially schooling the native children was in the hand of missionaries on much of the coastline for numerous decades.

From the late 1700s through the 1800s the many disruptive occasions for Northwest shore peoples to be epidemics of conditions such as smallpox and also measles. Having no immune to these illnesses, the indians suffered really high death rates. The is estimated that between 1780 and 1900 the native populace in the region declined by as lot as 80 percent.

In the late 1800s the fur trade collapsed, and Northwest coastline peoples struggled economically. Having lost many of your lands and increasingly dependency upon manufactured goods, they needed to develop new sources of income. Some people started working because that wages, other that many other indigenous American peoples refused come do. At first jobs were mostly restricted to guiding prospectors, backpacking cargo over hill passes, cutting wood for coastal steamers, and also working as farm and domestic labor. Yet as soon as the box salmon industry developed, wage job boomed. Through their substantial knowledge that the ar salmon, aboriginal men and also women had a clear benefit in the fishing industry. Part Indians, regularly of high society status, developed their own businesses; they typically employed, fed, or otherwise aided the lower-status members the their house group. Fishing proceeds to be a mainstay of the region’s economy.

Having maintained a high level of financial independence contrasted to other aboriginal American groups, Northwest coast peoples to be able come organize fairly effectively against government interference. Beginning in 1912 the Tlingit, Haida, and also other tribes in southeastern Alaska produced political groups dubbed Native Brotherhoods and, later, indigenous Sisterhoods to act on instead of of the people in legal and other proceedings. Similar groups were subsequently developed in coastal British Columbia. These institutions pursued a variety of legal tactics to certain equal therapy under the law. Very early success was the 1915 i of one act granting territorial citizenship to aboriginal Alaskans who met specific requirements.

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Later in the 20th century these groups filed a number of successful antidiscrimination lawsuits and land claims. In the United says the land claims led to the Alaska Native cases Settlement act of 1971. This action turned over part 44 million acres (17.8 million hectares) of soil and nearly 1 billion dollars to indigenous Alaskans. The Canadian establishments brought around the repeal, in 1951, of regulations prohibiting potlatches and the filing of floor claims. After plenty of years that discussion, the provincial government of brothers Columbia agreed in 1990 come negotiate lack land cases through a body known as the brother Columbia treaty Commission. However, the negotiation procedure was painstaking, and progress was slow.