Coast Salish

Coast Salish

Coast Salish refers to a cultural or ethnographic designation of a subgroup of the First Nations or Native American cultures in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon who speak one of the Coast Salish languages. Although the Nuxalk (Bella Coola) are included ethnographically, their language is not classified linguistically as a Coast Salish language. Coast Salish languages are part of the Salishan language family but there is no one language or people named "Coast Salish".

The Peoples

Below is a list of the tribes and nations located in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
* Nuxalk
* Comox
* Klahoose
* Sliammon
* Homalco
* Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo)
* Shishalh (Sechelt)
* Sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish)
* Tsleil-Waututh (Burrard)
* Musqueam
* Tsawwassen
** Kwantlen
** Katzie
** Matsqui
**Shxwhá:y (Skway) []
* Quw’utsun (Khowutzun, Cowichan)
** Quamichan (Kw’amutsun)
** Somena (S’amuna’)
** Comiaken (Qwum’yiqun’)
** Koksilah (Hwulqwselu)
** Clemclemaluts (L’uml’umuluts)
** Khenipsen (Hinupsum)
** Kilpahlas (Tl’ulpalus)
* Penelakut
* Lamalcha
* Saanich (WSANEC)
** Pauquachin (BOḰEĆEN)
** Tsawout (ȾÁ,UTW̱)
** Tsartlip (W̱JOȽEȽP)
** Tseycum (W̱SÍKEM)
* Songhees (Lekwungen)
* Esquimalt SXIMEȽEȽ)
* Lummi (Lhaq'temish)

* Malahat (MÁLEXE?)
* Semiahmoo (SEMYOME)
* T’sou-ke (Sooke)
* Sammamish (Sʔabš)
* Qualicum
* Pentlatch (extinct)
* Nooksack (Noxws'a7aq)
* Klallam
** Elwha
** Port Gamble
** Jamestown
** Becher Bay
* Upper Skagit
* Lower Skagit (Whidbey Island Skagits)
* Suiʔaẋbixw
* Snohomish (Sduhubš)
* Duwamish (Dkhw'Duw'Absh)
* Xacuabš
* Snoqualmie (Sduqwalbixw)
* Sacakałəbš
* Suquamish (Suqwabš)
* Nisqually (Sqwaliʔabš)
* Muckleshoot (Bəpubšł)
* Puyallup (Spuyaləqəlpubšut)
* Sawhewamish (Sʔəhiwʔabš)
* Squaxin
* Skokomish (Twana)
* Cowlitz (Kawlic - Lower Cowwlitz only, Upper are Sahaptian)
* Tulalip (dxwlilap)
* Quinault
* Siletz
* Nehalem (Tillamook)


The following is a provisional list of historical events, primarily from an American perspective. Coast Salish peoples in British Columbia have had similar economic experience, although their political and treaty experience has been different—occasionally dramatically so:
*c. 9,000–8,000 BCE: Evidence of established settlement
*6th century CE: Prominent villages along the Duwamish River estuary, for example. These remained continuously inhabited until sometime in the later 18th century.) [Dailey), map icon 33, Dailey reference 2, 9, 10.]
*15th century: Construction of boulder walls for defensive and other purposes along the Frasier River canyon (Kisha Supernant (2008), unpublished dissertation titled "Landscapes of Conflict: The rise of defensive sites among the Coast Salish ").
*1792: Brief contact with the Vancouver expedition by the Sḵwxwú7mesh and others.
*1810s: Coastal fur trade with infrequent ships extends south from farther north.
*1810s through 1850s: raiding by northern peoples, esp Euclataws and Haida, of Georgia Strait-Puget Sound Salish peoples.
*1824: John Work and party of the HBC traveled the length of the central and south Georgia Strait-Puget Sound.
*1827: HBC Fort Langley established east of present-day Vancouver, B.C. Contact and trade began accelerating significantly, primarily with the northern and north-central Coast Salish.
*1833: Fort Nisqually and its farm established by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company a subsidiary of the HBC, between present-day Olympia and Tacoma, Washington. Contact and trade began accelerating significantly with the southern Coast Salish. Significant social change and change in social structures accelerates with increasing contact. Initiative remained with Native traders until catastraphic population decline. Native traders and Native economy were not particularly interested or dependent upon European trade or tools. Trade goods were primarily luxuries such as trade blankets, ornamentation, guns and ammunition. The HBC monopoly did not condone alcohol, but freebooter traders were under no compunction. [(1) Suttle & Lane (1990) p. 489
(2) Although Hudson's Bay and Pendleton blankets have retained a widely-renowned cachet to the present day.
*1839–40: Catholic missionaries arrive in Puget Sound country. 1841–43: Interest diminishes. 1840–42: Methodist missionaries arrive, have no success at all.
*1840–on: Missionaries. In the United States, churches divided territory among themselves by the federal Peace Policy of 1869.Fact|date=March 2007
*1854-55: Treaties. Reservations. Some tribes do not participate and others dropped out of treaty negotiations. (See, for example, Treaty of Point Elliott #Native Americans and # Non-signatory tribes.)
*The Muckleshoot Reservation is established after the Indian War of 1855–56.
*1850s–60s: Traditional resources are less and less available. Sawmill work and employment selling natural resources begins and continues; Native men work as loggers, in the mills, and as commercial fishers. Women sell basketry, shellfish, and make other adjustments.
*1870s: Agricultural work in hopyards of the east Sound river valleys grows, even mushrooms.Suttle & Lane (1990), pp. 499–500]
*1880s: White-Indian demographics shift dramatically. Commercial fisheries employment begins to decline significantly.
*1885: After legislation amending the Indian Act was passed the previous year, the potlatch is banned in Canada, effective January 1, 1885 and in the U.S. some years later. [ [ ConfiscationAn Incident in History] ]
*1934 (U.S.), 1951 (Canada): Official suppression of the potlatch ends. Some potlatching becomes overt immediately, and a renaissance follows. [Cole & Chaikin (1990)]
*1960s: Renaissance of tribal culture and national civil rights engenders civil action for treaty rights.
*1960s–1970s: Employment in commercial fisheries has greatly declined; employment in logging and lumber mills declines significantly with automation, outsourcing, and the decline in available resources through the 1980s.
*1974, Supreme Court upheld 1979: The Boldt Decision, based on the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 restores fisheries rights to federally recognized Puget Sound tribes:

"The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory,"
In implementation, this means half the catch, at sustainable levels by subsequent negotiations.
*1970s–present: Many federally recognized tribes develop some economic autonomy with (initially strongly contested) tax-free tobacco retail, development of casino gambling, fisheries and stewardship of fisheries. Extant tribes not federally recognized continue ongoing legal proceedings and cultural development toward recognition. [See also Treaty of Point Elliott #Context and, for example, Duwamish (tribe) #Recent history]


Among losses due to diseases, a smallpox epidemic broke out among the Northwest tribes in 1862, killing roughly half the affected native populations. Documentation in archives and historical epidemiology demonstrates that governmental policies furthered the progress of this epidemic among the natives, and did little or nothing about the waves of other introduced epidemics. Mean population decline 1774–1874 was about 66%. [(1) Lange, Essay 5171)
(2) Boyd (1999)
(2.1) A smallpox vaccine was discovered in 1801. Russian Orthohox missionaries were an exception to general policy, vaccinating at-risk Native populations in what is now SE Alaska and NW British Columbia. [Boyd]

*Pre-epidemics about 12,600; Lushootseed about 11,800, Twana about 800.
*1850: about 5,000.
*1885 less than 2,000, probably not including all the off-reservation populations.
*1984: sum total about 18,000; Lushootseed census 15,963, Twana 1,029.


Social organization


Neighboring groups, whether villages or adjacent tribes, were related by marriage, feasting, ceremonies, and common or shared territory. Ties were especially strong within the same waterway or watershed. There existed no breaks throughout the south Coast Salish culture area and beyond. There existed no formal political institutions. [cite encyclopedia | last =Suttles | first =Wayne P. | coauthors =Lane, Barbara | editor =Sturtevant, William C. | encyclopedia =Handbook of North American Indians | title =South Coast Salish | publisher =Smithsonian Institution | volume =7, Northwest coast |pages =486-7| location =Washington|date =1990| accessdate =2007-06-19 ]

External relations were extensive throughout most of the Puget Sound-Georgia Basin and east to the Sahaptin-speaking lands of Chelan, Kittitas and Yakama in what is now Eastern Washington.

There was little political organization.cite web
last =
first =
coauthors =
date =2003-07-04 per [ "Native Art of the Northwest Coast: Collection Insight"]
year =
month =
url =
title ="The people and their land"
work ="Puget Sound Native Art and Culture"
publisher =Seattle Art Museum
accessdate =2006-04-21
] No formal political office existed. Warfare for the southern Coast Salish was primarily defensive, with occasional raiding into territory where there were no relatives. No institutions existed for mobilizing or maintaining a standing force.

The real enemies of all the Coast Salish for most of the first half of the 19th century were the Lekwiltok Kwakiutl ("Kwakwaka'wakw"). With earlier access to guns with the fur trade, they raided for slaves and loot. Organized retaliatory raids from several tribes were raised several times.Suttle & Lane (1990), pp. 495–7]


The highest-ranking male assumed the role of ceremonial leader but rank could vary and was determined by different standards. Villages were linked to others through intermarriage; the wife usually went to live at the husband's village. Society was divided into upper class, lower class and slaves, all largely hereditary. Nobility was based on genealogy, intertribal kinship, wise use of resources, and possession of esoteric knowledge about the workings of spirits and the world — making an effective marriage of class, secular, religious, and economic power. Many Coast Salish mothers altered the appearance of their free-born by carefully shaping the heads of their babies, binding them with cradle boards just long enough to produce a steep sloping forehead. [Miller (1996)]

Unlike hunter-gatherer societies widespread in North America, but similar to other Pacific Northwest coastal cultures, Coast Salish society was complex, hierarchical and oriented toward property and status.

Slavery was widespread. [Donald (1997)] The Coast Salish held slaves as simple property and not as members of the tribe. The children of slaves themselves became slaves.Fact|date=February 2007

The staple of their diet was typically salmon, supplemented with a rich variety of other seafoods and forage, particularly for the southern Coast Salish where the climate was even more temperate.Suttle & Lane (1990), pp. 488–9]

The art of the Coast Salish has become a popular idiom for modern art in British Columbia and the Puget Sound area.Fact|date=February 2007


Games often involved gambling on a sleight-of-hand game known as slahal, as well as athletic contests. Games that are similar to modern day lacrosse, rugby and forms of martial arts also existed. [Pathways of the Past: A look at the history and organization of the Squamish people. Community archive of the Sḵwxwú7mesh Pg. 4]


Belief in guardian spirits and transmutation between human and animal were widely shared in myriad forms. The relations of soul or souls, the lands of the living and the dead, were complex and mutable. Vision quest journeys involving other states of consciousneess were varied and widely practiced. The Duwamish had a soul recovery and journey ceremony.and legends


Villages of the Coast Salish typically consisted of Western Red Cedar split plank and earthen floor longhouses providing habitation for forty or more people, usually a related extended family. Also used by many groups were pit-houses, known in the Chinook Jargon as "kekuli" (see Quiggly holes). The villages were typically located near navigable water for easy transportation by dugout canoe. Houses that were part of the same village sometimes stretched for several miles along a river or watercourse.

The interior walls of longhouses were typically lined with sleeping platforms. Storage shelves above the platforms held baskets, tools, clothing, and other items. Firewood was stored below the platforms. Mattresses and cushions were constructed woven reed mats and animals skins. Food was hung to dry from the ceiling. The larger houses included partitions to separate families, as well as interior fires with roof slats that functioned as chimneys.Fact|date=February 2007

The wealthy built extraordinarily large longhouses. The Suquamish Oleman House (Old Man House) at what became the Port Madison Reservation was 152 x 12–18 m (500 x 40–60 ft), c. 1850. The gambrel roof was unique to Puget Sound Coast Salish.Suttle & Lane (1990), p. 491]

The Salish later took to constructing rock walls at strategic points along the Frasier River, as investigated by Kisha Supernant (2008). These have been hypothesised to be primarily defensive, but also for fishing and terracing purposes.


Provisionally, this is primarily southern Coast Salish, though much is in common with Coast Salish overall.

Anthropogenic grasslands were maintained. The south Coast Salish may have had more vegetables and land game than people farther north or on the outer coast. Fish and salmon were staples. There was "kakanee", a freshwater fish in the Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish watersheds. Shellfish were abundant. Butter clams, horse clams, and cockles were dried for trade.

Hunting was specialized; professions were probably sea hunters, land hunters, fowlers. Water fowl were captured on moonless nights using strategic flares.

The managed grasslands not only provided game habitat, but vegetable sprouts, roots, bulbs, berries, and nuts were foraged from them as well as found wild. The most important were probably bracken and camas; wapato especially for the Duwamish. Many, many varieties of berries were foraged; some were harvested with comblike devices not reportedly used elsewhere. Acorns were relished but were not widely available. Regional tribes went in autumn to the Nisqually Flats (Nisqually plains) to harvest them. Indeed, the regionswas so abundant that the southern Puget Sound as a whole had one of the only sedentary hunter-gatherer societies that has ever existed.Fact|date=March 2007

See also

* Interior Salish
* Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast


* Amoss, Pamela. "Coast Salish Spirit Dancing: The Survival of an Ancestral Religion". Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978. ISBN 0295955864
* Blanchard, Rebecca, and Nancy Davenport. "Contemporary Coast Salish Art". Seattle: Stonington Gallery, 2005.
* Porter, Frank W. "The Coast Salish Peoples". New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. ISBN 1555467016
* Pugh, Ellen, and Laszlo Kubinyi. "The Adventures of Yoo-Lah-Teen: A Legend of the Salish Coastal Indians". New York: Dial Press, 1975. ISBN 0803763182


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