Northwest Coast Indians

Noted for their relative wealth, the Northwest Coast Indians inhabited the area extending from Alaska to California. Many Northwest Coast Indians were from other places and settled in this area because it was rich in natural resources. Some Northwest coast Indians lived on the coast, whereas other lived further inland.

By the 1750s, there were as many as 100,000 Pacific Northwest Indians. They lived in longhouses, which were very large dwellings made of curved branches with hides on top. Often, Northwest Indians lived in these houses with their extending family, sometimes numbering as many as 30 or 40 people. Earthen floors were covered with woven mats which were also used as dividers between families. In front of the long houses were totem poles carved from a tree trunk. These totem poles told a visitor which families lived in the longhouse and who their leader was.

In spite of the fact that many Northwest Coast Indians inhabited colder regions, they wore little clothing, and often went barefoot, except when they set out on long journies. The men wore fur hats and rain capes to protect them from the weather. They also wore robes and breeches. The men tattoed their arms for calculating dentalium shells, which were used as currency by Northwest Coast Indians. The women wore fringed cedar bark or hide skirts and basket hats. Although the women did not tattoo their arms for measuring currency, they often tattoed their chins.

Fish, large and small game, berries and nuts were the main staples of the Northwest Coast Indians. Few went fishing in the ocean because of the danger, but many built canoes and rafts out of hallowed trees. Northwest Coast Indians had a complex social structure, and even had slaves, which were considered status symbols. They also held gift-giving parties to share their wealth, and were often quite prosperous in their farming and trade activities.

Joseph Paige 2006

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