Salish Tribe


Indigenous people of North America, the Salish group is composed of many tribes residing in Canada, Washington and Oregon, including the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Squamish, Tulalip, as well as other distant tribes residing in Montana.The city of Seattle is named after one of their great chiefs.
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Chronology



Location


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If you were to follow along the shores of Puget Sound, starting in Whatcom County in the northeast corner, and moving clockwise around the Sound, the 19 different Puget Salish tribes would be found in the following counties:
Whatcom County – Lummi, Nooksack
Skagit County – Skagit, Samish, Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattle (straddles border with Snohomish County)
Snohomish County – Tulalip, Snohomish, Sauk-Suiattle (straddles border with Skagit County – near to Darrington)
King County – Duwamish (Seattle area), Snoqualmie (eastern King Co.), Muckleshoot (southern King Co., near Auburn), Sammamish (considered an eastern sub-group of Duwamish)
Pierce County – Puyallup, Nisqually
Thurston County - Sahewamish Mason County – Twana (Skokomish), Squaxin Island
Kitsap County – Suquamish, Klallam (one band of the tribe)
Clallam County – Jamestown S’Klallam (just east of Sequim)

Language



Salishan languages, twenty-three in all, were widely spoken in the Pacific Northwest before Whites arrived in force in the 1800s. The Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribes were allies of the neighboring Nez Perce and Kootenai tribes, and enemies of the Blackfeet.
Salishan languages, twenty-three in all, were widely spoken in the Pacific Northwest before Whites arrived in force in the 1800s. The Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribes were allies of the neighboring Nez Perce and Kootenai tribes, and enemies of the Blackfeet.


The Salish people shared a common tongue known as Lushootseed, or Whulshootheed, a language which belongs to the Salishan family. It is one of the more than twenty Salish languages that have been spoken by Native peoples in an area from the Pacific coast east to western Montana, and from Oregon north to central British Columbia. Lushootseed has been spoken in Washington State;s Puget Sound region, where it has been roughly divided into two regional variants: Northern, traditionally spoken by members of the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skagit and Sauk-Suiattle peoples, and Southern, spoken by the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Steilacoom, Suquamish, Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually and Sahewamish peoples. Lushootseed derives from two words, one meaning "salt water" and the other meaning "language," and refers to the common language, made up of many local dialects, that were spoken throughout the region.


Social Organization and Government


Salish society was organized through a class system, which included: the wealthy, high birth families who sponsored feasts and ceremonies, the less wealthy families, or common people, and the salves, captured from neighboring tribes. Villages were settled by households: the head of the most established household was the chief of the village and their position was one of wealth, not power.Several extended families, related by marriage, comprised a household. Marriage was arranged by families usually between different villages.

Clothing


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Traditionally, clothing was made from various materials found in their region such as grasses, the wool of mountain goats and the fur of dogs. In hot weather, men wore breechcloths made of animal skins or woven grass. During the winter months, they added animal skin or woven cedar shirts and leggings. Women typically wore skirts paired with capes of woven cedar strips. Even during the winter months, people often walked barefoot.


Puget Sound Salish Indian couple
Puget Sound Salish Indian couple


Europeans began arriving in the Puget Sound in 1792. Following their arrival, diseases as well as woven clothing, wool and other important trade goods were quickly adopted into Salish communities.

Diet and Food Sources


The Salish diet is and always was incredibly diverse thanks to the abundance of food. Ranging from salmon and huckleberries to butter clams and wild game, the Puget Salish sustained themselves by hunting deer, elk, as well as other game animals. Salmon was a staple food that Salish people could catch enough of during the salmon run to feed themselves for the whole winter. Aside from salmon they fished for other saltwater and freshwater fish, and dug for shellfish, and gathered berries and wild plants for food as well as medicinal purposes.

Shelter


Picture courtesy of BC Archives, call number D00692 "Quamichan village".  The shed-style longhouses of this Central Coast Salish village (c.1865) are similar, though smaller, than those usually built further south, around Puget Sound. [This image slightly cropped from original]
Picture courtesy of BC Archives, call number D00692 "Quamichan village". The shed-style longhouses of this Central Coast Salish village (c.1865) are similar, though smaller, than those usually built further south, around Puget Sound. [This image slightly cropped from original]


The house was the center of Salish community. Like most traditional villages in northwest Native tribes, Salish communities were made up of one or more large, rectangular houses. There cedar structures could reach five hundred feet in length and served as home to extended families or to groups related by marriage, under the leadership of an individual with enough wealth and accomplishment to be accepted as leader for a house, village, or region. However, if the owner of the house died, it was often burnt to the ground for fear of the owner's spirit haunting the family if they remained in the house. Typically these large dwellings had shelves for beds made of cattail and blankets of wool (introduced by European settlers.) Animal skins extended down each long wall and a row of cooking fires occupied the center of the floor. These homes were also workshops where fishing and hunting gear was constructed and mended, where canoe carvers worked on the beach just outside, and where weavers and basket makers created beautiful clothing, utensils, artworks, etc. from various materials such as cedar roots, grasses, the wool of mountain goats, and dog fur.

Picture courtesy of Museum of History and Industry [Seattle, WA], negative no. MOHAI 1955.970.470.10, "Interior of a longhouse, Neah Bay, c.1900".  This post-contact Makah longhouse, though similarly constructed, contains such items as a sail, sealskins, iron pots, etc. that would not be found in a pre-contact Coast Salish house.  [This image slightly cropped from the original]
Picture courtesy of Museum of History and Industry [Seattle, WA], negative no. MOHAI 1955.970.470.10, "Interior of a longhouse, Neah Bay, c.1900". This post-contact Makah longhouse, though similarly constructed, contains such items as a sail, sealskins, iron pots, etc. that would not be found in a pre-contact Coast Salish house. [This image slightly cropped from the original]


Houses reflected relationships among people and the social organization within villages. The owner of the house, who led day-today and ceremonial tasks, had their fire in a front corner. Common people had hearths along the sides and back, while slaves found space where they could. In short, where a person sat in the house reflected where they sat in Salish society.

Transportation


Primary means of transportation for Salish Native Americans were dugout canoes.These canoes were not only used in the open ocean and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, but also in sheltered waters and rivers. Made from cedar trees and as long as fifty to sixty feet, these dugout canoes aided the Salish people by means of fishing.

Historical Wolf head Nootka Canoe
Historical Wolf head Nootka Canoe


Post European contact, Salish tribes continued to make use of their handcrafted canoes.

Tools and Weapons


Cedar wood had a wide range of applications to the Salish Indians. They used it in everything from the of house and shaping of canoes to even the carving out of tools; tools that were used effectively to gather foods and harvest fish. The Salish people are exceptionally known for their basket weaving of cedar roots, which were used for gathering berries and plants as well as boil water. Salish carved tools from rocks for hunting.

Economic Activities and Trade


The Puget Salish developed many craft skills that helped provide them with functional as well as artistic items for trade. They were highly skilled basket makers. Their wood working and carving skills extended beyond canoe making to include house construction, ceremonial costume and mask making, and art work. Puget Salish were also well known for the weaving of textiles from fibers such as mountain goat and dog hair. Despite the challenges that face Natives after European arrival, interactions between the two were generally friendly and many of the Salish people quickly adapted to the changing world around them. Work played an important part in their survival during these times. Many Native people immersed themselves into part of this region's growing economy, through fishing, carpentry, logging, canoe ferrying, agricultural work, and basket making to provide income for their families. Salish people were accustomed to trading goods such as furs, wood workings as well as basket makings, food, clothing items etc.
The tradition of Sgwigwi (inviting), or what has more commonly come to be known as potlatch, was important to maintaining positive relationships within the communities and a sharing of resources between neighboring tribes. Potlatches were usually held in the fall, "the season of plenty," and sometimes the occasion marked a birth or death in a family. During a potlatch ceremony, wealthy people within a tribe would display their social status by sharing their wealth with others, giving away gifts to others.

Tulalip family in ceremonial dress pose in Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington, 1938
Tulalip family in ceremonial dress pose in Volunteer Park, Seattle, Washington, 1938


Religious Beliefs


Archaeological sites in the Northwest have shown that Native Americans lived in the Puget Sound region for over 10,000 years, arriving just after the Ice Age. An interesting example of a Puget Salish myth about their origin is the story the Snoqualmie people tell. They believe that Moon the Transformer (also known as Star Child) created First Woman and First Man and “transformed” or changed all of the earth and it’s creatures to be as we now know them.
To read one version of the Snoqualmie legend of Moon the Transformer, go to: http://coastsalishmap.org/moon_the_transformer.htm
Puget Salish people, as well as many other neighboring tribes, put their faith in Animism, the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe. To them the world was filled with spirits. Spirits were not only found in living beings or objects, such as animals, plants, and human beings, they also inhabited inanimate objects, such as mountains or rocks. These spirits were central to their lives and could be called upon to help the Salish people by providing skills and knowledge necessary to survive and flourish.

Recreation and Games


Gambling was an active part of Puget Salish life in the form of Slahal, the Bone Game. This was a competitive game of skill that included the invoking of spirit forces and musical performance. Marked deer bones served as the game pieces. Bone games could last for hours, even days.

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Works Cited


http://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/thrush.html
http://www.northwestheritageresources.org/Essays/Puget_Salish_essay.pdf
http://www.burkemuseum.org/hungry_planet/salish_bounty
http://www.hibulbculturalcenter.org/assets/pdf/HCC_Coast_Salish_Peoples_Special_Section.pdf
https://www.seattleu.edu/grounds/gardens/ethnobotanical/lushootseed/
http://coastsalishmap.org/start_page.htm