Coastal Salish

Coastal Salish

The Coastal Salish are ethnically and linguistically related peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, living in British Columbia, Canada and the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States. They speak one of the Coast Salish languages.  The Nuxalk (Bella Coola) Nation are sometimes included in this group, although their language is more closely related to Interior Salish languages.

The Coastal Salish are a loose grouping of many tribes, with numerous distinct cultures and languages. Their lands begin on the mid-Western Washington coast, run west to the Puget Sound, include all the Puget Sound, and extend up the inland protected waterways to mid Vancouver Island on the west side and the eastern side of the Johnstone Strait region.  Their traditional territories include the modern metropolitan areas—Victoria, Vancouver, and Seattle. The Tillamook or Nehalem around Tillamook, Oregon, along the outer Pacific Coast, are the southernmost of the Coast Salish peoples. These Coast Salish cultures differ considerably from those of their northern neighbors.  It is one of the few indigenous peoples culture of the coast that has a patrilineal, rather than matrilineal, kinship system.

The southern Coastal Salish had more vegetables and land game than people farther north or among other peoples on the outer ‘exposed’ coast. Salmon and other fish were the primary staples, as were kakanee, a freshwater fish in the Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish. Shellfish were abundant. Butter clams, horse clams, and cockles were dried for trade.  Hunting was specialized; professions of the men included sea hunters, land hunters, and fowlers.

The villages were typically located near navigable water for easy transportation by dugout canoe. Houses of the same village sometimes stretched for several miles along a river or watercourse. The wealthy built extraordinarily large longhouses.
Belief in guardian spirits and shape shifting, transformation between human and animal spirits, were common though differing in form among various tribes. Neighboring peoples, 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.

Many of the Coastal Salish people today live away from their land reserves, many of them in the larger cities and only a small percentage still speak the old language.  The cultural heritage still remains, however, particularly through ceremonies and clan identification along with the societal guidelines this requires. Their artwork reflects their beliefs and traditions, while providing economic support for families of the artists.