“Coast Salish” refers to the many tribes of the southern part of the Pacific Northwest Coast who share the Salishan language. Salishan speaking tribes are also found in central Washington and are referred to as Interior Salish. Though they share a similar language with their coastal brethren, their culture is quite distinct largely due to vast environmental differences. The Coast Salish tribes are further broken down into regional language groups.
The Coast Salish region fans north, northwest from Olympia, Washington to include the Puget Sound region, the west coast of Washington State, southern British Columbia and southeastern Vancouver Island. The Coast Salish extends up the river valleys of the Puget Sound into the hills of the Cascade Mountains. A language stem and the geographical diversity subsequently informed 23 separate tribal dialects.
Due to plentiful food and temperate conditions, historical Coast Salish tribes were able to develop a sophisticated society hallmarked by massive cedar houses, giant canoes, big families and a “pot-latch” focused reciprocal economy. The cedar and the salmon were mainstays for life, providing shelter, clothing, food, work and protection.
The Coast Salish tribes were renowned for their weaving of both baskets and blankets. Their blankets were woven from mountain goat fur and fur from dogs specifically bred for their soft undercoats. This was spun into yarn on spindle whorls, which were frequently carved with spiritually imagery significant to the weaver. Spindle whorls figure as some of the most poignant and beautiful artifacts from this region. Many of today’s artists are inspired by the images and shapes of these ancient spindle whorls and integrate them into their work.
The stories and legends of each tribe from this remarkable ancient culture have been passed down from generation to generation through ritualistic storytelling, carving, weaving and painting stories into ceremonial and utilitarian objects, such as the spindle whorl. Popular stories were told orally and illustrated with engraving and ceremony, often to explain the nature of history and unknown phenomena.
The Northern Coast Salish tribes are located in the Frazer River Valley, Southern Vancouver Island, and the Vancouver, British Columbia area. This includes the Musqeum, the Nooksack, and the Chemainus.
The Coast Salish tribes, among others, include Puyallup, Dwammish, Skokomish, S’Klallam, Quinault, Tulalip, Lummi, Nooksack and Musqueam. Some of the many talented Coast Salish artists are Susan Point, Marvin Oliver and Shaun Peterson.
The Northern Coast Salish
Copyright © M. Heagle