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American Indians - Northwest Bands

The indigenous peoples of North America are thought to have arrived here more than 16,000 years ago, having descended from people who lived in Siberia. Since that time, they have diversified into hundreds of distinct nations and bands. We're taking a look at what sets those groups apart.

Northwest Indians - Who Are They?

Northwest Indians live along the Pacific Ocean, from southern Alaska, through coastal British Columbia, and into Washington State. This group is well known for its hand-crafted totem poles. A totem pole in front of a home shows the generations and social rank of that family. Some Northwest bands are the Chinook, Tillamook, Coast Salish and the Tlingit.

Northwest Indians - Shelter

For shelter, the Northwest Indians used what was available in their forests - red cedar trees. They built Big-Houses, which were from 20 to 60 feet wide and anywhere from 50 to 150 feet long. They didn't have metal nails to hold the logs together so they used wooden pegs instead. To keep the rain out, they overlapped wooden planks. There were no windows but a hole in the roof let air in and smoke from cooking fires out.

Chilkat dancers pose in ceremonial dressChilkat dancers pose in ceremonial dress

Northwest Indians - Food

Coastal tribes lived off the ocean. There was no sushi in their diets but plenty of seals, salmon, sea otters and whales. They had a nearly endless supply of fish from the ocean, animals to hunt and fruit from the forest. During the fall, they pulled big salmon in by the thousands - enough to feed families for the entire year.

Northwest Indians - Clothing

Tribes on the coast wore very little clothing, except when it was cold. Many items of clothing were made from cedar bark and helped shield people from the rain and wind. Necklaces made of beaver teeth, bear claws, clamshells and bits of albacore were popular and symbolized wealth.

Northwest Indians - Ceremonies

One of the most common customs was the potlatch. The ceremony was different from tribe to tribe but almost always involved dancing and gift-giving. Dancers often wore animal masks and decorated themselves from head to toe with paint and feathers. Hosts showered their guests with gifts to show how wealthy they were. They would even destroy some of their most valuable possessions - the more they could afford to destroy, the greater their wealth and importance.

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