1) People of the
The Pacific coast was characterized by great linguistic diversity.
There are 19 mutually unintelligible languages spoken on the
Northwest Coast of British Columbia, which in turn belong to
five separate units among which no relationship has yet been
clearly established. A universally-understood trade language called Chinook Jargon
allowed dense trade exchanges.
In the pre-contact period, food was plentiful. Sea mammals (seals
and porpoises) as well as vast quantities of fish and
shellfish were available everywhere, and whales were taken
in some areas. A variety of edible fruits, bulbs and plants
provided important nutritional components of diets. Most
important were the Pacific salmon runs, which arrived in
regular annual migrations and were eaten fresh or dried for
The rich environment allowed large human
groups to flourish and develop a sophisticated social,
ceremonial and artistic life.
It’s estimated that the Pacific Coast
was the most densely populated area of pre-contact Canada.
People lived in
permanent settlements where people lived in large cedar
Cedar was a natural ressource of primary importance, as its long straight
grains were ideal for both artistic and functional
Canadian Museum of History, Grand Hall tour, Haida House
The primary unit of society everywhere on the Northwest
Coast was a large group of kin who usually shared common
ancestors. Among northern peoples, membership in the kin
group was passed down through women, but in the south,
membership could be claimed through either the male or the
formal titles or prominent hereditary names within the family line and
acted as managers of family property. There was private ownership of
real property such as house sites and productive harvesting places. Real
property enabled kin groups and their chiefs to accumulate tangible
wealth. Property was the basis and vehicle of the Northwest Coast system
of rank and class, with hereditary nobles, commoners and slaves. An
upper-lower distinction of some form was universal, as was the
institution of slavery. Slaves were acquired in war or by purchase and
were required to perform menial chores.
2) Peoples of the plateau
Plateau cultural area consists of the high plateau between the
British Columbia coastal mountains and the Rocky Mountains. At
lower elevations it is comprised of grasslands and subarctic
linguistic families traditionally represented in the Plateau are
the Dene (sometimes known as Athapaskan, Athapascan, Athabaskan,
or Athabascan) and Salishan languages
the Plateau, the four nations of the Interior Salish include the
Secwepemc (or Shuswap), Stl’atl’imc (or Lillooet Stl’atl’imc),
Nlaka'pamux (sometimes known as Thompson), and Okanagan (or
Syilx). The Ktunaxa peoples (also known as Kutenai or Kootenay),
whose traditional language is an isolate, are based along the
western edge of the Rocky Mountains in the Kootenay River basin;
this region is now known generally as “Kootenay” or “the
Kootenays.” The Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) and Dakelh (or Carrier),
both Dene groups, inhabit the northern area Plateau.
this region groups of related people worked and travelled
together in the spring, summer and fall, then joined with other
such groups to reside in relatively permanent winter villages.
Plateau society was egalitarian and communal in most respects,
although men were the major decision makers. Within each village
there were a number of chiefs, or headmen, who organized
economic activities — there was a salmon chief for fishing, and
people of the Plateau relied primarily on seasonal hunting,
fishing and gathering. Food was shared liberally among all
villagers through communal hunting and fishing. Salmon was an
important food source thanks to the annual salmon runs. At
public salmon-fishing stations, a weir or net was used to catch
fish for the entire village.
time and effort was spent smoking or drying food for storage and
the entire community was involved in this activity. Food was not
always plentiful, however. At such times the people had to
travel farther and work harder to survive. Each spring the
appearance of the first run of salmon and the first fruits or
berries was celebrated with a special ceremony to ensure a good
distance transportation on the Plateau was done primarily by
dugout canoes made from red cedar or cottonwood, or bark canoes
from white pine or birch. To travel on foot in winter, Plateau
peoples used snowshoes.
Plateau peoples were semi-nomadic. They lived in three main
house types: the semi-subterranean pit house, most commonly used
as relatively permanent winter dwellings, and the tule-mat lodge
and the tipi, constructed from portable, reusable materials.