Nations of the Pacific


Northeastern woodlands
Plains Indians
Nations of the Pacific
Subarctic Peoples
The Inuit


1) People of the Pacific Coast


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 year-round use.



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 houses


Cedar was a natural ressource of primary importance, as its long straight grains were ideal for both artistic and functional woodworking.


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 female lines.


Leaders held 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


The 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 forests.


The linguistic families traditionally represented in the Plateau are the Dene (sometimes known as Athapaskan, Athapascan, Athabaskan, or Athabascan) and Salishan languages

In 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.


In 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 so on.


The 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. In addition, each family was allocated an individual fishing plot long the river to fish and dry salmon






Lilloboet (BC), junction of the Fraser River and Bridge River

Salmon fishing territory of the Xwisten tribe, 2015

Sacred fishing rocks and drying racks, 2015

Photo of an Indian Salmon Weir, Cowichan River, 1866



Much 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 harvest.


Long 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.


The 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.