Index of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast
Totem Poles, House Posts, and Big Houses - The First Nations of the Pacific North West Coast at one time had the most densely populated areas of indigenous people. The land and waters provided rich natural resources through cedar and salmon, and highly structured cultures developed from relatively dense populations. Within the Pacific Northwest, many different nations developed, each with their own distinct history, culture, and society. Art provided Indigenous people with a tie to the land by depicting their histories on totem poles the Big Houses of the Pacific Northwest coast – the symbols depicted were a constant reminder of their birth places, lineages and nations.
The First Nations people of the Northwest Coast are renowned for their elegantly engineered canoes. Ranging in length from three to twenty metres, canoes were essential for travel, transport, hunting, and trade. Each canoe is made from a single cedar log, carved and steamed into shape. Haida canoes were exquisite craft hewn from the gigantic red cedar that grows on Haida Gwaii and were highly prized by chiefs of other nations throughout the coast. Canoemakers in each village worked on their new craft throughout the autumn at sites where the very best red cedars stood. After an appropriate snowfall that facilitated sledding, the roughed-out canoes were moved from the woods to the nearest beach and towed to the home village, where they were finished over the winter.
When thinking of the artefacts of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest Coast most people will think of the massive totem poles, dugout canoes and sculptural masks, but the kerf-bent wooden box is the more ingenious example of a woodworking technology developed through eons of practice. It consists of just two planks of cedar. One is the flat bottom, rabbeted all around to receive the sides. The other is a single plank that has been deeply kerfed in three places, plasticised by controlled steam and bent at right angles to form four sides. The last corner is sewn or pegged together. The result will hold water. These richly decorated boxes range in size from a few inches to several feet. Some have flat sides, some bulge outward. Some have lids, some have sweeping curves cut into their top edges. They stored the food and possessions of everyday life as well as the ceremonial regalia of the winter dances, they were cooking pots and serving dishes, and finally they were coffins. But they were not merely containers as we think of containers, for their intricate motifs also represented the personal crests of the owner. These crests were displayed proudly, for they served to verify rank as well as spiritual power.
Artefacts of the First Nations of the Pacific North West Coast - the creation of beautiful and practical objects for all tribal communities served as a means of transmitting stories, history, wisdom and property from generation to generation. They had the time and the wealth to create superbly made tools, bowls, and magical objects.
A potlatch is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and United States. At potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family's house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth. Different events take place during a potlatch, like singing and dancing, sometimes with masks or the real regalia, such as Chilkat blankets, the barter of wealth through gifts, such as dried foods, sugar, flour, or other material things, and sometimes money. For many potlatches, spiritual ceremonies take place for different occasions. This is either through material wealth such as foods and goods or non-material things such as songs and dances. Many of these dances are also sacred ceremonies of secret societies. Typically the potlatching is practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbours and friends.