Northwest Indian Facts

Introduction – Northwest Indian Tribes

The Northwest Coast American Indians lived in clans and had a native population of about 250,000. Below you’ll find out who these men and women were, what they ate, where they lived, and why the northwest coast tribes were known to be the richest tribes. In this section there are many interesting facts on their handmade items such as jewelry and masks as well as their tribal customs and traditions. On this page you will find a list of the many tribes within the northwest coast region. These American Indians lived along the Pacific Coast. The region spanned from southern Alaska to northern California up into coastal British Columbia and Washington State. The area also includes some notable islands such as Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. The area is thickly wooded, has a temperate climate, and is known for its heavy rainfall. The forests are dark and damp. Springs and streams from mountain glaciers flow into the rivers that run to the coast.


Northwest Coast American Indian Tribes List

  • Alsea
  • Bella Bella
  • Bella Coola
  • Chehalis
  • Chinook
  • Clatskanie
  • Comox
  • Cowlitz
  • Haida
  • Haisla
  • Heiltsuk
  • Klallam
  • Kwakiutl
  • Makah
  • Nisga-Gitksan
  • Nooksack
  • Nootka
  • Pentlatch
  • Puget Sound Salish
  • Quileute
  • Quinault
  • Siuslaw
  • Straits Salish
  • Takelma
  • Tillamook
  • Tlingit
  • Tsimshian
  • Tututni
  • Twana
  • Umpqua

List of Facts About the American Indians of the Northwest Coast

  • There was no shortage of food sources in the forest areas that blanketed the Northwest region. Deer, moose and elk are just a few of the many animals these Indians hunted on land. The sea, however, is where they got most of their plentiful food supply. Northwest Coast tribes enjoyed various types of fish including Salmon, in addition to whale, sea lion, porpoise, seal, and sea otter. The sheer abundance of food made these tribes wealthy.
  • Their homes were known to be very sturdy and large. Made of plank from cedar, they were both wide and long and put together with wooden pegs. Although there were no windows, there was a small hole in the roof to let fire out and fresh air inside. Most homes were built right along the seashore.
  • Massive canoes were carved from cedar trees. The canoes were known to hold massive amounts of fish in addition to about 20 warriors.
  • Of all the resources available to the Northwest Coast peoples, the two most important were cedar and salmon. Cedar provided the raw material from which houses, boats, baskets, boxes, clothing, and carvings of every imaginable kind were made. The people also used a wide variety of plant resources were used for food, technological items, and medicines. Among the more important plant resources were twelve kinds of berries (most of them smashed, dried into cakes, stored for later use), the starchy roots of camas and wapato, and the roots of bracken fern.
  • Religion centered around the guardian spirit. Each Indian had a guardian spirit that gave them a specific skill such as carving, hunting or even healing. Winter ceremonies were often a time for acknowledging these spirits through song and dance.
  • They were very talented artists and most well-known for their handcrafted totem poles. Totem poles were most commonly found in front of a home to tell a families tribal history through intricate carvings, pictures and colors. With a lack of any written language, these Indians relied on the totem poles to pass down their history, stories, and myths through the generations.
  • They wore necklaces to symbolize wealth. Bear claw necklaces, as well as beaver teeth and clamshells were very popular.
  • Usually held in winter months, the potlatch was one of the most common traditions. The feast was a way to show off wealth. Dancing, gift-giving, storytelling, and eating were all part of the ceremony. Possessions were also sometimes destroyed to show guests that they were so wealthy it didn’t matter. Potlatches were a way to celebrate many occasions such as marriage, death, new clan houses and the raising of a totem pole.
  • Because the Northwest Coast Indians had no written language, the totem poles were a very important part of their culture. The totem poles allowed them to record stories, legends, and myths through images. Impressive. Totem poles, with their vivid colors, are the most recognizable of their arts. Every surface of the poles was carved into highly stylized representations of bears, wolves, eagles, ravens, thunderbirds, beavers and other animals, plus human figures. Totem poles could be huge, providing frontal pieces for homes, grave markers and other decorative purposes. Many represented family crests or told stories from family or tribal history.
  • Beautiful and intricate cedar dance masked were carved out of wood. They were often used in storytelling at ceremonies such as a potlatch. Some masks even had a second carved face inside the first to unmask as a story was told.
  • The Indians developed a social system that was highly stratified. There were those at the top- the nobles, the middle- the commoners, and the bottom-the slaves.
  • The First Salmon was an important feast honoring the salmon, one of their most plentiful food sources. They believed the salmons chose to sacrifice themselves for humans so their spirits could go on to live again like humans, in houses under the sea.