Coast Salish

Səĺsəĺtən | Spindle Whorl 
Denis Finnin/AMNH Anthropology catalog 16.1/874

Selected features from the Northwest Coast Hall.

Coast Salish people are a diverse group of more than 40 independent Nations. We speak more than 20 languages and dialects that are related, but distinct. Coast Salish territories lie on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border, in coastal British Columbia and Washington State. 

The term Coast Salish was coined by linguists to refer to our languages, which are related. More than 20 distinct languages and dialects belong to the Coast Salish language family.

Cities Through Time

Two major cities—Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia—were built on Coast Salish lands. Before the Vancouver area was colonized, a Musqueam village and trading center called c̓əsnaʔəm flourished there for more than 4,000 years. In both cities, many people from Coast Salish Nations continue to live near their ancestral homes.

The History of Seattle

The city of Seattle takes its name from Chief siʔaɫ, a Duwamish and Suquamish leader.

Duwamish and other Coast Salish people, the original inhabitants of the Seattle area, were forced out by Euro-American settlement in the 1800s. But they continued to come to Seattle by canoe, bringing shellfish, baskets, and other items to sell in city markets. Because they were not allowed to camp or stay within the city limits, they moored their canoes and pitched tents on Ballast Island, which had formed in the harbor from rubble dumped from ships and other landfill.

A wooden ship and many smaller wooden dinghies, many full of people, docked at a lively port where tents are pitched by the ship. Ballast Island at the foot of Washington Street, Seattle, Washington, around 1891.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections NA680
Ten white tents pitched between railroad tracks, with a train and industrial, city buildings in the background and two smoke stacks in upper left. In this photo taken around 1891, a plank road connected Ballast Island to Railroad Avenue (today called Alaskan Way).
Museum of History & Industry, Anders B. Wilse Collection, 1990.45.14

In Coast Salish Territory—Vancouver

The xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) people have lived in what is currently called Vancouver for thousands of years.

Some of our sχwəy̓em̓ (ancient histories) describe the landscape as it was over eight thousand years ago.
Musqueam Indian Band

Coast Salish Baskets

The skilled weavers who designed and created the beautiful baskets in the Northwest Coast Hall came from nine different Nations within our larger cultural community of Coast Salish people. The varied textures and patterns reflect the diversity of our people and our homelands in southwestern British Columbia and western Washington State. Our weavers developed a range of styles for different uses, such as hauling shellfish, picking berries, carrying water, storing clothing, serving guests and keeping a baby secure and warm.

 Woman in brightly patterned shirt hand-weaves part of a basket, with a number of finished woven baskets in the foreground. Sharron Nelson, a Chinook and Puyallup basket maker from Tacoma, Washington, in 2011.
Center for Washington Cultural Traditions
Ed Carriere wears a buttoned shirt and beaded necklace, and uses a wooden, hand-cranked wringer. Suquamish master weaver Ed Carriere runs nettles through a wringer to make twine for sewing tule mats.
Erin Chapman/© AMNH

ťqaỷas | Seal Roost Basket

Click on the 3D model below for a closer look.

This striking pattern, called “seal roost,” was first developed by Twana basket maker kayasic’a, also known as Betsy Adams, in the 1800s. Later, each weaver varied the design to make it her own. The concentric rectangles represent rocks, while the small triangles overlapping them indicate resting seals. Wolves travel around the rim counter-clockwise, the direction that people dance in Coast Salish ceremonies.

Basket making is an exacting art. By creating elegant baskets like those displayed in the Hall, women—and sometimes men—could win acclaim for themselves and their families. Richly patterned coiled baskets are especially prized. In the 1800s, our weavers created them in quantity, to be widely traded or given away at feasts. In some communities, baskets received as gifts were carefully stored and kept pristine. After the owner died, relatives held a memorial ceremony, and the baskets were distributed to guests.

My mom used to gather us kids and grandkids together every Sunday for basket-weaving classes and family dinner. Our family continues this tradition, meeting at the family home and weaving on Sundays throughout the winter months. Summer months are spent gathering and drying the basket materials.

—Tsl-stah-ble | Trudy Marcellay, Basket maker
Chehalis and Nisqually, Washington State

Artist Profile: Ed Carriere

We’wutth’ul’s | Weaving

Generations of Coast Salish weavers have spun their own yarn using spindles of different sizes and woven the yarn into cloth on wooden frame looms. The finest blankets are of mountain goat wool, often mixed with other fibers for durability, strength, and warmth. Today, as in the past, we wear blankets for spiritual protection when moving from one stage in life to the next.

Wooden loom with two cross beams covered in partially woven piece made of white yarn with thin pink lines and ball of yarn below the loom. To work on a Coast Salish loom, a weaver wraps yarn around two cross beams, forming the warp—the vertical fibers. She weaves over and under in a specific pattern to create a subtle design. In the past, weavers often included wool from unraveled blankets in their compositions. The tufts of red on this blanket are bits of manufactured cloth. Musqueam people say a weaver is one who binds things together, as a woman brings two halves together to make a new life.
AMNH Anthropology catalog 16/9581 A, B, C, D, G
Carved wooden circle with hole in the middle with stylized designs depicting a bird and fish. Spindle whorls are often carved with geometric designs or images of powerful beings. As the spinner watches the whirling design, she transforms wool into yarn for blankets, treasures that signify wealth and spiritual purification. This Quw’utsun’ spindle is carved with a thunderbird catching a salmon.
AMNH Anthropology catalog 16.1/1865

Land Rights

6 young people walk holding signs reading "This Land Is Our Land," "We Want Our Land Back," and cut off text "In Your Winning You Found Shame, etc." In 1970 hundreds of indigenous people in Seattle occupied Fort Lawton—a decommissioned U.S. Army base on land that had originally been Coast Salish territory. Ultimately they won 20 acres within what is now Discovery Park, where they built a cultural center. 
Associated Press
Concrete path and stairs flanked by greenery leads to front of low triangular building painted with mural of wolf, bear, buffalo, and other animals. The Daybreak Star Cultural Center opened in Seattle’s Discovery Park in 1977. It provides an urban base for indigenous people from many communities in the Seattle area. The center was built after Native American activists staged a nonviolent occupation of the land in 1970. 
Andrew Morrison

Musqueam Fishing and Fishing Rights

Learn more about the Aboriginal, ancestral, and treaty fishing rights argued for and won by the Musqueam People in the 1990 Sparrow Decision, which is now a part of the Canadian Constitution.

Reclaiming PKOLS

Landscape of sky and snow-topped mountain in the distance beyond two skinny tall trees and one full tall tree towering above lush forest. The Lummi, Nooksack, and other Coast Salish people consider Mount Baker to be sacred. Beyond its natural beauty and ecology, they value it for skalalitude—a sacred state of mind engendered here. 
R. Bishop/AGE Fotostock
A group of people march through the woods. One holds a sign that says: Reclaim, Rename, Reoccupy. On the border of the traditional territories of two Coast Salish groups, the W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich) and Lekwungen (Songhees), Mount Douglas has long been an important meeting place and a site of an historic treaty signing. Chiefs of the two groups and more than 700 supporters marched on the mountain in 2013 to reclaim its original name, PKOLS.
Bruce Dean

Spawning Salmon

A man in a woven cedar hat lifts up a plank with cedar branches.
A member of the Lummi tribe prepares to release the remains of the first salmon into Hale Passage in Puget Sound.
Kari Neumeyer / The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

All along the Northwest Coast, Indigenous people today continue to celebrate the arrival of spawning salmon. Ceremonies differ from place to place, but in general, people ritually prepare and eat the first salmon caught in the spring. Then, in a formal gesture of gratitude, they return the bones to the water as this family is doing.

Artist Profile: E’ixwe’tiye | Susan Point

Susan Point | E’ixwe’tiye is a master artist and a descendant of the Musqueam people. She is the daughter of Edna Grant and Anthony Point. Susan inherited the values of her culture and traditions of her people from her mother Edna, who learned from her mother, Mary Charlie-Grant.

I continue trying to push myself one step beyond my goals, or one step in a new direction so often. There is always another stride to make. My art is never really finished; there is just a point where I have to stop myself.

 —Susan Point | E’ixwe’tiye

Circular print with patterned dark border, and four salamanders curving in a circle in the center. Insight. E'ixwe'tiye | Susan Point. Silkscreen print, 1995.
AMNH Anthropology catalog 16.1/2864
A large scale artwork—a wooden, circular form carved with fluid figures of people, a bird's face, and other abstract forms. This giant carved cedar spindle whorl is a work by Musqueam (Coast Salish) master artist E’ixwe’tiye | Susan Point, installed at the Vancouver International Airport.
YVR (Vancouver Airport Authority)

Canoe Journey

The Canoe Journey is an annual, community event that gathers First Nations communities along the Northwest Coast using “the traditional highways of our ancestors.” 

In 2019, the Lummi Nation, located in Washington State, hosted the end of the Canoe Journey with the official Canoe Landing and Protocol on July 24. Watch the video to learn more about the significance of the Canoe Journey.

Lushootseed Language

Lushootseed is the language of the Duwamish, Nisqually, Puyallup, Skagit, Suquamish and many other Native Nations along Puget Sound, Washington. Click on the audio players below the images to hear Lushootseed words spoken by q̓ʷat̕ələmu Nancy Jo Bob.

sč̓ədᶻəp | Cedar skirt

slahaləb | Game

staʔɬ | Harpoon

ƛ̕ak̓ʷtəd | Needle

Map highlighting Coast Salish territories on a map in relation to Canada/United States border, including Vancouver, Vancouver Island & Seattle

Coast Salish Consulting Curator

secəlenəχʷ | Morgan Guerin, Musqueam

The Museum thanks Dianne Hinkley and the Quw’utsun’ community for the Hul’q’umi’num’ words included in this text, q̓ʷat̕ələmu Nancy Jo Bob, qəɬəblu Tami Hohn, and dᶻagʷabidic̓aʔ Michele Balagot for the Lushootseed words included in this text, Alyssa Johnston, Cosette Terry-Itewaste, and Adrian Underwood-Vitalis for the Quinault words included in this text, the Musequeam community for the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ words included in this text, and Kathy Cole and the Grand Ronde community for the Chinuk Wawa words in this text.