Salish, Southwestern Coast (Native Americans of the Northwest Coast)

Southwestern Coast Salish is a term used to refer to the speakers of four closely related Salishan languages. Its component groups are Queets, Copalis, and Quinault, who are speakers of Quinault; Humptulips, Wynoochee, Chehalis, and Shoalwater Bay, who are speakers of Lower Chehalis; Satsop and Kwaiailk, or Upper Chehalis, who are speakers of Upper Chehalis; and Cowlitz, who are speakers of Cowlitz.

Location Traditionally, the Southwestern Coast Salish lived along the Pacific coast from just south of the Hoh River delta to northern Willapa Bay, including the drainages of the Queets, Quinault, Lower Cowlitz, and Chehalis River systems, all in the state of Washington. Local environments included rain forest, mountains, open ocean, sheltered saltwater bays, forest, and prairies. Today, most of these Indians live on local reservations or in Northwest cities and towns.

Population There were perhaps 2,500 Quinault and Lower Chehalis and about 8,000 Kwaiailks and (mostly Lower) Cowlitzes around 1800. In 1990, there were roughly 2,000 Southwestern Coast Salish Indians living on reservations (see "Government/ Reservations" under "Contemporary Information") and at least half as many living in local cities and towns.

Language Southwest Salish, which includes the Quinault, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, and Mountain and Lower Cowlitz languages, is part of the Tsamosan (formerly Olympic) division of the Salishan language family. The Upper and Lewis River Cowlitz spoke dialects of Sahaptian.

Historical Information

History In 1775, Southwestern Coast Salish encountered and killed Spanish explorers and salvaged their ship for iron. By the late 1780s, Indians were used to trading with Europeans and had already experienced population loss from European diseases.

The Lower Chehalises were among the people who traded with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805-1806. Contact with non-natives was commonplace after Astoria was founded on the Columbia estuary in 1811. The Hudson’s Bay Company founded local posts such as Fort Vancouver (1825), Fort Nisqually (1833), and Cowlitz Farm (1839). Some Cowlitz groups became mixed with the Klickitats, an inland group, during the early nineteenth century. As access to European goods increased, Indians also skirmished among themselves for control of the inland trade.

A malaria epidemic devastated Indian populations in the 1830s and resulted in significant village abandonment and consolidation. For instance, the Chinook and Lower Chehalis people combined in a bilingual tribe known as Shoalwater Bay Indians; the Salishan-Chinook language (as well as the tribe’s later adoption of Lower Chehalis) eventually died out altogether. The Treaty of Washington (1846) and the Donation Land Act (1850) allowed non-natives to appropriate Indian land. Many Indians, especially inlanders, were driven away, exterminated, and/or had their food resources destroyed or taken.

Cowlitzes refused to sign the 1855 treaty because it did not provide a reservation in their homelands. Along with many other tribes, they fought the United States in the Indian wars of 1855-1856. After inflicting severe dislocations, the government ordered them to remove to the Chehalis Reservation, but they refused, continuing to hold out for their own reservation. Many groups refused to sign treaties or accept goods from Indian agents, fearing that such action would be seen as evidence of forfeiture of land title.

The Quinault River Treaty in 1855 did provide that tribe with a reservation in exchange for vast areas of their traditional lands. In 1864, the Chehalis Reservation was created—without treaties or the formal Indian cession of land—for Chehalis, Cowlitz, and some southern coastal people, but most remained near their homes. These people either became assimilated into white population or joined the Chehalis Confederated Tribes or other tribes. Most Chehalis Reservation land was later reappropriated; the rest was homesteaded by 36 Indians and set aside for school purposes.

The Shoalwater Bay Tribe and Georgetown Reservation were created in 1866. The tribe was composed mainly of Chehalis and Chinook families living on Willapa (formerly Shoalwater) Bay. By 1879, these Indians all spoke the Lower Chehalis dialect.

All reservation Indians experienced pressure to Christianize, take up farming, and give up their culture. Corrupt agents profited on their rations. Of necessity and desire, hunting, fishing, and gathering continued, although Indians increasingly became involved in the cash economy (logging, farming, and railroads).

The Quinaults remained relatively isolated until the late 1880s. During the early twentieth century, a legal ruling allowed members from various non-Quinault tribes to claim allotments on that reservation and to apply for (and receive) status as Quinaults. This process first resulted mostly in environmental degradation and a sharply decreased salmon run as a result of clearcutting and then in the attendant relocation of people off the reservation.

Religion Southwestern Coast Salish religion centered around the relation of individuals, including slaves, to guardian spirits. Spirits lived either in the land of the dead or in animate and inanimate objects. They provided wealth, power, skill, and/or luck. Songs, dances, and paraphernalia were associated with particular spirits. Spirits not properly honored could be dangerous. Training (such as bathing, fasting in lonely places, and other physical tests) to acquire a spirit began as early as about age seven and culminated in a formal spirit quest at adolescence.

Shamans, who might be men or women, had especially powerful spirits. They diagnosed and cured disease. They could also cause illness or death and were occasionally hired for this purpose. Feasts involved only local people; potlatches were intertribal. The latter, held in winter, were given at life-cycle events or at the perceived bequest of a spirit. Social status was closely related to potlatching activity.

Spirit song ceremonials were observed in winter, accompanied among some tribes by gift giving. Some coastal groups also had secret societies. Most groups celebrated first salmon rituals during which they burned the salmon’s heart and distributed some of the fish to all villagers.

Government Politically independent villages were each composed of between one and ten households, each household consisting of several families. A nonpolitical "tribe" was recognized as several villages that shared a language and a territory. Village leaders tended to come from certain families, with the eldest son often inheriting the leadership position. Leaders were wealthy and often owned several slaves so they would not have to work as hard as others did. Their power was limited to giving advice and settling disputes. In some villages (the Quinault, for example), speakers announced the chief’s decisions and negotiated with other villages. This office was obtained by merit. Some villages also had official jokers or buffoons.

Customs Property rights, such as the control of subsistence areas and even the use of particular parts of a whale, were inheritable and carefully controlled. One’s work and social activities depended on gender, talent, status, and the possession of an appropriate spirit power. Shamans had especially powerful spirit powers.

The basic social distinction was between slave and free, although some free people were wealthier and more influential than others. Houses were owned by the man who contributed the most labor and materials to its construction. He also directed certain subsistence activities such as weir building. Upon his death, the house would be torn down; it might be rebuilt nearby, or else the former members would each build a new house.

Girls were secluded for up to several months at the onset of puberty. Marriage, especially among the wealthy, began a permanent cycle of mutual gift and food giving. Families of deceased spouses generally provided replacements. Free people were interred in a box or double canoe (one over the other) that was placed in a tree or on posts. Their possessions were either given away or interred with them. The house was purified or destroyed. Among the wealthy, reburial might take place after a year or two.

Dwellings Cedar-planked, gabled houses were arrayed along a river. A door was set at one or both ends. From two to four families, or sometimes more, lived in a house. Partitions divided sections for menstruating women. Sleeping platforms with storage space underneath ran along the interior walls. Shorter benches in front of the houses were used for sitting and as a place for men to talk and work. Interior walls might be lined with mats.

Temporary summer shelters were made of cedar-bark slabs or mat- or bough-covered pole frames. People also occasionally stayed in temporary bark or brush hunting shelters.

Diet Fish, especially all five types of salmon, was the food staple. Besides salmon, the people used sturgeon, trout, eulachon (or smelt), halibut, herring, and cod. Fish were eaten fresh or smoke dried. Eulachon was used mainly for its oil. Other important foods included shellfish; land mammals (especially in the Quinault highlands and among the Kwaiailks) such as deer, elk, and bear; water fowl and birds; sea mammals; and plants, especially inland, such as camas, berries, crabapples, roots, and shoots. Inland people burned prairie land every two to three years.

Key Technology Fishing equipment included nets (trawl, gill, drift, dip), weirs, clubs, traps, harpoons, hook and line, herring rakes, and gaffs. People hunted with bow and arrow, deadfalls, nooses, snares, and nets. Professional woodworkers made most houses and canoes as well as bent-corner and bent-bottom boxes, utensils, and tools. The basic woodworking tool was the adz. Women shredded bark and sewed and twined mats. They also made baskets, mostly of spruce root along the coast.

Trade Neighbors regularly traded and intermarried. Dentalium shells served as currency for durable goods. Food and raw materials were usually exchanged for the same. Canoes were widely exchanged. The Copalises provided many groups with razor clams. The local trading complex stretched from Vancouver Island to south of the Columbia River and also east of the Cascades.

Notable Arts Baskets (especially Cowlitz coiled baskets), carved and painted wooden items, and Quinault spirit masks were the region’s most important art objects.

Transportation Canoes were the predominant travel mode. Men made and traded for canoes of varying shapes and sizes, depending on function. Rafts were kept at river crossings. Inland groups acquired horses by at least the early nineteenth century.

Dress Men went naked in the summer; women wore knee-length shredded bark skirts. Both wore fur or skin clothing in colder weather, with robes of dog or rabbit fur or bird skins. The wealthy might wear sea otter-skin robes. Hunters wore leggings and moccasins in winter. Waterproof rainwear was made of cattail fiber. The Quinault wore twined split spruce-root rain hats. Body paint and tattooing were customary, as was infant head flattening, especially with groups nearest the lower Columbia River. Many men along the coast wore mustaches.

War and Weapons Most disputes between villages were usually settled by some form of economic arrangement such as formal compensation or marriage. In general, the Cowlitz were on unfriendly terms with coastal groups, and the Queets fought the Quileute and sometimes the Quinault. The Chehalis killed many Queets and burned their villages around 1800; they also regularly attacked the Copalises.

Queets, Quinaults, Hohs, and Quileutes occasionally confederated to oppose the Klallams, Makahs, Satsops, and others.

Fighting was more regulated in the south, and there no slaves were taken. Weapons included mussel-shell knives, whalebone daggers, yew spears with shell or bone points, whale-rib and stone clubs, and the bow and arrow. Elk hide shirts and helmets and cedar shields (Chehalis), as well as slatted wood breastplates, provided protection in war.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations In 1990, 942 Quinault, Quileute, Chinook, Hoh, Chehalis, Queets, and Cowlitz Indians lived on the Quinault Reservation, in Taholah, Washington (1855; 340 square miles). These people adopted by-laws in 1922. A new constitution in 1975 gave decision-making powers to an 11-member business committee. Much of the reservation is owned by non-Indian timber and milling companies. Quinault tribal enrollment in the early 1990s was about 2,400.

The Shoalwater (Georgetown) Reservation (1866; 1,035 acres; about 100 residents and 150 enrolled members in 1993) is located in Pacific County, Washington. The people rejected the Indian Reorganization Act but adopted a constitution and became formally organized in 1971. They elected a tribal council shortly thereafter.

In 1990, 307 Chehalis, Quinault, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Klallam, and other Indians lived on the Chehalis Reservation, Oakville, Washington (1864; 1,952 acres). A constitution and by-laws were adopted in 1939. They are governed by the generally elected Chehalis Community Council, which then elects a business committee.

The Cowlitz Tribe of Indians is an unincorporated association formed to press land claims and maintain traditions. Their constitution and by-laws provide for a five-member executive committee. They have a small (17.5 acres) land base along the Cowlitz River. The tribe divided in 1973 over a $1.55 million land claims settlement when a small group, subsequently calling itself the Sovereign Cowlitz Tribe, preferred to hold out for land. The 1990 population of the Cowlitz Indian Nation was 1,689.

Economy Important economic activities include fishing and related industries, government-related jobs, logging and related industries, building trades, and social services. There is a restaurant at Shoalwater Bay and a bingo parlor at Chehalis. Some income is earned from allotment leases. An arts and crafts manufacturing factory, a fish-processing plant, restaurants, and food markets are on the Quinault Reservation.

Legal Status The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is recognized by the state of Washington and won preliminary approval for federal recognition in early 1998. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, the Quinault Indian Nation, and the Shoalwater Bay Tribe are federally recognized tribal entities.

Daily Life The Quinaults exercise sovereignty over their territory, participating in a federal self-governance project and rehabilitating depleted and destroyed natural resources. A tribal police force and court system help to maintain order on the Quinault Reservation. There is some dissension over jurisdiction between the tribe and the Quinault Allottees Association, composed of members of other tribes with allotments on the Quinault Reservation. Children attend classes in the Indian-oriented Taholah schools. The contemporary style of Quinault art is influenced by South Sea Island art forms. Although most Quinaults are Protestant, some older members attend the Indian Shaker Church. An annual trout derby, featuring canoe races, is held in late May. Talolah Days take place on the Fourth of July.

The Chehalis Reservation maintains a water system and river clean-up operations. They have a tribal center, a health clinic, a meeting room for the elderly, a library, classrooms, and tribal offices. The county sheriff enforces laws. Most children attend public schools. Programs exist to preserve native language and culture. A tribal history was published in 1980. Tribal Days at the end of May feature games, dances, and feasting. Assembly of God and the Indian Shaker churches have a strong presence on the reservation.

The Shoalwater Bay people run a restaurant and work with non-Indians in the surrounding area. Children attend public school. Funds from a land claims settlement have been invested in reacquiring land. Health care is quite poor. Ongoing traditions include the passing on of hereditary names, annual fishing and gathering, and involvement in the Indian Shaker Church.

Cowlitz Indians have maintained their government and tribal authority since aboriginal times. The native languages have been lost, however, with the possible exception of some Sahaptian among those enrolled on the Yakima Reservation. Recently, they have been involved in several efforts to protect their ancestral lands from the ravages of dams. Many Cowlitzes continue to seek personal spirit guidance through vision quests. The system of extended family networks, so characteristic of traditional life, remains intact.

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