First Nations Groups – The Coast Salish Peoples

The indigenous group identified as the Coast Salish people inhabit the Pacific Northwest Coast through British Columbia and continuing south into the US states of  – Washington and Oregon; they are connected through their ethnic and linguist relations.  While this group is connected by several similar attributes they are in the end actually a loose grouping of numerous tribes encompassing many distinctive cultural and linguistic characteristics.  One of the most unique attributes of the tribes encompassed by this grouping is that they are one of the few coastal indigenous groups that follow a patrilineal culture rather than matrilineal; in this, the wife typically went to live with her husband’s village.  In these tribes the highest ranking male was typically the one to assume the role of ceremonial leader although the specific criteria for obtaining this position could vary from group to group. The society of these tribes was typically divided in regards to hierarchy with an upper, lower, and slave class the memberships to which were typically hereditary.

A breakdown of First Nations Territories along the Northwest Coast. Image from

A breakdown of First Nations Territories along the Northwest Coast. Image from

Timeline with Key Historical Events

  • 9000-8000BCE – evidence of established settlement at Xa:ytem (near Mission)
  • 4000 years ago-200 years ago – Great Marple Midden inhabited; abandonment coincided with the arrival of smallpox
  • 1791 – contact with Spanish during the later charting of Georgia Strait
  • 1810’s –  coastal fur trade begins extending south
  • 1839-40 – marked the arrival of Catholic missionaries in Puget Sound; between 1841-1843 the interest diminished; from 1840-1842 Methodist missionaries arrived and are described as ‘having no success at all’
  • after the Puget Sound War of 1855-1856 the Muckleshoot Reservation is established
  • 1850’s-1860’s – a severe decline in natural resources begins; first nations men begin finding work as loggers, in mills, and as commercial fishers
  • 1880’s – the white-Indian demographic undergoes a dramatic shift
  • 1885 – based on legislation which had passed the previous year, the potlatch is banned in Canada as of January 1st; this ban would last until 1951
  • 1960’s – the beginnings of a renaissance of tribal culture and national civil rights; this endangers civil action for treaty rights
  • 1967 – Chief Dan George’s speech at a Canadian Centennial Ceremony highlights the experiences of his people and sets off a surge in public awareness and native activism in B.C.
  • 1970’s-present day – many federally recognized tribes have obtained some level of economic autonomy; the 1970’s also saw the beginnings of resistance against the project of assimilating native cultures into the European-Canadian mold
The Coast Salish of Quamichan (Cowichan) on Vancouver Island. Image from

The Coast Salish of Quamichan (Cowichan) on Vancouver Island. Image from

The population numbers of Coast Salish peoples in British Columbia over the years have reflected the events summarized above:

  • Prior to the smallpox epidemic – approximately 12,600
  • 1850 – around 5,000
  • 1885 – less than 2,000 (however, this doesn’t likely count those who lived off reservations)
  • 1984 – approximately 18,000
  • 2013 – an estimate around 56,590

A great like for more information on the Coast Salish Peoples is this page by the Coast Salish Artist Joe Jack (he also has some amazing artwork on his site!)

A Wolf Head Coast Salish Canoe. Image from

A Wolf Head Coast Salish Canoe. Image from


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