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Northwest Coastal People
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The Northwest Coastal People lived on the west coast of Canada,
occupying the western shore and the islands of British Columbia, and reaching up into the Yukon.
Food / Hunting
  • The people of the Northwest Coast were hunter-gatherers, so they relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering edible plants as their main sources of food.
  • Since there was plenty of food available to them, they never needed to develop a system of agriculture to sustain their people.

Nuxalk fishing in canoes

Nuu-chah-nulth man fishing with a net
  • The people of the Northwest Coast learned to exploit the natural waterways in the area, and became very skilled fishermen.
  • The Pacific Ocean was the main source of food for the people, and, therefore, the men spent a lot of time fishing along the coast.
  • Pacific Salmon
    • Pacific Salmon was abundant in the waters, and became the most important food resource of the people.
    • In the fall, the salmon would travel up the rivers to spawn, making them easy to catch with nets, harpoons, and traps.
    • They would literally catch thousands of fish in a small area- more than enough to feed a family for a year.

Pacific Salmon

Pacific Salmon spawning grounds

Pacific Smelt

The Ocean also provided them with...
  • Other fish (Halibut, Smelt)
  • Crab and other Shellfish
  • Seaweed
  • Whales
    • It sometimes took men days to kill a whale. It was dangerous to hunt whale, because they were able to overturn a canoe.
  • Clams, Oysters, Mussels
    • It was the women and slaves who collected the clams, oysters, and mussels from the ocean.
  • Other animals (sea otters, seals, turtles)
  • Oils
    • The people of the Northwest used a lot of fish oil to add flavour to their food.
    • They typically used the oil from whales, seals, and eulachon, a type of smelt.
    • Eulachon was full of oil, and the women had a special process of squeezing all of the oil out of the fish.
    • The oil was valued trade good, so the majority of pressed oil was saved for trading.

Humpback Whale


Sea Otter



Eulachon Fish

Woman pressing Eulachon for oil

Drying Eulachon

Black-tailed deer

Hunting / Gathering
  • For the most part, summers were spent hunting and gathering in nearby forests.
  • They hunted for:
    • Black-tailed deer
    • Elk
    • Mountain goat
    • Bear

Mountain Goat


Salmon smokehouse
Preparing the Food
  • Food, including meats and vegetables, were baked, steamed, or boiled without the use of pots or pans. Instead, they heated rocks in the fire then put the hot rocks into a cedar box or basket full of water, which would boil the water and cook the food.
  • The women prepared fish in two ways: some fish was eaten fresh, but most of it was dried and saved for the winter months.

Cedar bentwood box for cooking

Fish cooking over the fire
Most tools that the Northwest Coast people used were made out of cedar wood, stone, and shells.
Haida sledgehammer

Sledgehammers for splitting wood were made out of stone.

Nuu-chah-nulth man hunts sea otter with bow and arrow
For hunting they used bows and arrows, snares, deadfalls, and harpoons.

Seal Clubs
Basket for clams
For fishing they used nets, underwater traps, bone and wood hooks, and harpoons. They also used fishlines, which were made out of cedar.

Haida halibut hook (bone)

Haida fishlines
Serving Bowls
Bentwood food dish
Food was served on wooden platters and trays that the women made.
Groups in
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