The Life of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest: Then & Now

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The Life of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest: Then & Now It has been estimated that the population of Native Americans living on or very near reservations in the United States ranges from about 1.1 to 1.3 million, and is distributed across more than 330 Indian nations in America (16). American Indian nations display an incredibly wide variety of social and economic characteristics. Although “American Indian” is identified as a single race category on the US Census, each tribe boasts its own culture and values. Members of two separate tribes may be as different as the populations of China and Africa.

Long ago, the Indians of the Pacific Northwest depended entirely on their environment to support them. They were
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In this era, it was not an abundance of money, but rather food that caused a group to be considered wealthy. It was said that the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, especially those in the Puget Sound region, had rivers so packed with salmon that you could walk across it on the backs of fish without getting your feet wet. Although this may be a tall tale, the waters were, in fact, teeming with salmon. In addition, clams were plentiful on the beaches; the woods were full of elk and deer, and there were copious amounts of blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, and nuts in the area. Beyond food, cedar trees covered the region. The Indians used cedar to make everything from their homes to eating utensils, from shoes to blankets. With such useful resources, you can see why these groups were considered ‘rich’!


In the Northwest, Native American cultures lived in a shelter known as the plank house, or longhouse. These houses varied in shape, size, and design, depending on the tribe who built it. Some were as simple as shed-like buildings, while others were more complex, some even built partially underground. Evidence shows that they ranged from 100 to 1,000 feet long. They were made primarily of cedar from forested areas or pieces of wood from beaches near bodies of water. Using beaver teeth and stone axes, these early people cleverly chopped down and split massive trees.

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