Salishan Indians

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Salishan Family, Salishan Indians. A linguistic family inhabiting the north portions of Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana, a small strip of the north west coast of Oregon, and in Canada the south east part of Vancouver Island from Thurlow Island to Sooke Bay, and all the south mainland of British Columbia as far as Bute inlet and Quesnelle Lake, with the exception of that portion held by the Kutenai, although within the Kutenai area, at the Columbia lakes, is a small settlement of Salish. An isolated division of the family, the Bellacoola, had established itself farther north on Dean inlet, Burke channel, and Bellacoola River. The name Salish was originally applied to a large tribe in west Montana popularly known as Flatheads, thence it was finally extended to cover all those speaking a similar language.

Although lexically distinct from one another, the Salish, Chimakuan, and Wakashan languages belong to the same structural type and have remote points of resemblance with Algonquian. Physically and culturally the coast and interior Salish belong to different groups, the former being affiliated to some extent with the other coast people to the north, and the interior Salish resembling interior stocks in their own neighborhood.

If his own statements may be relied upon, Juan de Fuca (1592) was probably the first white man to visit the country inhabited by people of this family. After his time several Spanish navigators passed along their coasts, but their position exposed them less frequently to visits from vessels than that of the Nootka and tribes farther north. Later British and American vessels came to trade, the most notable expedition being that of Geo. Vancouver (1792-94), whose name became attached to Vancouver Island. The first detailed information regarding the Salishan tribes was obtained, however, from the account of the expedition of Lewis and Clark (1804-06), and knowledge of them was extended by the establishment of Astor’s fort in 1811 at the mouth of the Columbia, although the fort itself was not within Salish territory. From that time until 1846 most of this region, known as the Oregon Territory, was a subject of dispute between Great Britain and the United States, and it was not until the after its settlement and California Gold fever had some what subsided that settlers began to come into this region in numbers. On the Canadian side employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company were among the first to enter the country. The establishment of a post at Victoria in 1843 was one of the most momentous events to the Indians of the entire coast.

The coast Salish form the southern arm of the north west Coast culture, which fades away southward from Bute inlet and Comox (where it resembles that of the more highly developed Kwakiutl) to the semi-Californian Tillamook and the Nestucca of Oregon. Unlike the more northern Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian, descent is usually reckoned through the father.

The Salish dwellings in the northern part of this area are of the Nootka type, longer than those farther north, and containing several families each with its own fire.  They are also built in the same way of  heavy planks and beams. They resemble other coast tribes in the important part fish and shellfish play in their diet, and in the extent to which canoes are employed. The interior Salish depended now more on hunting, but so many large salmon streams now through this country that even they were more given to a fish diet than were the interior tribes generally. The houses of the interior Salish of British Columbia differed considerably from those on the coast. To construct holes were dug and poles set up in conical form around their edges; the whole was covered with poles on which was laid grass, and sometimes cedar hark, and over all earth was thrown.

War, slavery, and the potlatch were regular institutions on the coast.  One of the most characteristic customs, especially prevalent along the coasts of Washington and British Columbia, was artificial head-flattening, but it did not obtain, curiously enough, among the Indians now called Flatheads (see Salish).

Population (1909): Coast Salish in United States, 3,600; coast Salish in Canada, 4,874; total, 8,474. Interior Salish in United States, 4,988; interior Salish in Canada, 5,390; total, 10,378. Total Salish in United States, 8,366; total Salish in Canada, 10,264; grand total, 18,630.



MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/salishan-indians.htm - Last updated on Sep 27th, 2013


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