Nature Notes

Vol. X January - 1932 No. 1

The Art and Crafts of the coastal Indians

face of coastal Indian

Indians, as popularly interpreted by the stage and silver screen and the "wild west" shows of a few years ago were always allied with stage coach hold-ups, war whoops, battles with encircled prairie schooners, etc. And to a certain extent such scenes were reminescent of the activities of many tribes.

Indian peoples differ, through, in as many ways regarding the habitats, their customs, appearance etc. as do the nations of the world. So we find the tribes which inhabited the shores of Puget Sound and the North Pacific have a very interesting and distinct culture. Their arts and crafts gave evidence of the part which local conditions play in the development of a people. Among these tribes were the Nisqually, the Cowlitz, the Puyallup and others which occasionally ventured into the region now known as Mount Rainier National Park. These people were dependent upon the sea and the forest for the three necessities of life -- food, shelter and even clothing. canoe bailer Instead of living in tepees which characterized the plains Indians, they dwelled in lodges constructed of cedar slabs. Naturally, like all Indians, they moved about from place to place. But instead of carrying their homes with them they constructed the framework of these lodges in a more or less permanent manner and carried the slabs from one former village to another. So instead of being truly of a nomad character they merely moved back and forth between fairly well established situations. Their wanderings were dependent upon the food supply and the season.


tool, clam basket, spoon, halibut hook

Not being possessed of tools for falling trees, as we know such tools today, they used many ingenious methods of getting lumber from both standing timber as well as down logs.

In canoes, or more properly dug outs, fashioned from cedar logs the braves of the tribe would venture far to sea in search of fish and seal and these activities might give them the title of sea faring Indians. Often as many as fifty or sixty men ventured to sea in such craft -- the bow being upraised and fashioned to enable it to brest the waves which often attained considerable size. The bark of the cedar was shredded with unique implements and the material thus produced woven into mats and clothing.

Baskets were fashioned from split roots -- particularly roots from the spruce and, of course, the types of baskets varied to conform to the use to which they were to be put. There were types for clam gathering, others for huckleberrying etc., but the Indians did not sacrifice artistic beauty for practicability. The results of their work were as skillfully beautiful as they were useful. Vessels for cooking and storing of food were also fashioned from forest products and the resultant culture was one as unique, distince and interesting as any of the original American people.

Future issues of Nature Notes will deal with individual features contained in the arts and crafts of these people who attained such a high plane in the arts of woodworking.

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