Northwest Native Americans




What can be learned about people and their places by studying objects they make?

Lesson to adapt from Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia:

download fileTotem Poles - download PDF file >>

Learners consider symbols used in the creation of totem poles. They explore culture through objects and develop their observational skills by examining local symbols of culture.

Learning objectives:

- Understanding and respect for cultures.
- Enhance observational skills
- Explore cultures through objects
- Recognize to the importance of traditions
- Value of a our natural resources

There are many groups of native peoples along the shores of the Pacific ocean where our team is traveling. As a group they are often called the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest or the Northwest Native Americans! Separated from the continents interior by extensive mountain ranges, these peoples lived for thousands and thousands of years in the narrow coastal area stretching from Alaska’s Prince William Sound to Northern California before the new settlers of Canada and United States from Europe came along only a few hundred years ago. The way of life for these native peoples was traditionally based on abundant natural resources, especially fish and wood!

Stay tuned to this section as we explore the tribes of the Pacific Northwest!


"Near the northwest corner of the continent, the ice of the St. Elias Range leaves its high birthing fields and flows nearly four miles down to the ocean shore. In this cloud-shrouded refuge, ice and sea continue to sculpt the land as they have for untold thousands of years..." 

The University Library has a wonderful collection of essays on the topic - Go there now  >>

Featured Pacific Northwest Peoples
  JULY 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18th the tribal journey will be on the land of the S'Klallam!

S'Klallam People
The S'Klallam
         The Strong People

Area:  Puget Sound region
Resource Keywords:  Salmon, River, Mountains
Trademark:  Salmon
Language: Klallam  (Salishan language)

The S'klallams were originally called the Nux Sklai Ye, meaning "Strong People." They are descendants of the Salish people and have been established in the Puget Sound Basin since 2400 B.C. The S'Klallams once lived in small villages, many located on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but following the 1855 Treaty of Point No Point, many S'Klallams ended up at Lower Elwha, Jamstown and Port Gamble. Each of these villages later attained status as recognized tribes.

The present day S'Klallam Tribe is divided into three seperae bands: The Jamestown S'kallam Tribe, the Lower Elwha  Klallam Tribe and the Port Gamble S'lallam Tribe.

In historic times, the S'Klallams were entirely dependent on the environment for food, shelter, and clothing. As the mountains, river, and surrounding waters provided abundant natural resources near their settlements, the S'Klallam traditionally view these resources with respect and practice of conservation to ensure that the resources continue to be plentiful.

S'Klallam stories and legends often focus on the Tribe’s relationship with the resources. Some resources, such as salmon, were so precious to the tribe that they had additional restrictions for proper handling and harvesting of that resource.

The salmon has always been the most important resource and as a people the S'Klallam are considered coastal indians.

But, the Olympic mountains were also an important resource for the Klallam. Here the Klallam gathered their vegetation for food such as ferns, tiger lilies and berries, and for medicinal purposes, as well as hunted deer, elk and bear.

Some of the greatest hardship for the S'Klallam was caused by the building of two dams on the Elwha River in 1910 and 1925.

The building of the dams destroyed many sacred spiritual sites, simply flooding them; the dams made it impossible for the salmon to travel upstream to spawn, and the drastic change in how the river flows caused by the dams made it impossible for the S'Klallam to access many of their traditional fishing sites all of which caused serious hardship as it limited the S'Klallams source of food and income.

  The S’kallams have lived along the Elwha River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca for over 27 centuries, adapting their lives to the natural bounty of the land, rivers, and sea. When European settlement began in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, about 1,500 Klallam people lived in 15 or more settlements along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Soon afterward, the tribal populations were almost destroyed by smallpox epidemics, and by the time the Washington Territory was established in 1853, government records show that only around 400 Klallem people. At that time, around 4,000 settlers lived north of the Columbia River, mainly around Puget Sound. In 1855, the Klallam people signed the Treaty of Point No Point, letting go of their claims on the land while retaining certain fishing, hunting, and gathering rights.

The earliest economic activities in the region were fishing and fur trading among the American Indian tribes. Fur trade and fishing were also the earliest economic activities of the European settlers, with fur trade operations beginning in this region around 1825. Fishing, fish packing, and canning were important sources of employment in the region by the late 1890s. As the fur trade was nearly extinguished by excessive trapping, the lumber and forest products industry began to play an important role in the economy of the region. Focusing at first on harvesting fir, the industry expanded over time to include the harvest of other species and the production of wood products, including plywood, pulp, paper, shakes, and shingles.

Today, forest- and fish-related industries are still an important source of income, although the forest products industry has experienced declines due to recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, and also because of issues related to endangered species protection. Now-a-days tourism and the service industry are important livelihood.


The Story of the Strong People

One day there was a big gathering at Elwha.  They ate salmon, clams, wild berries and lots of good things from nature.  They had a contest to see who was the strongest.  They decided to see who could lift the log to the top of a big house that they were building.  "Who can lift this big log?" they asked.  All of the other tribes tried to lift the log.  Each Tribe chose their strongest men, but none could lift the big log.  Then it was time for the mighty Klallams.  They remembered that logs float in water, so they rolled the big log into the water.  Then, their strongest young men walked out into the water until it was up to their shoulders.  Then they let the log float onto their shoulders and walked out of the water carrying the log on their shoulders.  When they reached the Longhouse, everyone shouted at the same time "Shashume, Shashume, Shashume!"  On the third time they all lifted it up to the top.  All of the other tribes thought the Mighty Klallams must be very strong to put the log up so high and so smart to use the water to first get the log onto their shoulders.  They all shouted "Klallam, Klallam!" which means  "Strong People!"

That was how the Klallam people received their name.

Explore more stories of the S'Klallam people >>