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The Northwest Coastal Indians lived in what is now Alaska along the Pacific Ocean down the coast to Northern California. This was a rugged strip of land with many small islands, deep inlets, and narrow beaches. The mountains rise to the shore in many places. Thick forests of spruce, cedar, and fir dominate the area supplying and endless supply of wood. Many rivers and streams cross the land. By the 1750’s more than 100,000 Indians lived in this area because it was richer in natural resources than any other area of North America.


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Model of a plankhouse built by a student

Most villages consisted of large rectangular houses. Each housed 30 to 40 people. They were made by covering large beams with planked sides gabled in the north. The posts were often decorated with carved figures. The earth floors were divided by woven mats into family units. Several families lived in one of these large structures. Each family was allowed a space about the size of a barn stall. Each family had its own fire, but cookfires in the center of the building were shared. Farther south the homes had low conical roofs. In the north sweat houses were built for both men and women, and for men only in the south. Large totem poles carved from tree trunks stood in front of the homes. The totem poles showed the titles of the head of the household.

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northwest_an.jpg (19961 bytes) The Northwest Coastal Indians wore little clothing. Except for on long journeys they went barefooted. The men wore basketry or fur hats. They wore fiber rain capes and skin robes. The men wore breech clouts. The men tattooed their arms and hands for measuring dentalium. Dentalium was a shell that was strung together and used as money.

The women living in the Washington area wore fringed cedar-bark or goatskin skirts. In other places the women wore fiber string aprons or fore-and-aft skin aprons.


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The women wore basketry hats, rain capes, sleeveless jackets, and some skin robes. Some women tattooed their chins. The fiber clothing was made from woven strips of bark.




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