Pacific Coast Region

Native People of the Pacific Coast region enjoy an abundance of sea life to help sustain their economies and diets. Though halibut and shellfish are the mainstay of many coastal nations, the most important species in their collective identities , cultures, and relationships with other nations continues to be salmon.

Native Nations of the Pacific Northwest define themselves as Salmon People. They consider salmon to be an extremely important gift of food from the Creator, and each year they honor the salmon's sacrifice in special ceremonies. There are many geographic regions that distinguish Native Nations or language groups from one another in the Pacific Northwest; three major geographic regions are presented here: the Pacific Coast, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River/Plateau. Despite physical distance and cultural diversity, salmon is a unifying factor for Native People and Nations across the Pacific Northwest.

Salmon roasting at Makah Days, a period of celebration during which Makah citizens gather to honor thousands of years of customs and traditions as well as the anniversary of becoming United States citizens in 1924 under the American Indian Citizenship Act .

Salmon grilling over a fire pit, Neah Bay, Makah Indian Reservation, Washington, August 27, 2005. Photograph by Konrad Wothe, courtesy of Alamy Stock Photo.
Makah Days in the mid-1950s. Native Nations of the Pacific Northwest use cedar skewers to pierce, roast, and smoke salmon filets over open pit fires.

Makah Feast Day, Salmon Bake, ca. 1955. Photograph credited to Makah Tribe,
"We've been out on boats all our lives; my dad was a fisherman when he was young; . . . we grew up here on the water, we grew up on boats. It seemed like we were fishing everywhere we went. We'd always throw a hook in the water somewhere, whether it's in a lake or along the river, or wherever we went."
Ronnie Wilson (Makah), NMAI Interview, July 2016

Ronnie Wilson's family has fished in the Pacific Ocean for generations. Salmon and other types of fishing define his identity as a Makah citizen and maintain the continuity of thousands of years of cultural traditions.

Native peoples engineered a variety of tools and techniques to harvest salmon. The hook-and-line method reflects the sustainable practice of taking enough fish for a family or community while leaving healthy, sustainable amounts of fish to spawn and migrate.

Quileute iron salmon hook, ca.1890. NMAI 057591.
A typical problem with certain kinds of modern nets is that they can be far too large and catch many non-commercial fish. This small Quileute set net, however, was made to target specific types and sizes of fish.

Quileute drift net for catching salmon, collected in 1916. Washington. NMAI 057870.
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Columbia River/Plateau Region Case Study
Puget Sound Region Case Study
Celilo Fishing
Klickitat Fishing
Set Net