Puget Sound Region

The Puget Sound Region reaches from Canada to Washington State and includes the waterways and lands surrounding the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca. It is sometimes referred to as the Salish Sea, in honor of the Native Peoples who have lived in the region for thousands of years. It is an intricate estuarine system carved by glaciers as recently as 10,000 years ago. This complex ecosystem is home to a vast array of marine life: shellfish, sea mammals, and fish—primarily salmon. Salmon is not only a foundation of Native Peoples' diets, it is also linked to their cultures, communities, and identities.

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.

Roasting salmon over fire not only is delicious, but also reflects healthy, time-honored preparations of Native foods. Prior to the treaty times of the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s, Native foods did not include white flour or lard, two less healthy staples provided by the United States after treaties were ratified .

Salmon Fry, Chief Leschi Schools, July 2016. Photograph by Doug McMains, 2016.
These women were preparing skewered salmon over a fire pit around 1950. This type of traditional preparation is free of the additional fats that pan-frying requires. Salmon was the staple of traditional diets of Pacific Northwest Native people; researchers estimate that even as late as the 1940s, annual consumption was over 320 pounds per person.

Women Cooking Salmon, Muckleshoot , ca. 1950. Photograph courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry, Seattle.
"My dad instilled in me how important the fish was. We spent many hours out on the water, and that is how I related to myself, as a strong person through fishing . . . I know that I'm the person that I am today because of fishing."
Lisa Wilson Cook (Lummi), NMAI Interview, July 2016

Lisa Wilsom Cook is a water resources technician for the Lummi Nation and has a Bachelor of Science in Native Environmental Science. She reflects on reasons for which fishing is important to her identity.

Shovel-nose canoes are flat bottomed and dug out or carved from a single tree. They are engineered for speed and agility in shallow waters. There is a growing trend among Native Nations of the Pacific Northwest to reestablish the making and use of shovel-nose canoes.

Shovel-nose canoe, 1921. Duwamish Indians. NMAI N07289.
Shovel-nose canoes have been used for river fishing since time immemorial . The flat bottom allows for upriver navigation using poles. Fishers are able to sit at both the prow and stern .

Duwamish shovel-nose canoe, ca. 1880-1910. Cedar, iron nails, and copper. Canoe of square-end type, used on lakes and rivers. King County, Lake Sammamish. NMAI 097294.
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Pacific Coast Region Case Study
Columbia River/Plateau Region Case Study
Celilo Fishing
Klickitat Fishing
Set Net