Salishan First Nations


SALISHAN FIRST NATIONS are aboriginal peoples speaking languages related within the Salishan family of languages. Although Salishan First Nations originally occupied territories from Idaho (the Coeur d'Alene) to Oregon (the Tillamook) and were the predominant stock in what is now Washington state, 12 of the 23 Salish tongues were spoken in BC. Some Salishan tongues were spoken in numerous dialectal forms, and a few (OKANAGAN and NORTHERN STRAITS) were spoken by groups that spanned the 49th parallel. The Salishan First Nations divided at an early date into Coast Salish and Interior Salish, and they are contiguous except for outliers on the north (NUXALK) and the south (Tillamook). Although there is no group that calls itself "the Salish," Salishan First Nations are related not only linguistically but historically, since they all descend from a common ancestor group referred to as the proto-Salish. The unproven Mosan Hypothesis, based on similar words for "four" and other common vocabulary, suggested that the Salishan peoples descended from the same original group as the WAKASHAN and Chimakuan peoples (of Washington's Olympic Peninsula). Except for the Nuxalk (Bella Coola), who were influenced culturally by adjacent Wakashan groups, Salishan groups produced art that was more representational than the highly conventionalized Northwest Coast aboriginal ART, and while they did not produce TOTEM POLES they carved elaborate welcoming figures and houseposts for their shed-roofed houses (see ARCHITECTURE, ABORIGINAL). The xwexwe ritual (with its pectin shell rattles and masks with protruding eyes) developed among the Salish and spread among other groups on the West Coast. Although Salishan ceremonials occasionally included giveaways, the POTLATCH was not a tradition among many groups. Heavy woolen sweaters, scarves and toques, commonly knitted by Salish women, are sometimes referred to as "Salish knitting" and maintain an aboriginal tradition of Salish weaving. See also FIRST NATIONS OF BC.
by Jay Powell