Shellfish and the First Nations

Coast Salish clam basket. Courtesy Royal BC Museum.
Midden, Pender Island, BC
Site of a clam garden. John Harper photo
Tusk shell

Shellfish were very important in the daily life and culture of the First Nations people who live along along the coast. Different shells were used to ornament clothing, as tools and utensils, and in works of art. For example, the razor-sharp shells of giant mussels were used as harpoon heads when hunting whales and seals, and the tubular tuskshell was used as a form of money.

Shellfish were such an important part of the diet of the coastal First Nations that huge piles of shells were deposited on the beaches in front of their villages. Layers of shells in the soil, known as middens, are a common sight along the coast. First Nations removed rocks and modified beaches into "clam gardens" to cultivate clams.