For generation after generation the people lived in this land.
We lived within the circle of the seasons, hunting and gathering, traveling from the coast to the mountains.
We lived in harmony with the land and we gave thanks and honored the land.
Circle of Life
A village was composed of numerous related families each with its own Headman, and among those Headmen was a village Chief. A group of related villages formed the Tribe and the village Chiefs collectively formed a Tribal Council. Another hierarchy manifested within the Tribal Council based upon each Chiefs individual wealth and respect status. Larger villages commanded greater economic power and wealth imbuing their Chiefs with greater authority, yet the power of personal character and family lineage played a crucial role in a Chiefs position as well.
The Talking Circle
Our people demonstrated a highly evolved model of group decision making in the form of the talking circle. The most important people within the social hierarchy sat in the inner circle. The rest of the community would arrange themselves in the outer rings of the circle, their distance from the center ring denoting both social standing as well as a desire to be heard. Everyone in the circle could have a voice in the decision making process. This created an organic form of democracy in which all adult members of the village participated.
The Great Circle
Our people respected and understood the land as Spirit expressing itself in the natural world surrounding us. We were connected to the land with certainty and gratitude. It sustained us and we appreciated and nurtured the land, knowing life would not be possible without its role in supporting all of the spirits which share this world. Our gift economy reflected the relationship of the Creator to the People. The acquiring of objects and products of both aesthetic and utilitarian value was a measure of an individual’s wealth and status, yet acquisition was not an end in itself. Each winter the Potlatch became the setting for individuals to give away their possessions to others, further mirroring the Creators relationship to the People. The spiritual import of gifting your earthly possessions to others remains a powerful personal experience and an unequivocal statement of faith and trust. Our Tribes administered its laws with transparency and a focus upon the collective rights of the people. Individualism at the expense of community was not tolerated. Victims of an offense participated in the forming of appropriate punishments in a public arena where justice and fairness were, like other decision making processes, a group affair.
Our management practices created sustainable human communities in which all of our needs were met without the risks of self-extinction and biosphere degradation we face today. This thoughtful management style was an outgrowth of our reverence for the natural world. We carefully considered our actions in relation to its effects upon a seventh generation grandchild's life. We respected the lives of the salmon people, sister bear and all of the other creatures who shared our paradise on earth.
Villages and Seasonal Camps
The permanent winter villages were concentrated along larger rivers and streams. Considerations for selecting village sites included proximity to a freshwater spring or stream for drinking water, access to waterways that provided transportation, locations that provided visual vantage points, and areas protected from the wind and winter storms. Along with the permanent villages were seasonal camps. These were usually located far upriver to capitalize on the migration of salmon and eels (the lamprey). Each village generally consisted of an extended family group in which most people were related by blood or marriage to almost everyone else.
Houses were built from cedar planks. Construction was begun by digging a pit 4 to 6 feet deep. The pit was then lined with cedar planks and upright posts which were added for structural support. Planks and posts were lashed together with tough spruce roots, hazel and cedar withes. The walls were built up a few feet above the ground and were then covered by a plank roof with a smoke hole. A ladder went down from the door to the floor of the house. Doors were covered with a tule mat or animal hides. Tule mats were also used on the walls and floor to provided extra insulation and comfort. A fire pit, lined with rocks, was built in the middle of the house, or more often several fire pits were included, as more than one family often resided inside a single plankhouse. Benches were built along the interior walls serving as storage shelves for large baskets containing fish, meats, roots, nuts and berries that had been dried for winter food.
Other buildings in the village included storage and work sheds, sweat lodges, and children’s playhouses. Storage and work sheds were built rather like a small house, although it might have one wall open. They were used to store stone and bone tools, basketry materials, and anything else you did not want to keep in the plankhouse. Small houses were constructed for use as playhouses for children and men and women each had their own sweat lodges. Sweat lodges were used to keep clean and healthy. Men’s sweat lodges were larger, as the men often gathered together there for meetings.
Rites of Passage When a young person was old enough to be married, he or she usually sought a spouse from another village, even from another tribe since you were usually related to most people from one’s own village.
Marriages were arranged between the parents of the prospective bride and groom. The groom and his family had to pay an agreed-upon price to marry the bride. This established a relationship not just between the betrothed couple, but their families as well. Women usually went to live at their husband’s village with his family but not always.
Young people were encouraged to test themselves. Boys and Girls had separate coming of age ceremonies.
There were a wide variety of natural resources to create tools, utensils, and clothing. Cedar, with its straight-splitting wood, was used to build plank houses and canoes. Canoe paddles were carved from the local hardwoods, ash and maple. Poles, for going up riffles, were made from hazel.
Red elderberry and ocean spray were often used to make arrow shafts. The tip was finished off with a sharpened stick of ocean spray, flint, or obsidian. Douglas fir was used to make the shafts of fish spears.
Mauls, hammers, fish net weights, anchors, and axe heads were shaped from rocks. Schist, available from the lower Coquille River, was traded for and carefully shaped and polished into adzes for canoe carving and shaping house planks.
Elk antlers were carved into digging stick handles, wedges, and spoons. The bones of deer and elk were used to carve harpoon points and fish hooks. Sinew was used as sewing thread, fine cordage, and bowstrings.
Mussel shells were used as spoons, and freshwater mussel shells were sharpened into knives for butchering salmon and eels.
Strips of red cedar bark were peeled from trees in spring. The inner bark was separated from the outer bark, dried, then later soaked and split, and used as a basket material. Maple bark was peeled and treated in a similar manner, and was also used in basketry and for making skirts.
A wide variety of materials were used to make baskets. Large pack baskets were used to carry firewood, mussels, and similar items. Large storage baskets held dried foods, or clothes, and were kept in the houses. Berry baskets with strings to go around the neck made for convenient picking.
Tightly woven baskets of spruce and cedar roots were made for carrying water, or boiling food. There were baskets for trapping fish and crawfish.
Canoes were very important to native people. The fastest mode of transportation, they traveled the tides far upriver and back down again. Canoes were designed for the tranquil waters of the bay or specifically for use in the ocean. Cedar logs were hollowed out with hot coals and then shaped by mauls and chisels of bone and stone. Sometimes the finished canoe was painted with red clay paint. A person could buy a canoe he liked from a craftsman in another village or tribe.
The people had a rich diet available to them which included salmon, eels, flounder, sturgeon, herring, seals, whales, sea bird eggs, crab, mussels, clams, elk, deer, seaweed, roots, nuts, and berries.
Men hunted, fished and trapped in sync with the seasonal round of migrations. In summer and early fall they hunted elk and deer. They fished for salmon during the spring and fall runs. They trapped fish and eels in weirs constructed along the waterways, and raked herring every spring from waters so thick with fish it was said you could walk across them on their backs. Many of the fish that were caught were dried so they could be stored and eaten during other seasons of the year.
In spring and summer, women would go out to the prairies and into the hills to harvest a variety of roots, young greens, nuts, and berries. There were several plants with edible roots available, bracken ferns, cat tails, skunk cabbage, spingbank clover, shore lupine, chocolate lily, wapato, Pacific silverweed and Camas.
Camas was a staple throughout the northwest, it blooms in the spring, and has beautiful purple and blue flowers. Women would return year after year to the camas meadows to dig up the roots. Later they would bake them in earth ovens. This process involved digging shallow holes and lining them with rocks. A fire was built to heat the rocks. The heated rocks were then lined with fern leaves, western sweetgrass, camas roots, more leaves, then insulated with layer of earth. A fire was then built on top. The Camas was baked for one full day.
The Native people gathered just about every berry there was to eat. Some berries were gathered especially for drying, so they could be eaten later in winter. Blackberries, black huckleberries, crab apples and salal were especially popular for drying and storage. They laid the berries out on hide blankets or tule mats to dry in the sun. Salmon berries, red huckleberries, strawberries, black caps, red and blue elderberries, blueberries, thimbleberries, currants and goose berries were usually just eaten fresh while they were in season. Young spring shoots of salmonberry and thimbleberry were gathered, peeled and eaten as well.
Clothes were made from materials including elk and deer hides, and a wide variety of plant fibers. Men did not wear much for every day clothes, unless the weather was cold or very wet. Men wore a buckskin breechclout, and a hat made of some animal or bird hide. In colder weather they wore hide capes or woven capes, leggings, and moccasins. Cattail capes were used as raincoats. Women wore capes and skirts made from a variety of materials. Maple bark made nice every day skirts. Sedges made good skirts for working around water.
Buck Skin Dress
Buckskin dresses don’t do well in wet climates, but they were worn for special occasions, such as dances hosted in the chief’s plank house. Women from wealthy families bought fireweed fiber collected by poorer women. The fiber was woven into a fine cordage and used to make a splendid skirt. A rich woman unwilling to wait for one woman to collect enough fiber to make a skirt could buy fiber from several poor women.
Women made basket hats, finely woven and decorated with geometric designs in black, red brown, yellow, and white. Many woven items had color patterns incorporated into them. These colors came from dying basket materials. Black was the natural color of eel grass and maidenhair fern, while other materials were buried in black mud for weeks to dye them black. Red was made by pounding the inner bark of alder, mixing with some water, and soaking the material. The old-fashioned method was to chew the alder bark and then spit it onto the material, but this doesn’t taste very good. Some cultures made yellow dye from the roots of Oregon grape. At Coos Bay the women liked to make a yellow dye from chittam bark. White was the natural color of bear grass, after it had been dried and bleached in the sun.
Like other tribes in western Oregon and northern California, men and women had tattoo marks on their upper arm to measure standard lengths of dentalium shells, which were used like money. The women of the Coos tattooed rows of dots on the back of their hands at puberty. Some also tattooed designs on their lower legs. Many Athabaskan tribes in southern Oregon tattooed three lines on a women’s chin. Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw women rarely tattooed their faces and the Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw did not seem to tattoo themselves quite as much as the Coos. However, if a man or woman dreamed ‘something’, they would follow their dream and tattoo themselves. So occasionally someone had an unusual tattoo on his or her face or body, in accordance with their dream.
Women painted their faces with red ochre, and used it to protect their skin from sunburn and wind. Other kinds of face painting were reserved for dances. Women also wore earrings made of shells, and after European contact, mixed in colorful glass beads as well. One trader noted that the Umpqua were particularly fond of green beads. Cobalt blue and red were also popular colors among coastal Indians. Dentalia Shells
Dentalia shells were widely used as decoration for earrings, hats, necklaces, and sewed on clothes. Nose pendents were very rare, remembered as being worn by only a few elderly men and women. Nose pendents were decorated with dentalium shells or abalone. The Dentalium is a mollusk with a tusk like shell. In the Pacific Northwest the Dentalium found in deep waters off the coast of Vancouver Island were highly prized. Dentalia over one and a half inches in length were used as currency from Northern California to Alaska. It was valued both for its decorative qualities and as a medium of exchange in the same way that gold is today. Longer dentalium shells were sometimes decorated by incising geometric designs on the shell.
Beads were made from a white clam shell from California. Through trade, they came north and were used by our Tribes as decorations on clothing.
Pine nut apron
Pine nuts, also from California, were used to make dance aprons and necklaces. Olivella shells, gathered locally here on beaches, were not considered as desirable by our tribes for regalia but were traded to inland tribes. Some were used as decorations on clothes, and on baby cradles. Feather Headdress
For dances, a variety of feathered headdresses were worn. Men valued headdresses decorated with the red feathers of the pileated woodpecker. Mallard feathers could also be used, but were not considered as valuable. Other feathered headbands included eagle, flicker, or duck feathers sewn onto buckskin. Women also wore headbands with feathers sewn on.
Games were played in winter and summer, indoors and outdoors, at small gatherings and large multi village events. Active outdoor games were usually played in good weather. These were sporting events that included foot races, canoe races, target shooting competitions, and shinny. Shinny is a kind of Indian field hockey, and tribes throughout the far west played several variations of it.
The modern day concept of gambling, or getting something for nothing was foreign to our people. Gambling was serious business and good luck the manifestation of a developed gambling power. Preparations for gambling could include special diets and abstinence. The cultivation of ones gambling power was hard work. Wagers were made based on the outcome of a game of shinny or stick-dice.
Stick-dice with male pattern and female pattern
There were many forms of stick-dice game played throughout the Pacific Northwest. LAMTLAM was a popular local game utilizing four sticks. Two sticks were marked with female designs and two were marked with male designs. They were held in one hand and thrown like dice. Scoring was based on the combinations you threw.