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Native Americans
Native Americans of the Northwest Coast Area



Native Americans of the Northwest Coast Area
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 4 to 6
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.39

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    halibut, Hand-split, non-Indians, potlatch, rediscovering, speechmaking, totem, woodworkers, warfare, status, highly, rectangular, expansion, temperate, deerskin, thereby
     content words:    Native Americans, Northwest Coast, Pacific Coast, First Salmon, Pacific Northwest, Northwest Coast Indians


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Native Americans of the Northwest Coast Area
By Jennifer Kenny
  

1     Native Americans settled in the Northwest Coast area. That area ranged from south Alaska to northern California all along the Pacific Coast. The area is thickly wooded, has a temperate climate, and is known for its heavy rainfall. The forests are dark and damp. Springs and streams from mountain glaciers flow into the rivers that run to the ocean.
 
2     Native Americans lived in clans in the Northwest Coast area. Clans are groups of families claiming a common ancestor. The Native Americans built villages. A chief who was in charge of key ceremonies and rituals headed the clan. The chiefs were usually village nobles from families with high social status.
 
3     The social status was highly stratified. There were chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves. Slaves were war captives, people who had fallen in debt, and children of slaves.
 
4     Families in the Northwest Coast lived in plank houses. They were rectangular and were built large enough to fit an entire extended family. Each family had its own separate area within the house. The homes were often on beaches and faced the sea.
 
5     The plank houses were usually made from cedar. The cedar logs were used for framing. Hand-split planks made up the walls. Shed roofs kept out the rains. A fire pit was located in the center. There were platforms for sleeping and storage along the walls. The highest place of honor was the back wall. The fronts of the houses were painted.
 
6     Totem poles were sometimes attached to the plank houses. Other times the totem poles would be spaced around the village. The Native Americans there were master woodworkers. A totem pole recorded the family tree and, thereby, proclaimed social status. Every family had a relationship with a spirit. The spirit was represented in the form of an animal. That animal would be carved on the totem pole.
 
7     Raising a totem pole would always be accompanied by a potlatch. Potlatches also celebrated the marriage of a chief, the inauguration of a new clan house, or the death of an old chief. The potlatch ceremony was usually held in winter. It included feasts where the guests would eat, out of respect, until they were sick. There was speechmaking, storytelling, singing, drumming, and dancing.
 
8     For a potlatch, the chief would count his possessions. Messengers would make formal invitations. Those attending would send money and blankets to the chief. During the potlatch, the chief would give away nearly everything. Some families would save for years to give things away. This would increase their social rank. They hoped to get more gifts in return later on.
 
9     Another important ceremony was called First Salmon. It was a feast that lasted several days. Salmon was the staple food in this area. The people there honored the salmon run, the catch, and the feast. The people believed the salmon lived in great houses under the ocean where they lived like humans. However, because the salmon knew the humans on land needed food, they sacrificed themselves for those humans, and their spirits went back to live again in the ocean.

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