Northwest Coast: Traditional Indigenous Relationships with Plants and Animals

Northwest Coast: Traditional Indigenous Relationships with Plants and Animals

E. N. Anderson

Draft of March 2019

This is a book in progress.  It is about half done.  What is needed is a search through old collections of “myths and texts” to find as much documentation as I can of traditional conservation and sustainability ideas.  I have also only begun work on the art section and some other sections.  I have been working on this book off and on for over 30 years, and at 78 I fear I will not live to finish it.  The press of events has made it impossible to work for the immediate future.  So here is half of it, for anyone that wants that much! 

You are free to use it, but cite it fully and list as “work in progress.”




1.  Nature

2.  Traditional Culture Areas

3.  Cultural-Ecological Dynamics

4.  Traditional Resource Management

5.  White Settler Contact and Its Tragic Consequences

6.  Resource Mismanagement Since 1800

7.  The Ideology behind It All

8.  Respect

9.  Worldviews Underwriting Knowledge

10.  Teachings and Stories

11. The Visual Art

12.  Conclusions

Appendix 1.  A Note on Languages

Appendix 2.  The Old Northern Worldview

Appendix 3.  The “Wasteful” Native Debunked


            This work tells the story of traditional management of plant and animal resources by Native peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America.  There, management strategies are rooted in practice developed over thousands of years of living off the land.  A broad ideology of conservation, wise use, care, and respect has evolved. 

            There are many similarities between Northwest Coast views and those of other hunting and fishing peoples of the northern hemisphere, and one feature of this book is to trace resemblances and relationships—more suggestively than systematically, but at least with some grounding.

The book is the product of many years of thinking about experiences, many of them long ago.  I first visited the Northwest in 1960, driving major highways through Washington and Oregon.  Work exigencies have taken me back to the area, for at least flying visits, in most years since.  I did field research on the Northwest Coast in 1983-87, primarily in 1984 and 1985.  I lived in Seattle from 2006 through 2009. 

My research was rather varied in nature, and in the end focused largely on the writings of Wilson Duff, an anthropologist active in the mid-20th century (Duff 1996).  However, I did field work on ecological and environmental issues for about several months in 1984 and another three in 1985, largely among the Nuu-chah-nulth and Haida.  I have driven or hiked through every part of the region treated, covering every mile of major highway in Washington, Oregon and California, and a fairly thick sampling of British Columbia and southern  Alaska.  I can also draw on a great deal of field experience in Mexico and some in Mongolia, where I could live with Indigenous people who still fully maintained beliefs and ontologies similar to the ones described herein.

            This book is also a belated fulfillment of a promise:  to help Native people get fair treatment in their land claims.  Aboriginal title to land and rights to manage resources were not recognized in Canada.  They were finally given some standing from the late 1990s, but use and management rights are still controversial.  In the United States, Native peoples were recognized as “dependent nations” from the earliest years of the republic, but the interpretations of this have fluctuated, depending on whether “dependent” or “nations” was being foregrounded.  Treaty rights to fisheries were disregarded in Washington state, for instance, until Judge Boldt in 1978 ruled that they had to be enforced.  Title to land was recognized, but was signed away (often at gun point) through unequal treaties, or was simply stolen or acquired by duplicity.  Various claims and compensation have resulted, but in both Canada and the United States there is a long way to go.  In 1985 I promised to Haida friends that I would write what I could that would be useful.  I have since written several items about Northwest Coast human ecology, notably my introduction to Wilson Duff’s writings (1996) and relevant sections in my books Ecologies of the Heart (1996) and Caring for Place (2014), and the time has come to bring all together.

Earl Maquinna George, Nuu-chah-nulth scholar, has written:  “The work of a non-native is colored by the inability of the outsider to experience the context of the information collected…there are many parts of native life that have never come out in their work” (George 2003:38).  Of this I am painfully aware, and I am in no position to do any better.  Fortunately, I can often rely on quoting George and other First Nations writers.  Many Indigenous persons are now leading scholars of their traditions, and I will have much occasion to refer to them below.

The position of a person who has devoted his life to being a cross-cultiural interpreter is never easy.  Recently, people like me have been criticized far more severely than Earl George would do.  The point under it all is that we really do not have the lived experience of people who grew up with the label “Native American.”  We do not have the specific experiences of oppression, stereotyping, prejudice, and disenfranchisement.  On the other hand, we can use the data, and we can bring some comparative focus to the enterprise.  We can also bring a real desire to understand and help.  Above all, we can help get the word out.  I try to quote as much as possible, from both early collections and modern works. 

            There is a serious issue with making use of traditional stories recorded in collections of texts.  Many of these were recorded with full permission, for publication, and were told by people who had the rights to tell them.  Many were not.  I have tried to confine my citations of traditional stories to material in the first category, but to do anything like a proper job, I must cite materials that may be in the second.  I have, however, consciously tried to avoid using distorted, “edited,” bowdlerized, or otherwise “settler”-altered materials, and materials clearly recorded from shaky sources or published without even the pretense of permission. I ask forgiveness for errors.  I believe that the traditional teachings of the Northwest Coast are so important that they should be made available to the wider world if they are already out there in published form.

            In usage, I prefer the term “Native American,” though it has drawbacks.  Most of the people in question call themselves “Indians,” but often prefer to be “Native Americans” in formal contexts.  In Canada “First Nations” is now the polite term of reference.  “Indigenous” is a vexed term, but cannot be avoided.  “Local” and “traditional” have their usual vague meanings.  I am quite aware that while some traditions are thousands of years old, some are only a generation old; if their bearers think of them as “traditions,” I am not going to object.  

Similarly, we are stuck with “supernatural” to refer to spirit beings, though they are considered perfectly natural on the Northwest Coast, and include the immortal essences of ordinary animals, these having been “supernaturals” in ancestral times.  I try to avoid making irrelevant discriminations such as “natural” and “supernatural” (see Miller 1999), but most sources use the word, and better recent coinages like “supramundane” are just not current usage.  Finally, the term “authentic” has become so polarized in Northwest Coast studies that I try to avoid it altogether.  It has been especially problematic in art, where modern Native American works were often criticized in the past for not being like those of a hundred years earlier, these latter being somehow more “authentic.”  I apologize for any offense given by particular usages. 

            Native terms are spelled as they are in the sources I quote.  I am not a professional linguist, do not speak any Northwest Coast languages, and am in no position to decide what is “correct,” in a land with dozens of languages and hundreds of local variants.  Many different systems of linguistic transcription are in use, and many Native people prefer the old missionary syllabary system, despite its unsavory origins and implications, because it has been so familiar for so long.  See Appendix 1 for a quick guide to languages.

            I am grateful to a wide range of people, but owe a special debt to my coworker in the 1980s Evelyn Pinkerton, who is not only the finest ethnographer I have ever seen at work but a superb scholar and human being.  I have also had special help and support over the years from Marnie Duff, Leslie Johnson, Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, Nancy Turner, and many other scholars.  My contacts with First Nations people were all too short, usually confined to brief interviews, but I need to acknowledge in particular Guujaw (Gary Edenshaw), Ki-Ke-In (Ron Hamilton), Nelson Keitlah, the late Ray Seitcher, and others.  For particularly valuable advice in the field work years and since, I am grateful to Ron and Marianne Ignace.  I thank also many people whose names I withhold for various reasons of privacy.


            The Northwest Coast of North America is of interest for many reasons, not least being the careful management of plant and animal resources by Indigenous peoples there.  Thanks to care backed by an ideology of respect, the Native people supported dense populations with rich artistic traditions and complex stratified societies.  The environment was not just sustainably managed; it was managed to get better over time.  Burning for berries, stocking fish, cultivating root crops, and other techniques exemplified in real time the visionary goal of “sustainable development” that seems so hard to imagine in today’s world.

The characteristics of the Indigenous Northwest are so well described in so many books that it would be tedious to go into detail; see the classic cultural summaries in the Smithsonian Institution’s Handbook of North American Indians, Northwest Coast volume (Suttles 1990). 

            Defining the region is, however, briefly necessary.  The Smithsonian Insititution Handbook is divided into volumes by culture areas.  My “Northwest Coast” overlaps their Plateau (Walker 1998) and Subarctic (Helm 1981), and even makes incursions into California (Heizer 1978).  The problem is that the Indigenous people did not divide themselves into neat culture areas.  The classic Northwest is defined by large plank houses, monumental visual art, ranked societies with chiefs, commoners and slaves, dependence on fish for subsistence, and heavy use of wood in this thickly-forested environment.  The Plateau is defined by large pit houses, use of riverine fish (anadromous or not), heavy use of roots dug in semidesert lithic plains, less strongly ranked societies, and smaller settlements.  The Subarctic is a land of small lightly-built houses, seminomadic societies made up of small bands or groups, and heavy use of mammalian prey (though fish remained staple in many areas). 

Obviously, there will be border groups that partake of two or three cultural areas—sharing one trait with one area, another with another.  The Tsetsaut, Wetsuweten and other Athapaskan-speaking groups shared varying amounts of Northwest culture while being Subarctic in other ways, including linguistic affiliation.  The Wasco and Wishram along the Columbia mediated between Coast and Plateau; so did some other groups.  The little-known Calapuya and Molalla of Oregon do not seem to fit comfortably into any category.  The Yurok, Karok and their neighbors in California neatly bridge the gap between Northwest and California.  The Klamath and Modoc might be considered Northwest Coast, Plateau, California, or even Great Basin.  The areal classifications are modern constructs, not some sort of cast-iron reality. 

Given this ambiguity, I see every reason to draw examples and principles from the farthest extent possible.  Essentially, any group in a drainage basin whose outlet is on the Pacific is within my purview.  This lets me go far inland up the Columbia and Skeena rivers.  I will, of course, usashamedly take examples from even farther afield, where they are relevant (largely in the case of Athapaskan groups that are in other drainages but are very similar in culture to the ones in my area of focus, but also from as far afield as east Siberia).

Using river drainages to define areas has the advantage that the drainages are biologically real and important things, unlike the culture areas, which are somewhat arbitrary classification schemes imposed originally by museum scholars.  Moreover, the rivers provided trade and communication corridors.  Northwest Coast trading was long-range and extensive.  Routes led for hundreds of miles, and individuals often traveled hundreds of miles themselves.  Heavy-loaded canoes went up and down the coast, and there was even regular canoe traffic across Hecate Strait between Haida Gwaii and the mainland; this is such dangerous water that off-season kayakers are often lost today, and many a big boat has been wrecked.  Rivers unified peoples.  Individuals of totally unrelated languages could, and frequently did, meet at major fishing areas, trade, exchange ideas, and frequently marry.  It was evidently rather rare, in anything close to a border zone, to speak only one language.  Many people grew up with two languages in the home. 

The boundary between America and Asia is similarly meaningless culturally.  Since Franz Boas, anthropologists have realized that the northeast Siberian Indigenous peoples were culturally similar to the Northwest Coast ones, though the languages were different (except for Yuit, shared across Bering Strait).  Boas persuaded the wealthy New Yorker Morris Jesup to fund a major “expedition” to study societies on both sides of the Strait.  It was not an expedition in the normal sense, but funding for ethnographers and archaeologists to spend months or a year in a given area, finding all they could about it.  Some of the great classics of ethnography resulted, and some shall be considered below. 

Since then, studying the two sides of the North Pacific as one area has been an agenda pursued by William Fitzhugh and his associates (see esp. Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988), Ben Colombi and James Brooks (2012), and others.  Even farther afield, I encountered attitudes and practices in Mongolia that were essentially the same as what I have seen in the Northwest, and the connecting links via the Siberian societies prove a continuous cultural pattern, not independent invention.  I shall thus introduce Asian examples as occasion affords.

More tenuous are connections across the Subarctic to old Europe.  The Jesup Expedition found no lack of evidence of continuity.  Such things as skis/snowshoes, dogsleds, complex harpoons, skin tipis, and particular forms of sewn skin clothing prove conclusively that there was a “circumpolar” cultural area.  Since we also observe the same patterns of belief and practice in regard to hunting and animals prevalent throughout this area, we can safely assume that there has been at least some sort of ongoing contact, however indirect, thin, qualified, and tentative.  I have thus defined an “Old Northern worldview,” based on these patterns.  I have, however, relegated it to an appendix (Appendix 2), in the rather confident expectation that I will be challenged for vast overgeneralization.  Time will, hopefully, tell how much sharing matters in this case.

            Finally, I cannot stress strongly enough that all groups within this vast area are different, and the families and individuals within them are different from each other.  Generalizing at the level found in this volume is at a very general level indeed.  It blurs out countless major differences and minor nuances. I am concerned with very broad principles of environmental management.  These can be safely generalized, but only if they are kept at a high level of abstraction.  In what follows, I will make distinctions where necessary, but readers should remember that extensive quotes from individuals apply, in the last analysis, only to that individual and, hopefully, his or her ethnic group.  I quote to illustrate very broad and general points about northwestern North America or even the Old Northern worldview in general, but the quotes will have nuances and specific details relevant to the quoted individual’s own life and experience. 

            I, personally, am struck by the similarities across this vast area—the reverence for salmon and wrens that stretches from ancient Ireland to Haida Gwaii, the personhood of moose by the Yukaghir and Beaver—but readers should be aware that the ancient Irish are otherwise not much like the Haida, nor are the Yukaghir the Beaver in disguise.  We have had more than enough of the ascription of “shamanism” to all Indigenous peoples, of the myth of the Noble Savage (Ellingson 2001), and of the stereotype of the “primitive in harmony with nature.”   I am quite conscious of both the differences between groups and of the extreme danger of essentializing and overgeneralizing.  I am trying to tease out particular themes that are both widespread and valuable from a maze of cultural specifics.  Readers are warned not to take anything I say as essentializing some mystic unity among these groups. 

            I am not alone, though, in finding commonalities.  The Haida have been compared for over 100 years with the Vikings, and this has been put on a systematic footing by Johan Ling, Timothy Earle and Kristian Kristiansen (2018).  They define a type of society, the maritime chiefdom, based on seafaring, trade, slave-taking, and some on-shore production of goods and food.  They see close similarities between early Bronze Age and Viking Scandinavia, which is hardly surprising, but then observe that societies from the Haida to the Solomon Islanders display similar patterns: chiefdoms made up of fiercely independent people, united behind leaders of descent groups, living by fishing and seafaring, trading extensively, and taking, trading, and using slaves.  They compare these with nomadic herding peoples, who often have similar patterns of high mobility and extensive trading. 

            On the Northwest Coast, the Haida are certainly the best example.  Some of the Kwakwala-speaking groups, such as the Lekwiltok, come close.  The Nuu-chah-nulth, Makah, and other coastal groups are more local, less trade- and slave-oriented, more satisfied with producing for themselves.  There is, in fact, a smooth gradation from the Haida through these groups to the Salish peoples, perhaps more often targets of slaving than slavers themselves, and much more local in their journeys.  The interior groups often traded and had some slaves, but did not take long sea journeys.  This gradation from sea-raider to local producer makes one dubious of the value of inventing a “maritime mode of production” (as Ling et al. do).  One may better speak of a natural adaptation to local circumstances.  Be that as it may, the comparison stands.

Northwest Coast people and neighboring Siberians share certain ideas, just as westerners share ideas of individualism and individual rationality without losing cultural identity thereby.  These ideas are worth attention, but do not diminish cultural and personal uniqueness. These groups also share much more specific things: details of shamanism and vision quests, specific folktales and songs, specific traits of material culture, even games and clothing styles.  Also, trade kept links open; Anastasio (1972:169) provided a list of 53 classes of goods regularly traded in the Plateau, from abalone shells to yew wood for bows, and even that list is incomplete.  Turner (2014:137ff) similarly discusses the effects of trade on language; words were borrowed freely all over the region.  The cultural links are real and multifarious. 

However, I could write a whole book about the differences between all, and about the dangers of essentializing. This is not that book, but it is written with a lively awareness of that issue.

1.  Nature

The northwest corner of North America is a land of vast forests and high mountains.  It is difficult country for making a living, especially for hunter-gatherers.  Most of the biomass is tied up in wood.  Moreover, the trees are living chemical factories, producing compounds that discourage insects and other herbivores.  Thus, compared to the deciduous forests of eastern North America or the tropical rainforests, they are quite poor in wildlife.  One can hike for miles without encountering anything more than a squirrel or two and a flock of chickadees and nuthatches.  Old-growth mixed forests develop a richer fauna, but much of the region is covered with Douglas fir, famously well protected by its hardness and its chemical defenses against herbivores of all types.  After living in Doug-fir woods for years I am convinced it is about the most inedible tree on earth.  Nothing bothers it.

Food, from a human standpoint, concentrates along the rivers and coasts.  The fish resources are legendary, and even now have to be seen to be believed.  The major fish resource is anadromous (sea-running) salmonids of seven species.  Five species are called “salmon” by Anglo-Americans, two others are “trout.”  The “salmon” are—in rough order of popularity as food—the chinook or king (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha), sockeye (O. nerka), pink (O. gorbuscha), coho (O. kisutch), and chum or keta (O. keta).  The “trout” are the rainbow, which when sea-running is the “steelhead” (O. mykiss) and the cutthroat (O. clarki), which very locally sea-runs too.  Several other trout and char species occur, and a few of them occasionally sea-run.  (The Great Book on Pacific salmonids is Thomas Quinn’s The Behavior and Ecology of Pacific Salmon and Trout, 2nd edn. 2017, a must-read for all those interested in Northwest ecology.  Among many good accounts of salmon and Native salmon fisheries are Grabowski 2015, Hunn 1990, and Ross 2011 for the Columbia.)

Large rivers may have several runs of the major species, each run coming at a different time and being slightly different genetically from other runs of the same species in the same river.  Salmon smell and taste their way home; the young imprint on their place of rearing, and can detect the scent of their native river far out to sea.  Once in the river, they smell their way up to their origin stream.  Magnetic sense allows them to navigate by that method too.  They evidently recognize bodies and currents of water.  They often do, however, pioneer new homes, especially if—as often happens—landslides or other events have made old homes unreachable.  Salmon are famous for their ability to cross many obstacles—swimming up major waterfalls—but they cannot deal with a really high waterfall.  Also, making a river harder to negotiate may cause them to starve before they reach home.  Each run has evolved to store exactly the amount of fat it needs to swim upriver—they do not feed once in the rivers.  In the past, landslides sometimes blocked rivers and at least temporarily stopped runs.  Modern dam, railroad, highway and other construction that make rivers faster, rockier, more barriered, or otherwise more difficult lead to elimination of runs, through this unfortunate mechanism.

The amount of fish was enormous in the old days.  The Fraser River sockeye run was estimated to be around 160,000,000 fish in 1901, though in 1904 it was down to 6,500,000 due to cyclic variations.  Runs are subject to disastrous accidents that depress that year’s run for a long time without affecting other years’ runs.  The total Fraser salmon run may have produced 3 million to 60 million kg of fish (figures from Michael Kew as summarized by Ignace and Ignace 2017:515).  The Columbia and Yukon systems had many more.  Smaller but still enormous runs negotiated the other rivers.  Even tiny creeks had their own tiny runs.  The large rivers had runs of all six or seven species.  Smaller streams often had fewer.  Steelhead were particularly adaptible (even tiny California creeks have steelhead runs),  Tales of streams that appear “more fish than water” abound from the old days, and a photograph in Thomas Quinn’s book (p. 434) shows that this can be only a slight exaggeration for some streams even today.

Salmon must die after spawning, because their decaying bodies fertilize the water and provide the necessary nutrients for the young.  This sacrifice of life for the newborn is widely noticed and emotionally appreciated by Native peoples, who—in most areas—quickly learned to return all bones to the water to sustain the runs.  Bears take enormous quantities of salmon and eat them on the banks, thus fertilizing those banks as well as the water; thus, incredibly lush vegetation develops along the rivers.  Closing the cycle, much of that vegetation has evolved to dispersed by bears—typically, the bears eat the fruit and then excrete the seeds packaged in fertilizer.  Humans, by managing berry and root resources, took this natural cycle to a new level of sophistication.  

The odd scientific specific names of the salmon are Siberian local names for the species; “sockeye” is a straight borrowing from a Salishan language into English.  All the Native languages have different terms for each species.  Few have a general term for “salmon,” though some do (me in Kwakwala, for instance).  Many indigenous people find it ridiculous that Whites lump such dissimilar fish under one term.  Settler societies, in fact, soon acculturate, and refer to “pinks,” “sockeyes,” and so on, never using the word “salmon” again except in broad economic-statistical contexts.  Northwest Coast people are apt to laugh at outsiders naïve enough to refer to a given fish as a “salmon.”  The odd “Latin” species names of the salmon are the Siberian local names, showing that Siberia too has different names for all.

These species are ecologically differentiated.  Chinooks become huge, especially in the Columbia River drainage, where early-running “springs” were known as “June hogs” from their enormous size.  They run far up the rivers.  Sockeye are smaller, and spawn in small streams draining into lakes, and the young fish rear in the lakes before moving to sea.  Some populations have evolved to spend all their lives in lakes, never growing large or going to sea; these are known as “kokanee salmon.”  They are particularly typical of lakes far from the ocean.  Pinks run into the lower courses of rivers in enormous numbers.  Coho, usually rather small, run very far up into small tributaries and streams; they need particularly cold and clean water, and are thus rapidly dying out in drought-stricken California.  Chum salmon stay in wide lower river courses and estuaries.  Steelhead run into even smaller and more marginal streams than coho, and were the widest of all in distribution, with runs all the way to southern California.

The earliest known use of salmon by humans in North America occurred in central Alaska some 11,500 years ago; the salmon were chum (Halffman et al. 2015).  It is interesting that salmon had already reached that northern drainage by then; it had been totally frozen and unusable not many thousand years before.  Salmon generally return to their native rivers, but are also fast at pioneering when new habitat is available.

Recently, the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has become a ranched or farmed fish in the Northwest, with locally disastrous consequences; it has escaped locally and competes with the native fish, but far more serious are the diseases and pests it brought with it, which have totally wiped out the pinks and decimated other species in the areas of farming (largely southern British Columbia).

Salmon were the key resource everywhere that major rivers or their tributaries ran.  Closely related fish, including trout and char of the genus Salvelinus and many whitefish of the genus Coregonus, abound in streams and lakes but do not normally enter the ocean.  They are locally the staple fish, especially in colder inland areas.  Interestingly, one thing the entire world seems to agree on is the superior eating quality of salmonids.  They are the height of gourmet dining more or less everywhere they occur, including areas where they have been recently introduced—notably the southern hemisphere, which has few of its own but which has taken to farming salmonds on a huge scale. 

A conoisseurship of salmon exists on the Northwest Coast, among both Native people and settler societies.  True salmon gourmets can not only tell the species, they can tell which river a salmon came from and sometimes even which run in a particular river.  (At least they claim this.  I have not seen a taste test done.)   One learns to tell the rich, subtle flavor of chinook from the deep, oily meatiness of sockeye and the ethereal, evanescent fragrance of fresh-caught pink. Cohos and farmed Atlantics are more modest but still excellent food, though true Northwesterners tend to abstain religiously from farmed salmon.  Chum or dog salmon is less flavorful, as the names imply; it was saved for use as chum (bits of fish thrown out to lure other fish to be caught) or for feeding the dogs.  Recent attempts to rehabilitate it as “keta salmon” have not met with much success.  Still, it was highly valued by groups like the Nuu-chah-nulth because it was abundant and easy to dry.  It is said to develop a fine flavor when properly dried.

Other riverine resources included sturgeon, which, like the salmon, are anadromous.  The white (Acipenser transmontanus) and green (A. medirostris) occur.  Both are large; the white can be mammoth, reahing 20 feet and 1200 pounds.  Both have suffered from overfishing even more than most river fish.

Another very important resource, especially in the Columbia River drainage, was “eels” (lampreys, Lampreta or Entosphenus, formerly called Petromyzon).  Especially important is the the Pacific lamprey Entosphenus tridentata.  These too are anadromous.  They have proved less popular with settler societies, possibly because of their strange appearance, but they are said to be superb eating.  Many Native groups still relish them and want to manage them for recovery, though they are notorious predators of salmon (see Jay Miller’s very important article on lampreys, 2012).  They too needed respect; Miller quotes Patricia Phillips on Oregon usage: “Night eels were only supposed to be cut with a knife made from freshwater mussel shell, otherwise the eels would feel insulted and fishermen might not catch any more of them.”  (Lampreys caught at night were supposed to be better and healthier than day-caught ones.  Miller 2014:130.)

Many other fish species occur, with suckers being locally very important, especially well inland where anadromous fish are available only during major runs.  Some suckers have huge spawning runs of their own, into shallows or spring areas, and these runs may be critically important to local groups.  The Lost River Sucker of the Oregon-California border, now acutely endangered, was so important to the Modoc that it was a religiously important fish.  The Achomawi similarly revere the suckers of Big Lake in northeastern California, and they have been able to get some protection for this run.  

An important article by Virginia Butler and Michael Martin (2013) points out that, at least in the Columbia River drainage, salmon were far from the only important fish.  They were probably the most important single resource, but, locally, other species could outweigh them in total importance.  Many small freshwater fish occur and could be used, but were probably insignificant resources (on fish in the Northwest, see Hart 1973; McPhail 2007; Wydoski and Whitney 2003).  In the Pend Oreille drainage, for instance, a wide range of local trout, whitefish and other species was important.  Kevin Lyons (2015) provides a very valuable study with complete lists, catching technologies, and life history data.

Elsewhere, open seacoasts afforded sea fish, sea mammals, and shellfish. Marine fish abound, and many strictly freshwater species are common enough to support indigenous communities around lakes in the interior.  Even the rivers had shellfish, including the formerly abundant, valuable, and easy-to-harvest freshwater mussels (Jones 2015). 

The candlefish (Thaleichthys pacificus), a smelt so rich in oil that dried ones can literally be used as candles, was a staple food, specifically an oil source.  It was so important that it is known on the coast as “eulachon,” pronounced and frequently spelled “ooligan,” from Tsimshian halimootxw, “savior”—the same term now used for Jesus (Daly 2005:113, 193).  Getting oil from it originally involved letting the fish decay in cold water till the water could be heated to cook the fat out.  This properly aged ooligan grease is an acquired taste (as the present author can attest).

Ocean fish were at least as important as salmon for the more maritime groups.  Herring were especially abundant, gathering to spawn in bays.  The roe was almost as important a resource as the herring themselves.  Halibut, rockfish, “cod” (a general term for fish, mostly not cod), and other marine fish were important.  The Haida, living on islands with small and generally poor salmon streams, depended more on sea fish than on anadromous ones.

Other marine resources were extremely important too.  The Northwest Coast is absolute paradise from a shellfisher’s point of view.  Rocky shores provide attachment for abalones, mussels, chitons, and limpets.  Chitons, now a little-noted resource, were very popular because of their excellent flavor (Croes 2015; I can confirm both their popularity among the Haida and their excellent flavor in Haida Gwaii).  Sandy beaches and, above all, the vast mudflats of the bays and estuaries provide clam habitat.  Shifting bars in bays and estuaries were ideal for oysters, which require this environment.  The cold, nutrient-rich waters are moved by currents that carry enormous amounts of nutrients to these relatively passive feeders.  Shellfish do not offer many calories, and a day of hard gathering in cold wet conditions may involve more expenditure of calories than it brings in, but shellfish were so common on the coast that they usually paid well.  Vast shell middens thus dot the coastline, and in fact shellfish are still an enormously important commercial resource in the Northwest.  Seaweeds were also major resources, though less well known because they do not preserve archaeologically and have only occasionally been well documented as foods.  (On these types of sea resources, see Lamb and Hanby 2005 for fine photographs and general accounts).

Marine mammals once abounded.  Seals and sea lions were important meat sources.  Some Northwest Coast peoples did extensive whaling—quite an accomplishment for people in open dugout canoes (Colson 1953; Sapir 2004; Sepez 2008).  The importance of sea mammals has been underestimated, because heavy whaling, sealing, and sea otter hunting depleted these resources before anthropologists got to the area.  Protection has allowed the gray and humpback whales to recover somewhat, and many now frequent the sounds of wesern Vancouver Island, where they allow such close approach that people sometimes pat them on the head.  Whaling could pay well under such circumstances, though it was still difficult enough to demand incredible levels of ceremony and magic (Sapir 2004).  Sealing was so extensive that the seal resource base was reduced even before European contact, at least in California (Kay and Simmons 2002) and possibly all along the coast.  Deward Walker (2015) has provided an extremely thorough and detailed account of riverine seal and sea lion hunting along the coast from Washington to California.

Seals and sea lions used to come far inland along the rivers (Walker 2015).  Here they ate a great deal of fish, which evidently did not endear them to the local people, who hunted them when possible.  White settlers exterminated them from the rivers, but with protection they are now back, eating enormous quantities of fish, including endangered runs and rare, declining species such as sturgeons.  This is a source of some concern (Walker 2015).  Restoring Native hunting would be a very good way to handle the situation.

Land mammals are numerous:  moose (very locally), deer, elk, mountain goat, mountain sheep, and smaller animals such as marmots and squirrels.  The land was generally rather poor in game, but many areas were exceptions:  lush mountain meadows, lowland prairies, riparian strips, and wetlands. 

Birds were locally important.  As usual, water was more productive than land.  Millions of ducks, geese, swans, cranes, alcids, and other waterfowl flocked to the coasts, lakes, and marshes.  On land, grouse were locally common, especially in forest openings and prairies.

A final note about animals from the human point of view is that some were food:  fish, shellfish, herbivorous mammals.  Some were competition: bears, wolves, mountain lions and other predators all of which consumed humans on occasion, but, more importantly, competed for the same foods.  Some animals were neither very edible nor dangerous, but were respected for their intelligence and thus their presumed role in creating the world: coyotes, ravens, mice, many others locally.  The complexities of these relationships will appear in due course.

Plant foods concentrated in meadows, glades, and wetlands:  Many species of berries, roots, tubers, stems, shoots, leaves, even flowers.  Many trees had edible inner bark, gathered when soft in spring and eaten ground up or in long strands like noodles.  Some fungi and lichens were edible.  In most of the region, these plant and fungal foods did not supply many calories compared to fish or mammals, but they were often essential and always valuable for nutrients.  In the interior parts of Washington and Oregon, root foods were extremely important.  Increasingly as one goes south through Oregon into California, plant foods such as acorns became more abundant, being about as important as fish to the California groups.

Berries were among the more important plant foods in most of the area.  Huckleberries and blueberries (Vaccinium) are especially common and widespread, especially in the mountains.  They tend to be fire-followers, which is important for reasons that will appear.  Highbush cranberries (Viburnum) are locally common.  Blackberries and raspberries (Rubus) occur in many species.  Particularly common and important in the coastal northwest is the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), a raspberry of indifferent flavor but extremely high bearing; it also has edible shoots that are like bitter celery. 

With berries, as with fish, humans compete with bears for the resource.  Many tales recount the problems thus occasioned.  A hungry grizzly can supposedly eat 100,000 berries a day.  I have watched a grizzly pick up whole huckleberry bushes and pass them through her teeth, pulling off berries, leaves and twigs and swallowing all together.  Berries are a plant’s way of getting birds and mammals to disperse (and fertilize) its seeds, and bears probably take much credit for distributing berries around the landscape.

Critical in all the above is the extreme contrast between fantastically rich waters—shoreline and sea—and usually poor land resources, especially at high altitudes.  On land, there were similar if less extreme contrasts between berry and root patches—mostly openings, prairies, and plains—and the forests, which were very poor in foods that humans could exploit.  Not only are they minimally productive of edible material; most of what they do produce is tens or hundreds of feet up, out of normal human reach.  Even in the water, there are differences.  At one extreme are choke points where falls and rapids delay salmon migration and concentrate the fish ascending the river; the most famous one is The Dalles on the Columbia, but there are similar if less dramatically productive cascades in most large rivers.  At sea, certain points where currents meet and upwelling zones appear are particularly productive. 

The commonest tree is Douglas fir.  Its superior wood now makes it a staple of world trade, but it was of less use aboriginally; the hard wood is difficult to work, though it makes excellent firewood.  A useful statistic is that a mature Douglas fir may have 70,000,000 needles, a fact not at all surprising to the present author, who spent years sweeping a deck under a grove of them.  (For this, and for more useful information about forest management conflicts, see Satterfield 2003.)  Since Douglas fir grows only in sun and usually only in disturbed habitats, it is naturally a follower of fire, flood, and blowdown.  It is thus the ideal tree for management by clearcut-and-replant, and therefore dismal cornfield-like stands of “Doug fir” cover most of the accessible Northwest today.

Much more useful to Native people was the red cedar (Thuja plicata, technically a cypress, not a cedar).  Its wood is softer and easy to work, but extremely durable, making it the preferred material for canoes, totem poles, and woodwork in general.  One can carve, split, or bend it with convenience, and it is very tractable and cooperative—few knots or splinters or checks or splits.  It grows to enormous size—only the redwoods are much bigger—and thus a single log can make a dugout big enough to carry a whole crew and several tons of freight.  Dugouts are still made of cedar today, mostly for show but sometimes still for use.

Cedars invaded the Northwest rather slowly after the glaciations, not becoming common in more northern areas till about 6000 years ago; cedar and spruce are still spreading northward.  Cedars could be overharvested.  On Anthony Island in Haida Gwaii, where the red cedar is at the very edge of its range, cedars decline dramatically from about 500 AD, when the island became the site of a large village with many canoes and totem poles (Lacourse et al. 2007). 

The related yellow cedar replaces the red in cold and wet areas.  Its wood is useful, and its shreddy bark makes perfectly serviceable clothing.  Another useful tree was the red alder (Alnus rubra), much smaller but with hard wood.  The Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) provided the best bows (as the European yew did in old England).  Many small trees with distinctive characteristics exist, such as the Oregan crabapple (Malus fusca), a true apple with extremely hard wood and small fruits that are sour but good (see long, detailed study by Reynolds and Dupres 2018).  Much commoner and more visible are the true firs, Abies species.  Many species exist, some of which grow to 250’.  Despite priority over the name, they have lost it to the Douglas fir in the Northwest. It is not a fir (it may be closer to pines), but is far commoner and has much better wood, so it has usurped the name “fir.”  In western Canada, true firs are called “balsams.”  In the northwestern US, they are “true firs.”

Old-growth coastal forests in the Northwest are quite incredible sights.  (Vaillant 2005 gives a stunning and romantic description.)  Many species of evergreens grow to 200’ or more, some over 300’.  The redwoods of northwestern California can reach 379’; they are by far the tallest trees in the world.  The only other trees on earth conclusively known to break 300’ are the Douglas fir and Sitka spruce.  Possibly other Northwest Coast trees (grand fir, sugar pine, and red cedar) broke 300 in the past.  The sheer amount of wood is incredible.  Wildlife is thin, and mostly far up in the canopy.  Stands were often over 500 years old, since fire and other catastrophes are rare. 

Soil fertility was maintained by nitrogen fixation by lichens, and also—more exotically—by bears dragging salmon up from streams.  The bears would eat some salmon, scavengers would eat more, and the fish and bear-dung would fertilize the land, sometimes as heavily as a modern farmer fertilizing a crop (Gende and Quinn 2006).  This kept alive many trees that needed much nitrogen and could not get it otherwise, such as Sitka spruce.

The interior is different:  fires are much more frequent, and the dominant trees are the fire-following pines and Douglas firs.  (On forest fire regimes, see Agee 1993.)  These do not grow under their own shade, and thus are slowly replaced by shade-tolerant hemlock, cedars, balsam firs, and so on if the fires do not return.   This can take a while.  Douglas firs can live hundreds of years.  Replacement is just beginning in the 100-year-old forests around Seattle.  Soil has much to do with it.  Replacement is far along on rich, deep soils, but barely starting on barren ridgetops.  In the drier and more lightning-prone parts of the interior, fire intervals are much more common than this, so pine and Douglas fir remain dominant indefinitely.

Douglas firs do not tolerate extreme cold, though they can take a lot, and they are replaced in high mountains and north of central BC by spruces of various species.  The interior north is dominated by white spruce, with black spruce on wet sites.  Middle mountain slopes and plateaus that burned often were occupied by lodgepole pine.  Resources are few in pine forests, but include a wide range of fungi (some now commercially valuable) as well as edible cambium and a few herbs.

The typical replacement situation involves alder or cottonwood coming in first.  Alder normally comes in first, especially in less fertile areas, because it fixes nitrogen, as beans do, using symbiotic root bacteria (Rhizobium).  Faster-growing but nitrogen-demanding cottonwood and willow take over in very fertile sites.  Maples, wild cherries, and several other species of trees occur as minor components in the forests. 

The extensive openings created by wetlands, prairies, high mountain meadows and tundras, coastal barrens, and the like are covered by a wide variety of grasses, composites, herbs and bulbs.  Most of these are useful to humans for food, medicine, basketry, cordage, bedding, and many other purposes. 

The vast lava plateaus of interior Washington and Oregon were originally covered by grassland or sagebrush.  These environments were rich in edible roots and bulbs, as well as other plant resources, plus deer and pronghorns.  Root crops are low in calories and take a lot of work, so fish remained the main resource in most of the region.

            Productivity of the seas and waters was almost uniformly high, but the land was uneven in this regard.  Vast areas of rugged, high mountains were almost worthless to early humans except for hunting marmots and mountain goats, and a few other resources.  Much of the forested area was thin on resources, and fire to produce openings was welcome.  At the other extreme of productivity were the mouths of the major rivers.  Here the nutrients of a large percentage of North America were concentrated.  Tens of millions of salmon and countless lesser fish swarmed in the waters.  The extensive mud banks were veritable factories of clams and oysters.  Waterfowl in millions flocked there.  The rich alluvial soil produced roots, berries, and herbs, as well as fast-growing trees.  Bits and pieces of this riverine richness still exist along the lower Skeena, Fraser, Skagit and Columbia, but so terribly hurt by mismanagement that we can form no real idea of what it was like 300 years ago.

2.  Traditional Cultural Areas

In this study I discuss the region classically defined as the “Northwest Coast” (Suttles 1990) and “Plateau” (Walker 1998) cultural areas, as well as neighboring Athapaskan-settled areas linked by rivers and trails to the coast.  Roughly, this comprises what is today the panhandle of Alaska; most of British Columbia; all of Washington, and Oregon; northwestern California; and small neighboring bits of Yukon and Idaho.  Operationally, I am largely defining my topic area as the region where salmon are common enough to be a major resource.  This basically means the Pacific-slope drainages from the Klamath to Alaska.  However, I exclude Alaska itself, except for the panhandle, because it is culturally so different as to require a separate discussion.  I also exclude most of Idaho and western Montana, where the rivers run to the Pacific but the fish are few enough to make the people adapt to other resources, and thus the cultural ecology is different indeed.

Within this area, most of the basic ideas I am considering are broadly similar:  respect for animals and plants, taking them as people (“other-than-human persons”), managing them for conservation but cropping them heavily, and so on.  Since I am concerned with cultural representations of conservation, it is these similarities that matter to my immediate project, and thus I feel comfortable about treating in one book a range of societies that are fantastically different in many other ways.  However, the differences matter too.  One notable example is the contrast between the spectacular totem poles and housefronts of the northern Northwest and the unobtrusive, low-key, but exquisitely detailed arts of the other regions.

The classic Northwest Coast was the realm of large permanent villages and highly complex societies dependent on sea fisheries and salmon.  They are the creators of the great art objects and ceremonies that makes the Northwest so famous.

The Athapaskan groups ranged from small mobile bands hunting big game and camping seasonally for fish to groups bordering on and culturally close to the Northwest Coast tribes.  The Athapaskan groups share a particular and striking epistemology that will be of major concern below.

The Plateau peoples are the most varied ecologically, ranging from the Shuswap and Lakes in the northern forests to the Yakima on the sagebrush deserts of interior Washington.   They lived on a varied diet of fish, game, roots, berries and other plant foods.  Their usual houses were substantial pit houses:  the foundation was dug out two or three feet deep into the ground, large logs were set up in a square, and substantial timbers were put over these to make a domed roof; the whole was then covered with sod.  These large, comfortable, well-insulated houses were ideal for the climate, and they hardly changed for 5,000 years.  The Plateau people were highly mobile, at first in canoes, later on horseback, and their mobility patterns have locally persisted to this day; they may suddenly disappear from one place and reappear in another they supposedly “abandoned” decades before, to the surprise of Euro-American settlers (Ackerman 2005; Pryor 1999).

Humans entered North America from Asia, probably about 16,000 years ago, give or take a millennium.  Earlier dates are suggested by equivocal but interesting evidence from both North and South America.  The stock that came in at these early times was similar to recent finds in south-central Siberia at 24,000 and 17,000 year old levels.  These finds have been genetically sequenced (Raghavan et al. 2014) and prove to be somewhat intermediate genetically between Europe and East Asia; they have many resemblances to earlier Chinese finds and to European and west Asian populations.  The split between east Siberians and Native Americans is about 20,000-23,000 years old; the Athabascans separated later, about 13,000 years ago (Raghavan et al. 2015).  There is no believable evidence of early contact from Europe to the Americas (despite some claims in the media).  There is no question that Native Americans entered the Americas via the Bering Strait within the last few tens of thousands of years.  Native Americans now hold that “we have always been here,” but this applies to their existing languages and societies, not to their ultimate genetic ancestors—as their origin myths generally show, since most relate migrations, or tell of times before humans, when the animals were the people.

Archaeological finds in the Northwest go back to about 12-15,000 years ago, but the area must have been settled before that.  Humans were in South America by 13,000 years ago.  They must have gone through the Northwest to get there.  An early site, On Your Knees Cave on the Prince of Wales islands in Alaska, goes back to 10,300 years ago, has obsidian from Mt. Edziza, on the mainland some 200 km away (Moss 2011; Turner 2014-1:57; on Mt. Edziza, see Reimer 2018).  A wetsite on Haida Gwaii has even preserved wooden tools that look like recent ones but are over 10,000 years old (Moss 2011:90).  Now-extensive archaeology has turned up a long record of gradual learning to use the land more and more efficiently.  There are few, if any, sharp breaks in the record; apparently, people and societies have been developing rather smoothly (Moss 2011), with no evidence of the vast migrations and sudden cultural intrusions that delight archaeologists of Asia.

It is now widely agreed that the main early route into the Americas was along the Northwest Coast.  The famous “Plains corridor” between the Cordilleran and eastern Canadian ice sheets probably did not open early enough to be a competitor, though evidently people came down it as soon as they could.  The Pleistocene glacial maximum, which covered Canada with ice from Atlantic to Pacific and made travel impossible, was earlier than we used to think—more like 19,000 than 16,000 years ago (Clark et al. 2009).  Thus, people could probably have come down the coast by 15,000 BC.  But what was then the coast is now 300 feet deep, the sea levels having risen.  So we know nothing of the earliest migrants. 

By 10,000 years ago, however, people were established in Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) and elsewhere along the coast.  There is total cultural continuity in Haida Gwaii; apparently the ancestral Haida settled there and never moved.  They were drying salmon in large villages 7000 years ago (Cannon and Yang 2006), e.g. at Namu, where occupation goes back to 11,000 yeas ago.  Salmon and shellfish increases there from 6000 years ago (Moss 2011; Turner 2014-1:84).

The Archaic period lasted from before 10,000 BCE to about 4400, and was characterized by small, mobile groups wandering the landscape, hunting and fishing.  After 4400, the Pacific period set in, lasting until contact with European settlers.  Settled life rapidly advanced, with “storing large volumes of food; increased population density, sendentism, [increasing] household
and community size; escalated warfare; development of canoe-based land-use patterns; more institutionalized social status differences,” and more intensive management of resources (Sobel et al. 2013:31).  Pit houses appear in the interior by very early dates, and were common everywhere by 3000 years ago (Turner 2014-1:85).  By this time also, high-elevation sites were occupied, evidently for berrying and other resource extraction (Turner 2014-1:97).

            Development was fairly slow in early millennia, though large pit houses appear quite early in the record.  Very large, complex societies were established by 1000 BCE.  In the Fraser River canyon, truly astonishing developments existed by 1800 years ago.  At Bridge River, a ttributary that joins the Fraser just north of Lillooet, by 1400-1300 BP there was a huge village with dozens of house pits, some large enough to imply houses holding some 50 people (Prentiss, Cross, et al. 2008; Prentiss, Foor, Hogan, et al. 2012; Prentiss, Foor, Cross, et al. 2016).  Also notable was the rapid rise of inequality; there were chiefs and commoners—more accurately, high-ranked and lower-ranked lineages—and they were very different indeed in the archaeological record.  This village, and other large villages on the middle Fraser, were abandoned around 1000 years ago.  This appears to be due to overhunting, overfishing, and presumably the Medieval Warm Period’s negative effects on fish (the water may have grown too warm for healthy runs).  People reverted to more egalitarian and nomadic lifestyles.

Prentiss and her collaborators review several possible reasons for the rise of inequality in a village like this.  Social learning and imitation is expectably involved.  Self-aggrandizing individuals probably arose; “competitive signaling” by feasts and donations presumably occurred, as it did later.  Presumably some coercion was involved.  There must have been rebels, surely.  Inequality could emerge partly through competition between individuals—presumably their families would slowly evolve into ranked lineages.  Prentiss tends to favor a more moderate situation, in which “house size evolves to solve problems to do with labor management, kin relations, and defense” (Prentiss et al. 2012:544). One assumes some ideological and ceremonial reflection of this (ibid.), but no obvious evidence suggests itself.  Fishing, and control of good fishing spots, was the basis of it all. 

Further research showed diminishing returns to hunting and fishing as the site grew more populous.  More and more mouths had to be fed from less and less available food. This would have meant competition, with the better providers winning out.  Powerful lineages could have arisen as the more successful families consolidated their hold.  Thus in their 2018 paper, the Prentiss group opts for Malthusian pressure as the driver of inequality, social complexity, and bigger, better-built villages.  It would not be the first or only time in history when food problems drove hierarchy and dominance.  When the fishery declined sharply around 1000-900 CE, the population dispersed and the village was abandoned.  It was reoccupied just before settler contact, but abandoned for good in the 1850s, as gold rushes drove Indigenous people away from the Fraser.

Pit houses got larger in early millennia.  On the coast they began to give way to plank houses by 4000-5000 years ago; square house-floors a thousand years older may indicate even earlier ones (Ames and Sobel 2013:131; Moss 2011).  One survives (as an archaeological ruin) from 800 BCE (Sobel 2013:31).  Many were found at the Ozette site.  A single house could contain 35,000 board feet of planks and a village could have a million board feet tied up in housing (Ames and Sobel 2013:138), to say nothing of the amount used for containers, tools, and fuel.  Houses 400 and even 1200 feet long are claimed in early explorers’ accounts, especially for the Lower Columbia and Lower Fraser areas, where resources were really rich.  These would have been adjacent “townhouse” units housing whole villages.

In fact, the whole Northwest Coast shows remarkable continuity, with in-situ development of cultures.  The best-known areas are, unsurprisingly, those nearest the archaeology faculties of the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington.  Here, fairly complex cultures are already known by 3000 years ago, and the modern cultures seem to have been established well over 1000 years ago.  Something of a cultural peak was reached in the Marpole phase along the lower Fraser River and in neighboring areas, 2000-3000 years ago (for Fraser culture history see Carlson et al. 2001).  This may correlate with drier conditions that changed resource availability (Lepofsky, Lertzman et al. 2005).  Major stone fortifications in this area show a great deal of warfare was present in the late prehistoric period (Schaeper 2006).  The global altithermal from around 9000 to 4000 years ago gave way on the Coast, as elsewhere, to a cold period about 3800-2600 (Moss 2011:138).

The same correlation of drying with reduced salmon, more diverse exploitation, and resultant rapid rise in cultural complexity was independently noted for the interior Plateau (Prentiss et al. 2005).  There, complexity of village life increased sharply around 2500 years ago when drier conditions set in.  It reached almost modern levels about 1100 years ago at the start of the Medieval Warm Period, a relatively warm period from the 900s to 1300 CE.  Some increase took place thereafter, in spite of the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1800.

A more recent site is Sunken Village, on Sauvie Island in the Columbia at Portland.  Here, vast acorn processing and storage facilities exist.  Acorns and hazelnuts were staples.  “The acrorn-leaching technology and baketry of Sunen Village show marked similarities to those of much more ancient Jomon period acorn-processing sites throughout Japan” (Turner 2014-1:101), with similar basket and bag techniques; this is independent invention rather than diffusion. 

Another revealing, though tragic, find was of a young man who apparently fell and froze some 300 years ago at the edge of a glacier in British Columbia near the Alaska border.  Recent melting revealed his body.  He had eaten salmon, crab, and coastal vegetables, so he was evidently coming from the coast.  Particularly interesting was a magnificent spruce-root hat he wore, a masterpiece of basket technology (Turner 2014-1:105 shows a photograph).  Apparently he not only has living relatives, but is probably an individual remembered in local oral tradition (Moss 2011:142-144).  He was cremated and his ashes scattered near where he was found.

By the time the white voyagers and traders reached the area in the mid-18th century, an incredible linguistic diversity existed in the northwest.  This evidently dates back to the very early settlement.  There was maximal opportunity for unrelated groups to establish themselves, and for related peoples to diverge so much that their original relationships are now untraceable.  Many high-level linguistic linkages have been postulated (e.g. between Haida and Na-Dene and between Wakashan and Salishan), but I am unconvinced (not dogmatically so; just skeptical) after looking at a fair amount of evidence.  One fairly well-documented, though still controversial, relationship is striking, however:  Na-Dene has now been argued to be related to Ket, a rarely-spoken language within a group of very closely related “Yeniseian” languages spoken along the central Yenisei River in Russia (Vajda 2004).  It is not really surprising, given histories of migration and contact, to find a large language family whose closest relationships are in the Old World rather than next door in the northwest.

There were six very different language phyla along the coast:  the Haida on their islands; the Na-Dene (Tlingit and Athapaskan) on the northern coasts and throughout the northern interior; the Tsimshian in the lower Skeena and Nass drainages and neighboring coast; the Wakashan (including Haisla, Heiltsuk, Kwakwala and Nuu-chah-nulth) along most of the rest of the coast, the Salish along the “Salish Sea” coasts and much of the interior; and the tiny Chemakuan language family on the Olympic Peninsula.  Haida has often been argued to be a part of the Na-Dene group, but the evidence is poor; most of the resemblances seem to me to be either clear borrowings (e.g. yel ??? for raven in northern Haida; raven is yel in Tlingit, gagak in southern Haida  CHECK THIS) or fairly likely ones.  If there is a true relationship, it is at a very deep level.

There were several additional language groupings in the interior.  Theoretically related to Tsimshian in a huge “Penutian” phylum, but the evidence for relationships among these languages does not convince me.  One group includes Cayuse and Molalla in Oregon.  It is not obviously related to Tsimshian, or indeed to any other group.  Also “Penutian” are the Sahaptian languages of the middle Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, and the Chinookan languages of the lower Columbia River.  None of these show overwhelmingly obvious relationships to the group originally called “Penutian” languages, which occur in California.  Further research on relationships is needed.

People and groups could easily switch languages, and bilingualism was frequent.  The Gitksan may be an Athapaskan group that switched to a Tsimshianic language fairly recently (Miller 1982) or may include descendents of many Athapaskans.  The Inland Tlingit of southwest Yukon were certainly Athapaskan-speakers till recently, and preserve some memory of the change.

These languages were usually grammatically and phonologically complex.  The Salish languages are among the most difficult in the world for outsiders to pronounce.  Nancy Turner has shared with many of us a word from Nuxalk (a particularly difficult Salishan language): čłp’xwłtłpskwč’, meaning “he had in his possession a bunchberry plant” (just the simple word p’xwłtłhp “bunchberry” with a third person possessive). 

In spite of the difficulties, practically every adult knew at least two, often completely unrelated, languages, and many knew three or four.  A kaleidoscopic variety of languages was jammed into a very small space.  War, raid, trade and intermarriage were all constant.  Intermarriage guaranteed that many people spoke two languages from birth, and in some areas it was said that the very concept of having only one native language was strange.  There was thus little barrier to the spread of even the most difficult-to-communicate knowledge, including technical trainings, myths, songs, and religions.

Tragically, all these languages are disappearing, and some are long gone.  One aspect of this has been the loss of the higher style registers.  Chiefs could speak in extremely formal, rhetorical, arcane styles.  Wilson Duff’s notes, which I studied in the 1980s, record that the last speakers of the highest level of chiefly rhetoric passed away in the 1960s.  This left Florence Edenshaw Davidson, one of the more impressive women in Native American history (Blackman 1982), as the last fluent speaker of apparently somewhat less arcane, but still highly aristocratic, Haida.  I was fortunate to meet her and one or two other elders before their passing, but heard no speeches.  (John Enrico recorded an enormous amount of data from Ms. Davidson, but has not seen fit to publish much of it.)  I was more fortunate among the Nuu-chah-nulth, where fine speechmaking in elite style is still extant among the elders.  If what I heard there is any sample (and I am sure it is), we have lost an incredible amount in losing the old elite registers and speeches. 

In historic times, the climax of cultural richness and complexity was in the north, among the Haida, Tsimshian, and their neighbors.  In prehistoric times, however, the climax may well have been around the Salish Sea.  This is the body of water whose Canadian portion is the Gulf of Georgia, whose American portion is largely Puget Sound, and whose shared portion is the Juan de Fuca Strait.  Since it is geographically and ecologically one, with its core area stretching from the Fraser River delta to central Puget Sound, it has recently acquired the much more apt name of Salish Sea.  The international border runs right through it, splitting a major ecological, linguistic, and cultural focus in two.

            Contact across the Bering Strait or even directly across the North Pacific—at least via lost and wrecked boats from Asia—maintained cultural connections.  The Bering Strait comprised a cultural highway, as Boas pointed out long ago (Fitzhugh and Crowell 1988).  One language, the Eskimoan Yupik, was and is spoken on both sides of the strait.  Songs, tales, and other lore were found to link the Siberian Chukchi and Koryak with the American Tlingit and others. 

Metal came to the Northwest by trade and in the wrecks; the Northwest people also learned to work naturally occurring copper from the Copper River (Alaska) and elsewhere (see excellent review by Acheson 2003).  The earliest Boston and English traders brought more, up to tons per voyage (Acheson 2003:229).  All this helped greatly with the woodworking, especially iron from wrecks and later from traders.  This metal spread far inland, being often traded for interior products such as furs and “clamons”—elk hides prepared for armor (Cooper et al. 2015).  These hides can be made so tough that they will stop arrows and even long-shot musket balls.

            A final note on language is the rise, tremendous flourishing, and final decline of Chinuk Wawa, known as Chinook Jargon in English (and thus in most of the literature).  This is a drastically simplified form of Chinook, with many loanwords from other languages.  These are largely Nuu-chah-nulth and Washington Salish languages, but include English and French.  The Wawa developed within and for the fur trade in the late 18th century.  It probably had some degree of ancestry in widespread and presumably somewhat altered Chinook spoken before contact with the whites.  The Chinook language was the most important of a small group of closely related languages spoken on both sides of the lower Columbia River.  The Chinook people, situated at the mouth of that great corridor, naturally became major traders, and their language was widely known far up the Columbia and up and down the coasts.  It was thus well placed to become the substrate for a trade jargon.  Chinuk Wawa uses a simplified phonology and drastically simplified grammar.  It was spoken throughout the Northwest Coast, though not commonly north of central British Columbia, and many whites were fluent speakers, though virtually no whites ever learned any of the traditional languages.  George Lang (2008) has provided a delightful and scholarly history of Wawa.  It survives in countless loanwords and placenames, though it has more or less died out as a spoken language.

3.  Social and Cultural-ecological Dynamics

Society consisted of lineages ranked in some sort of order of power or nobility. Within these were hereditary chiefs, ordinary people of status, and commoners.  There were rather few of the last; this was a world where there were more elites than masses.  This is, however, probably a post-European-settlement phenomenon, due to mass population decline and consequent shortage of people to fill the ranks of the titled (see Boelscher 1988:52 for the debate on this idea).  Below this were slaves, a distinctly separate class, made up largely of captives from other tribes and their descendents.  Raiding for slaves was universal and important.  Slaves could be killed, and sometimes were (de Laguna 1972 has particularly interesting accounts, though scattered through a huge book, and hard to find; see also Boelscher 1988:59-62).

Viola Garfield’s description of the Tsimshian can stand for the whole northern coast:  “Chiefs delegated work to their immediate relatives, wives, children and slaves and set a goal of the quantities to be collected.  They supervised men’s work while their senior wives supervised the labor of younger women and female slaves.  Feasts. Potlatches and ajor undertakings like the building of a new house, were planned several years in advance and surpluses were accumulated in accordance with such long range plans…all resource properties belonged to lioneages or their titular heads.  However, the privilege of using areas belonging to a[n individual] man were extended to his sons during his lifetime” (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:15, 17). This latter custom conflicts with the normal rule of matrilineal inheritance, and was at the discretion of the chiefs.  

There has been debate on whether the Northwest Coast was a “class society.”  The slaves were clearly a lower class.  There remains a question of whether there was a major distinction between chiefs and commoners, or the chiefs were merely primi inter pares.  Certainly some of the great chiefs of the mid-19th century were rulers of villages and had large bands of followers, but they were to some extent a product of the settlers’ fur trade.  Scholars who have worked with more egalitarian groups like the Gitksan tend to think pre-fur-trade chiefs merely gave symbolic leadership to families (Daly 2005:196).  Scholars working with the more powerful groups of the outer coast, such as the Haida and Tsimshian, are more open to the “class” word (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:28; Roth 2008).  Certainly noble families were acutely aware of their status, as all ethnographies and Indigenous writers of the truly coastal groups agree.   Class” is rather an ambiguous concept at best, and also the Northwest Coast’s more powerful groups were in process of change and differentiation, making their societies “boundary phenomena” in many ways.

Societies were also organized into “houses.”  The actual houses were usually large, and had names.  The house as a named institution, however, was more than that: it was often coterminous with the lineage, or with the group of close bilineally-reckoned relatives typical of central coast First Nations.  Houses thus became quite comparable to the “houses” of Europe, as in house of Windsor, house of Tudor, or house of Gotha—though obviously on a smaller scale.  This comparison was first taken seriously by Claude Lévi-Strauss (e.g. 1982), and has been much discussed since, especially by Jay Miller (2014, passim).

A particularly interesting institution was the name (Miller 2014, passim).  A child would have a personal name, but anyone of substance eventually succeeded to a hereditary title within his or her lineage, and new names could be created.  Names were honored titles comparable to those of feudal Europe.  As Macbeth was first addressed as Cawdor, later as Glamis, and finally as Scotland, so a Northwest Coast person would be addressed by the latest and highest name he or she had acquired.  The difference was that Macbeth took over the estates with those names, whereas Northwest Coast names are strictly personal titles; they imply decision-making power over lineage estates or other property, but they are not the actual names of properties.  Unlike many aspects of Northwest Coast culture, nametaking goes on today, and is increasingly important.  One of the most obvious immediate reasons for a potlatch is taking a new name.  This could have interesting kinship ramifications; among the matrilineal Gitksan, the father and his family had the work of producing and assembling spiritual and material wealth for a child’s naming ceremonies (Adams 1973:38-39). 

Many chiefly names that are mistakenly considered to be personal names in some of the literature are actually more comparable to titles.  Examples include Shakes in Tlingit Alaska, or Legaix among the Tsimshian near Prince Rupert.  One could be, for instance, the Capilano of North Vancouver, just as Shakespeare’s MacBeth became successively Cawdor, Glamis, and King when he took over those titles.  (Capilano—Salish keypilanoq—was the title of the head chief of the village near which Capilano Community College now stands.)

The hereditary chiefly name Maquinna, passed on for centuries on northern Vancouver Island, inspired an excellent discussion of this whole concept by the current Maquinna, Chief Earl George of Ahousaht (George 2003).  A trained anthropologist, he explains in anthropological terms the cluster of rights and responsibilities that the name actually labels.  As Maquinna, he has major responsibilities spread over the central west coast of Vancouver Island.  Another autobiography with enormous and fascinating detail on names and rank is that of the wonderful and impressive Kwakwakawakw noblewoman Agnes Alfred (2004).

Among outsider accounts, Christopher Roth’s account of Tsimshian naming (Roth 2008) and Boelscher’s of Haida (1988:151-166) are particularly thorough and excellent.  A very detailed section of W. W. Elmendorf’s ethnography of the Twana of Puget Sound (1960) describes naming in the more southerly reaches.   Roth points out that a name has a reality of its own, and the bearer of a name comes in a real sense to be the name—complete with all its duties and responsibilities.  Again, readers of Shakespeare’s Macbeth will (at least partially) understand.  Macbeth did not just get the letters “Cawdor” and “Glamis” after his name, let alone the word “King” in front; he became a very different social entity as he took over those titles.  Inheritance, marriages, and house traditions are similar to those of old Europe.  As Jay Miller reports for the Tsimshian:  “Today, Northwest natives are well aware of such parallels between the dynbastic marriages of European and of Tsimshian noble houses” (Miller 2014:97).  Some assimilation to European norms has probably taken place since white settlement, but the parallels go back long before contact.

Like kingship in medieval Scotland, Northwest Coast names are often spiritual and religious.  God appoints kings and kingship is a divine duty.  The ancestors are involved in the appointment of a new Legaix, and some names are so spirit-linked that they convey direct spirit power.  Names thus are unique; only one person at a time can have a specific name.  They are confined to their descent groups.  There are male and female names, chiefly and nonchiefly names, and names that go with particular functions. 

Names are not all formal hereditary titles of this sort.  Ordinary names include casual personal monikers, but even these usually have stories attached to them.  Family histories describe the origins of names identified with particular descent lines.  These follow from tales that often involve meeting supernatural beings and getting spirit powers, but may merely commemorate secular events.  These latter events can be minor or even silly, but once they become grounds for a name, they are canonical stories for the group (see Roth 2008, esp. pp. 40 ff.; cf. royal nicknames in medieval Europe, which conveyed respect even when intrinsically disrespectful like “Charles the Fat”).

An individual may take many names during life:  a youthful personal name, an adult name, and then any number of titles.  Taking a new name of any status, as well as any other change of status such as a marriage (at least between nobles), must be recognized with a potlatch.  This—plus a laudable desire for hospitality and fun— keeps the potlatch alive and flourishing today.  Even groups whose native language has died out often maintain names.  Names were often taboo when the wearer died.  All the Puget Sound languages have one name for the mallard duck, except for one group, the Twana, that calls them “red feet,” because a chief within historic time had had a name sounding like the usual “mallard” word (Elmendorf 1960:393).  Puget Sound Salish has special words for various types of naming taboos.

Residence on most of the coast was in very large plank houses that contained whole lineages or large families.  These could be enormous; a house reportedly 500 feet long existed on the lower Fraser just after 1800.  In front of these, among the northern and central groups, were the famous “totem poles,” which displayed family crests and portrayed historically interesting family stories or other events. 

Most of these events were mythical.  Rarely, however, they were recent, or not even local events;. Abraham Lincoln was carved on one pole.  A fascinating bit of evidence on what constituted as an event occurred in 1825, when a small group of Gitksan on a party of retaliation against a murder stopped at the first trading post in west-central British Columbia, kept by a Mr. Ross.  “Here they observed the white man, his possessions, and his strange ways, for the first time, and considered their adventure in the light of a supernatural experience.  They marveled in particular at the white man’s dog, the palisade or fortification around his houses, and the broad wagon road.”  One, Wa-Iget, took this dog as a crest, and had it carved on his totem pole at Kisgagas, under the name of ‘Auge-maeselos (“dog of Mr. Ross,” r being pronounced l; Barbeau 1929:103).  Another took the palisade, and built a small palisade around his totem pole (Barbeau 1950:10).

Southward, these were replaced by large carved house posts among the Nuu-chah-nulth and Salish.  South of northern Washington there was little or no large-scale carving.

The interior groups lived in large, but not very large, semisubterranean houses.  To build one, a large circular pit was dug down a few feet into the ground, with level floor and often a bench ring along the side.  Four large pillars supported a log frame roof that was then covered with lighter materials and then with earth.  Such a house was warm in winter, cool in summer, and resistant to all weathers.  It is very ancient in the region.  Similar houses were once constructed all over western North America and northeastern Asia.  (Versions of them often survive as ceremonial structures, such as the kivas of the Pueblos and the ceremonial houses of the Navaho and the central Californians.)  Semisubterranean houses were replaced by lighter, more portable or easily-built dwellings in most regions in the last few millennia. 

Inland, away from the great fishing stations, society rapidly became less complex and rich.  In the north, the deep interior was a world of hunters of large mammals.  They had exactly the opposite dynamic:  they had to be sparse on the ground and highly mobile, with few possessions.  Farther south, in the Plateau region, root foods became more important, and were managed intensively.  This was less divisive, and in any case salmon were important there too, if less so than on the coast.  Societies intermediate in size and complexity arose.  Intermediate complexity also characterized the first tier of Athapaskan groups in Canada and Alaska. 

The traditional explanation for this is that the groups “borrowed” ideas from the Coast,  presumably late.  However, current archaeology suggests that the complexity developed slowly throughout the region.  The Athapaskans and Plateau peoples were not latecomers, but were always part of the process.  The more concentrated the subsistence base, the more complicated life and communities became.

Throughout the Northwest, the relative importance of fishing at set places for anadromous fish is a good predictor of social complexity and village size.  This pattern was established by at least 3000 years ago. 

Interestingly, in the southern part of the coastal region, the fish were as common as in the north, but the societies were generally simpler; the reason appears to be that the rivers (and therefore the runs) were smaller, while the landward resources—seeds, nuts, game—were richer.  Evidence occurs in northwest California:  The Klamath River system is a large system that once had huge fish runs, in an otherwise rather barren area; and, as the model predicts, the groups along it had highly complex societies and large towns.  Elsewhere, people could and did scatter out in small villages near more varied productive sites.

The Northwest Coast people were generally a highly warlike set of societies, though there was a range.  The Haida and the Lekwiltok Kwakwakawakw enjoyed reputations as particularly fierce and terrifying warriors, at least in the 19th century.  Tsimshian groups conquered along fur trade routes, developing powerful chiefs.  By contrast, many of the southern groups—from southwest British Columbia south along Puget Sound and the coast—seem to have been relatively peaceful, but perhaps only relatively.  Fairly typical for most of the region is the following paragraph about the people of the Fraser River area in southern British Columbia:


[of the Lillooet]

with the Chilcotin were generally hostile, and stories are common of their raiding the Lillooet for salmon and attacking isolated hunting parties and wandering children for slaves….  The Halkomelem on the Lower Fraser River…engaged in warfare with the Lower Lillooet over elk hunting in the Pitt and Harrison river areas, and hunters of both tribes were massacred.  In the distant past, the Lillooet made war on the coastal people and took many slaves.  Sometime earlier, the Shuswap waged war on the Lower Lillooet, driving them from their lands and fisheries between Anderson Lake and Birkenhead River….  The lower Lillooet in the early 1800s were subjected to frequent raids by the Thompson.  Allied forces of Thompson, Shuswap, and Okanagan attacked the Lake Lillooet but remained friendly with the Fraser River Band of Lillooet…” (Kennedy and Bouchard 1998a:176).  All this action and violence took place in an area of only about 10,000 square miles.  Within that area—and, to generalize—within most of the Northwest Coast—all groups were at least occasionally hostile to each other. 

            Peace could be maintained by scattering eagle or swan down over participants in a ceremony.  This insured peace at the ceremony, and if done properly or in a treaty ceremony would insure peace between fighting elements, potentially for all eternity (though reality interfered with that vision).  Potlatches often involved a peace-treaty or truce component, with down being featured.  Thus, warlike tendencies were not uncontrolled or uncontrollable, and peace—necessary to maintain trade and management—was guaranteed most of the time for most communities.

War, strong chieftainship, and highly localized resources went together.  If a group was focused on a single river with a huge run of fish, they desperately needed to protect it, and they needed slaves to help process the fish during the run—any and all labor was valuable.  They thus tended to be warlike: making themselves secure, and then raiding outward for slaves.  Other groups had to be warlike to defend themselves, and so the process continued,

            Even so, in the more evenly productive landscape of Puget Sound, warfare and strong chieftainship seems rather subdued.  Groups could spread widely over the country and maintain large—and thus more secure—populations.  This may be part of the explanation for the individualism and personal freedom noted for these societies (Angelbeck 2016; Angelbeck and Grier 2012; Miller 2014).  Bill Angelbeck notes that the highly individualized quest for personal guardian spirits was a key part of this.  Each boy and many if not all girls went on a vision quest at puberty or in early teens, seeking guardian powers.  These were not usually spoken of openly.  They allowed a person to avoid irksome social duties by saying “my spirit doesn’t like/permit that” (Angelbeck 2016).  Since others did not really know what one’s spirit was, or what it wanted, this was hard to counter.  Angelbeck and Grier (2012) even use classic anarchist theory (as in Kropotkin 1904) to explain Sound Salish and nearby dynamics, and James C. Scott did for northern southeast Asia (Scott 2009).  The result seems a bit overdone—most hunting-gathering societies are individualist and free, and it is the northern Northwest Coast societies that are the anomaly.  One need not really invoke political theory.  Still, the point is worth making, and the high levels of individualism in the Northwest—not only Puget Sound—is worth remembering.

The social requirements of chieftainship in a warlike world are great.  Chiefs had to attract and keep warriors through generosity. A  pattern of competitive feasting and wealth giveaways is sure to develop.

Feasts come in many forms.  The Tsimshian word liligit, “calling people together,” includes occasions memorably listed by Joan Ryan, who holds the Sm’ooygit Hannamauxw title of the Gitksan people:

“[S]ettlement feasts (which occur after funerals); totem pole- or gravestone-raising feasts; welcome feasts (to celebrate totem pole-raising events); smoke feasts; retirement feasts; divorce feasts; wedding feasts; restitution feasts; shame feasts; reinstatement feasts (pertaining to Gitksan citizens who have disobeyed Gitksan laws [but repented]); first game feasts; welcome feasts (to celebrate births); graduation feasts (to celebrate recent achievements, either academic or spiritual); cleansing feasts (to restore spirits after serious accidents); and coming out feasts (to mark the transition from teen years to adult years).  The feast system is a vehicle by which the Gitksan Nation carries out activities and transactions that affect the daily lives of the House members” (Ryan 2000:ix).  And this is not even a totally complete list.  Similar occasions entail feasts elsewhere on the coast.  Note that almost all of these involve marking some significant change in status of an individual, said change requiring announcement, recognition, and validation by the whole community.  The purpose of many potlatches is in effect to get an actual vote on the change.  If it requires community acceptance, having everyone show up for the feast shows that the change is indeed accepted.  If few or no helpers will contribute to the feast, or if few show up, or if they show up but insult the host, the change is obviously not approved.  Few indeed would give a potlatch if this were a risk, but it did happen in the past, and occasioned fighting or actual war.

Among many accounts of potlatches, we may single out the Tsimshian chief William Beynon’s 1945 account of a series of potlatches by the Gitksan (linguistically close to the Tsimshian; Beynon 2000).  Potlatching was illegal at the time, but the Gitksan country on the Skeena was remote, and Beynon was hardly about to be excluded.  His account remained unpublished until 2000.  Beynon’s father was Welsh, his mother Tsimshian, which made him one of the lucky ones: White by Canadian law (patrilineal), Tsimshian by matrilineal Tsimshian law. 

The high point of feasting is the familiar potlatch of the Northwest Coast.  (The word comes from a Nuu-chah-nulth word meaning “to give.”)  Generosity was such a high value, and so useful in society, that Thomas McIlwraith recorded:  “A native store-keeper once ruefully commented on the fact that he woiuld gain no advantage from the goods on his shelves, since he hoped merely to sell them, not to give them away” (quoted Kramer 2013:738).  This certainly reverses most Anglo-American attitudes!

The reasons for the potlatch have been debated.  Some rather strange ideas have been floated, including the stereotypic-racist one that it was just craziness on the part of ignorant savages.  Better known and more reasonable is the hypothesis of Wayne Suttles and Stuart Piddocke (Piddocke 1965; Suttles 1987) that the potlatch arose to even out resources.  A group would give a potlatch in good times, and thus in bad times would be able to call on reciprocity from more fortunate people.  However, this hypothesis did not hold up well (Adams 1973; John Douglass, interview, 1984).  It turned out that potlatches would not work for this, because they have to be planned years in advance, before scarcity or abundance would be known.  Ordinary reciprocity works instead for the purpose (as Adams and Douglasss both emphasize).  On the other hand, Suttles’ data show some evidence for redistribution and evening-out in his major research area, Puget Sound and the Salish Sea (Wayne Suttles, 1987, and interview, 1984).

Potlatches may locally have served to equalize resources, but this has never been proved, and seems definitely unlikely in many cases.  Suttles (1987) has discussed the whole controversy, with pros and cons.  Since he wrote, the equalization theory has been abandoned by writers familiar with the region (Daly 2005:59-60).  One problem with it is that the potlatching group all gets together to finance the enterprise, and relatively poor individuals must often give up quite a bit; even guests may have to give more than ethnographies usually imply.  And a potlatch takes months to years to plan and stage, whereas local resource shortages tend to appear suddenly.  People needing assistance disperse to kin rather than waiting for the next potlatch somewhere.

The ostensible purpose of most potlatches is to mark ritually a major change in status: taking a new name (and thus a new position), coming of age, getting married, or dying.  Funeral potlatches have been the most important and widespread potlatches in recent times, but in the past nametaking was apparently the most important. 

Still, other cultures around the world mark such transitions without spectacular giveaways.  The giveaways, demonstration of powers and possessions, and feasts powerfully increase and mark the status of the potlatchers, and this is clearly their most important reason (Adams 1973).  John Adams (1973) showed that they also can serve indirectly to redistribute population, notably from larger but troubled groups to smaller and cohesive ones, because of shifting after the potlatch.  

In early times there was a much more compelling reason to potlatch.  Philip Drucker and Robert Heizer showed some time ago (1967) that the root purpose was organization and mobilization for conflict, including—focally—competition for warriors or for chief-status allies.  A successful chief wins loot by fighting.  This he can donate to warriors directly, or can translate into wealth for the whole group, thus organizing and leading his own people.  Either way, he can thus attract more warriors to his side or form alliances with neighboring groups.  A less successful chief must either defer or attempt to do better.  If he cannot be generous enough, his warriors defect, and he is as good as dead. 

Similar patterns of competitive feasting and generosity are well known for West Africa, highland Southeast Asia, early-day Afghanistan (Robertson 1896), and many other areas of the world.  Often, professional poets—the bards of Ireland, scops of Anglo-Saxon society, griots of Africa, song leaders on the Northwest Coast—sang the leader’s praises at such feasts.  

Particularly close to the Northwest Coast is the society of medieval Ireland (Europe’s northwest coast!)—as reflected in the epic “Cattle Raid of Cooley” (Kinsella 1969).  Society there depended heavily on salmon runs.  Chiefs competed to attract warriors by giving feasts and distributing wealth and booty.  Bards sang the praises of the generous.  Warfare included slave raiding and head-hunting.  Chiefs were called ri, usually translated as “king,” but that is a bit of Irish hyperbole—though the word is indeed cognate with Latin rex.   Chieftainship was based in the kinship group, and hotly contested.  This often led to the competitive feasting pattern, as in the Northwest. 

Some astonishing parallels occur:  the wren is a powerful bird for both Irish and Haida (and also the Quileute), because although it is tiny, it sings in the worst winter storms, and its song rings cloud and clear above the howling of the wind.  In societies that share a belief that song gives spirit power, this makes the bird a truly powerful being (Lawrence 1997 for the Irish; my own research on Haida).  Among the Nuu-chah-nulth the wren is the source of reliable words, “One Who Always Speaks Rightly” (Atleo 2004, 2011:98).  The belief in the magic power of song is shared all across Europe and Siberia, along with several folktales (such as the Swan Maiden and “Orpheus” myths) and a number of religious practices including reverence for tree spirits, but the Irish and Haida respect for the wren seems to have been a genuine independent development.   Moving to Scotland, we may add the clan crest, closely parallel to Northwest Coast concepts.  (The Anderson clan crest is an oak tree surrounded by a leather belt, which seems quite close to Haida and Tsimshian themes.)

Singers and tale-tellers graced potlatches also.  We know little of their professional status, but the major songs, dances, and masks were lineage property.  We also are somewhat unclear on the range of chiefly power; the great chiefdoms in which one man extended dominion over several villages seem likely to be products of the fur trade (as among the Tsimshian) in the early post-contact period (Matson et al. 2003).  Chiefs could be powerful, and there was an ideology of this; the Nuu-chah-nulth related chiefs and whales (Harkin 1998; Sapir 2004).  As Nuu-chah-nulth anthropologist Ki-Ke-In points out: “[T]he Nuuchaanulth [sic] people historically had policing, a judiciary system, and a most sophisticated and inclusive system of ownership and title….the entire sea and land territory and everything in it are vested in the Taayii Ha’wilth,” the head chief(Ki-Ke-In 2013:29).  He did not have European-style autocratic control, but he acted as leader of his wide, kin-linked community.  The value of the term “chiefdom” has thus been challenged (see Miller 2014:94), but the chiefs had enough power over enough area to make the term useful, even though the Northwest Coast chiefdoms were small in extent and low in population compared to the great chiefdoms of old Polynesia or Mesoamerica.

The survival of potlatching for 200 years after pacification of the northwest shows that it had other purposes than mere war mobilization.  The direct reason for a potlatch was and is usually succession to a great name.  Sometimes it was defense of that name, as when a potlatch was given to wipe away shame because a holder of a high title had—for example—stumbled at a feast, or been insulted. (Potlatches could, by the same token, shame an opponent.) 

The potlatching person or group will invite everyone in their personal networks.  Those who actually attend are showing their support for the new title.  Their very presence is essentially a vote for the new status.  They normally provide gifts of their own, also, and these show support for the title-holder.  In the old days this was a life-and-death matter; such exchanges made loyalty bonds that were expected to hold in war.  (Again, the Irish institution is so similar that one can usefully apply the explanations in The Tain, Kinsella 1969.)  Today, in the actively political and community-oriented world of the Northwest’s First Nations, such support is only slightly less vital.  Potlatching is the cement and mortar that holds the tribal organizations and political alliances together.  Those who condemned the potlatch as wasteful or irrational had obviously never studied the institution. 

Potlatches are about giving away vast amounts of food and other useful goods, but they are also about displaying what can never be given:  names, crests, dances, sacred possessions (Roth 2008:102ff).  A potlatcher may point out that the food shared out is the product of the potlatcher’s titled endowment property (Daly 2005:59, citing Philip Drucker as well as Daly’s own work).   Once again this institution recalls medieval Ireland and England.  The king could and did feast his followers and give away gold and coin, but he could not give away the crown jewels, the ritual sword and mace, or the intangible names and titles.  As on the Northwest Coast, many of the material possessions had supernatural qualities.  A Tsimshian inherited copper is not just a piece of copper sheeting, just as Excalibur was not just a sword.

A particularly common and widespread type of potlatch was the memorial potlatch, held first when a high-born person died, and then again when his or her totem pole—today, headstone—was raised (see notable discussion in Fiske and Patrick 2000).  This was the occasion to validate the succession:  the name-taker had to host the potlatch, feeding and giving lavish gifts to those who came.  Chiefs and others of status had to give potlatches for marriage, to call everyone to witness and support the couple.  Assumption of any new name or title provided other occasions for name-taking. A girl reaching puberty, and thus the age when arrangements for marriage can begin, has a “coming-out potlatch.” 

Potlatches still abound, for all these latter purposes.  Name-taking has replaced war.  Competitive gift-giving can replace physical conflict; “fighting with property,” as Helen Codere (1950) famously called it.  It can also be simple ambition, or lack thereof.  A friend of mine was in line to be a hereditary chief in one of the Nuu-chah-nulth groups, but did not want the responsibility at the time, so let his younger brother potlatch for the position; later the younger brother got tired of it, so my friend potlatched and took over the job. 

The demographic collapse on the Northwest Coast led to a pile-up of titles:  there were too few people competing for too many names.  This, plus the availability of trade goods, caused potlatching to spin into heights of lavish expenditure that horrified the Protestant missionaries.  They managed to get the potlatch outlawed in Canada from 1884 to 1953.  Potlatching continued anyway, but covert and somewhat distorted.  This was a major psychological blow to the people (Atleo 2011).  All the missionaries accomplished was giving a couple of generations of Native people a contempt for the overt racism in settlers’ law. 

Potlatching became extremely competitive among the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutlan) peoples.  This was partly because of the pile-up of titles.  It was partly because their complex system of descent does not produce clear lineages, so many people have a chance at inheriting a name and set of privileges.  It was also partly because the central location of the Kwakwaka’wakw made them a crossroads for wealth, opportunity, and communication.  Their potlatches were the spectacular ones involving vast destructions of property, such as huge fires of burning whale and seal oil (highly precious commodities).  North and south of them, potlatches and feasts were calmer, more routine, and more concerned with actual orderly succession—not that that prevented politicking and gossip (cf. Boelscher 1988 for Haida, Roth 2008 for the Tsimshian). Boelscher (1988) pointed out that in potlatching as in other matters involving rhetoric, oratory, and public presence, there is a tremendous amount of individual jockeying for position, often by denying one’s own position with exaggerated modesty.  Rhetoric is highly formulaic and stereotyped, but people manage to assert individuality through practice.  As so often, autobiographies are particularly useful sources (e.g. Alfred 2004; Blackman/Davidson 1982; Spradley/Sewid 1969).

Devotees of potlatch literature will note that I am downplaying the gift/obligation side—so famously studied by Marcel Mauss (1990) and debated ever since—of the institution.  Complicated and highly variable rules of reciprocity, with or without interest, are reported.  All this is not particularly relevant to my purposes here, but quite apart from that I tend to find the gift exchanging rather secondary.  (See Daly 2005; Roth 2008; and other sources cited above, but I am also going with my own research observations here.)  Potlatching is war mobilization, social glue, name and title validation, status-change validation, validation of land ownership, and much else.  Gift transactions, however defined and managed, are more means than ends.  They are necessary and obligatory, but it is what they show—what they communicate—that matters. The gift-giver is rewarding guests for recognizing—some even say voting for—a due adoption of a new name and station in life.  The names and privileges, not the rewards, are what matter.  And in the old days of intergroup warfare, the rival power of chiefs mattered even more.

            The social structure of Northwest Coast peoples was thus based heavily on kinship—extended very widely, to include adopted kin, animals and mountains that were reckoned as kin, mythologically related groups descended from a mythic ancestor, and kin related by wide-flung marriages.  Position within the social system was all-important.  Social positions were loci of power, not only political but spiritual.  “A traditional chief had a moral and religious obligation to transform chaotic cosmic energy into socially useful power by being a conduit for it down throiugh his spine, ceremonial cane, or totem pole, which, above all, was the ‘deed’ to ‘his’ rank, name, house, and territory” (Miller 2014:96).

Northwest Coast society was made up of kinship groups:  patrilineages or patrilineal kindreds in the south, matrilineages in the north and northern interior, and various intermediate accommodations—including something close to double-descent—in the middle (especially among Wakashan speakers). 

The Na-Dene, Tsimshian and Haida peoples are all matrilineal, and in fact their combined territories make up largest matriliny-dominated area on the planet.  The Haida, Tsimshianic groups, and Tlingit had large and powerful matrilineages, and are among the most strongly matrilineal societies in the world.   (This disproves, among other things, the old idea—sometimes still heard—that matriliny is the result of hoe agriculture).  As late as the late 20th century, Canada’s strongly patrilineal and patriarchal legal system conflicted, often dramatically, with Indigenous law and practice.  A person with a Native mother and Anglo-Canadian father was a full member of both societies, and could move easily in both worlds.  An individual with a non-Native mother and Native father was a rootless person, not really part of either world.  When I did research on alcoholism in British Columbia, I found a disproportionate percentage of such individuals to be alcoholic.  Fortunately, since those days, Canadian law has become less narrowly patriarchal.  The point is that kinship really gives identity and personhood on the Northwest Coast; one is a member of one’s family in a way incomprehensible, or at least alien, to many non-Indigenous people.  We will later see how relevant this is to environmental actions.

These matrilineages are further grouped into larger groupings:  the Eagle and Raven moieties among the Haida, three or four comparable phratries among the Tlingit and Tsimshian.  One must marry outside one’s group.  All have Eagle and Raven groups, and a Haida Eagle cannot marry a Tsimshian one.

            Lineages are involved in resource ownership.  Among the Haida, for instance, lineage “members share rights to ancestral villages, to fishing, hunting, and gathering locations, including:

–major salmon-spawning rivers

–halibut and cod banks off shore

–important berry patches (especiallyi cranberry and crabapple)

–bird nesting sites (particularly species of sea gull, Cassin’s auklet, and ancient murrelet)

–rights to stranded whales on the coastline near lineage-owned lands

–trap and deadfall sites for land mammals along rivers

–access to house sties in ancestral villages” (Boelscher 1988:35).

Poaching on someone else’s land, even to take small items, was cause for fighting.

Especially in the northern coast, lineages (matrilineages in the north) had crests:  natural (or supernatural) things that were symbols and that provided some supernatural power for them.  Usually these were impressive animals, such as killer whales, grizzly bears, sharks, wolves, sealions, eagles, frogs and dragonflies (these being spiritually powerful beings), ravens, and the like.  Some plants were crests, as well as weather (Haida crests incuded cumulus and cirrus clouds), the moon, and various spirit beings.  People could add crests when interesting events involving crest-type beings happened to their families.  These crests were typically shown on totem poles, blankets, and even the person; a Haida man would have his lineage crest tattooed on his body (Boelscher 1988:142).

Almost equally important were lineage rights to particular songs, dances, designs, and other intellectual property.  Lineages and phratries even had their own origin myths, very different from other lineages’ stories.  In fact, laws regarding intellectual property were complex and sophisticated, rather like modern copyright legislation.  A song could be unowned and available for everyone to sing, or owned by the moiety or phratry, or by the lineage, or by a family or an individual.  Whoever owned it could allow someone else to sing it, but a substantial payment or exchange was required.  This could be indirect; lineage A might generously allow someone from lineage B to sing a lineage A song, but of course lineage B was expected to do something equivalently generous for lineage A at some point.  Showing off one’s lineage dances, songs, and arts was—and in many areas still is—an integral part of potlatching and feasting.  Often it involved competitive display; at other times it was closer to an arts festival.

Thomas McIlwraith, in his early days as ethnographer of the Nuxalk, inadvertently sang a song belonging to one family, whereupon an elder of that family had to adopt him on the spot to spare everybody serious shame and difficulty (quoted in Kramer 2013:737). 

Individuals owned the products of their own labor, especially things like bows and arrows, clothing, food, and personal articles, but also songs they composed and the like.  An individual might pass songs and crests on to his or her children; a man could even pass them to his children among the matrilineal Haida (Boelscher 1988:38), though that could be a touchy proposition.  Normally, privileges including songs and crests were the property of matrilineages in the northern coast, and passed on accordingly.

Among the matrilineal societies, women had great authority, and owned property.  Chiefs were generally (but not always) male, being the brothers of the women who were the hereditary heads of the lineages; but women had real power.  There is a famous story of a Haida chief taking refuge on a fur trader’s boat because he had dared to sell some furs belonging to his wife.  She and her brothers were out after him.  He had to stay on the boat, under protection of the trader, for months before he could work out an arrangement to go home.  Like other matrilineal societies worldwide, these were not “matriarchies,” but did give more power to women than patrilineal societies generally do.  On the other hand, among the patrilineal societies of the southern Northwest Coast, women were by no means meek or oppressed; they held their own and had considerable real power, partly through controlling access to and management of plant resources, many shellfish resources, and other subsistence matters.

These societies were organized in moieties; among the Tsimshian, the moieties had split into two parts, giving a four-phratry system, but the original moiety structure was still identifiable (Miller 1982).  Crest privileges and their artistic expression were taken so seriously that upper-class artists “worked in great secrecy, punihing with death any unqualified person unfortunate enough to stumble on their workshops hidden in the forest” (Miller 1982; if this runs true to Tsimshian form, however, the threat was enough and killings were very rarely carried out).

In general, ownership among the Northwest Coast peoples was extremely highly developed and complex—as far from the old idea of “primitive communism” as one could possibly get.  Few have doubted that this was related to the need for control over, and management of, resources.  Even the ownership of songs and art motifs could be seen as related to maintaining group solidarity and identity for defense of hard goods—although it was very much more than that, being integral to all aspects of social life.

The patrilineal societies were largely in the southern areas—Washington and Oregon, and the Fraser River area in British Columbia.  They were not so extremely lineal-oriented as the matrilineal groups; they tended toward bilateral reckoning.  The lineage system was comparable, however,

A different matter was the situation in the middle: the Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, and some immediate neighbors.  Here reckoning was equally through father’s and mother’s line.  “The immerdiate family grouping (derived from four grandparents) is technically called a kindred, while the huge extended family, which was and is transnational or intertribal (throiugh eight great-grandparents), is technically called an intersept” (Miller 2014:79).  Names, titles and privileges were taken up by any member of the kindred who wanted to potlatch for them and could get enough support and resources to do so.  Individuals thus often had, and still have, titles inherited through the father’s line and others through the mother’s. Among the Nuu-chah-nulth this accompanied a kinship terminological system similar to that of the Hawaiians, with every relative in one’s own generation being “brother” or “sister,” and every one in the parent generation being “father” or “mother.”  This still persists for the parent generation, with the slight transformation that relatives other than actual mothers and fathers become “uncle” or “auntie.”  Since virtually all Nuu-chah-nulth can trace at least some degree of relationship to all others, the terms wind up being extended to all Nuu-chah-nulth in the generation above one’s own. 

It should be emphasized that family and traditional title are still important everywhere.  Kinship remains the basis of society, and large, close, mutually supportive families are the rule. 

4.  Traditional Resource Management

The Northwest Coast has always seemed anthropologically anomalous.  Despite being “hunters and gatherers,” the Native peoples maintained high populations, lived in large villages, and had a complex social organization (Coupland et al. 2009; Matson et al. 2003).  Noble families led large populations of relative “commoners,” and a large population of slaves (captured in wars and raids) provided a hard-working underclass.  Unlike the incidental slaves used for household services in many small-scale societies, the slaves of the northwest were a genuine population of critically important servile workers.  They cut and carried wood, drew water, and processed the fish that were the basis of subsistence. 

The Northwest Coast has turned out to be much less anomalous now that we have better data on nonagricultural populations elsewhere in the world.  Complex nonagricultural populations with large settlements and complicated ownership rules extended all along the Pacific Coast, even into Baja California, and were characteristic of southern Florida and several other parts of the New World, as well as of northern Australia and Mesolithic Europe.  All these societies depended to a great extent on sea and riverine foods, often anadromous fish.

Moreover, we now realize that the Northwest Coast groups practiced extensive horticulture.  They managed, increased, transplanted, and selectively harvested plants, and had at least one or two domesticated species.  (Tobacco was the only widespread one—which says something about human preferences.)   Of this more anon.  More and more authorities are now referring to the Northwest Coast people as horticulturalists, rather than hunter-gatherers. 

Above all, however, they were exploiters of the aquatic world.  Fish runs are highly concentrated in time and space, forcing the people that depend on them to concentrate in large social agglomerations on a regular basis.  This in turn requires some sort of comprehensive social organization, with strong authority structures provides by kinship groupings or chieftainship or—usually—both.  Also, the best fishing stations are well worth fighting for, and the resulting conflict forces even more tight military organization on the people.  Last, the enormous but brief salmon runs of the Northwest require huge bursts of labor, since people need to develop a virtual assembly line of filleting and drying the catch for preservation through the rest of the year.  Slavery becomes economic under such circumstances.  Raiding for slaves adds to fighting for fishing sites as an economically important activity.

Complexity has traditionally been explained by the “rich” or “abundant” resources of the Northwest, but this is a false claim.  The resources consist largely of fish, which are not always easy to catch.  The great salmon runs of the major rivers are indeed incredible, but one must average out the productivity of the rivers over the thousands of square miles of barren mountains and food-poor forests that make up 99% of the area in question.  In the southern areas—from central Washington and extreme southern British Columbia southward—root crops, berries, and nuts become increasingly abundant, but do not become common enough to be major staples till one gets to the lower Columbia River.  Moreover, salmon runs sometimes fail, especially in the north.  When a run failed, all the people could do was move away, hopefully finding some relatives to stay with. 

This meant that, for instance, maintaining the population of eight to ten thousand on Haida Gwaii was no easy undertaking.  The land was rather poor in berries and roots (though not as poor as it is now; see below).  There were few large game animals, only a tiny herd of caribou.  There were not even any large salmon streams.  The people had to carry out dangerous open-sea fishing for halibut and hunting for sea mammals.  Even more fearful was the need to cross the wide and treacherous Hecate Strait to trade for oil and other goods with the less-than-friendly Tsimshian.  The Haida needed formidable toughness and intelligence, and it is reflected in their stunning art and oral literature.  Similar cases could be made for other groups along the coast and into the deep interior. 

The Nuu-chah-nulth and closely related Ditidat and Makah of the outer coasts of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula depended to varying degrees on whaling.  The Makah got up to 80-90% of their food from whales and much of the rest from seals, and some Nuu-chah-nulth groups were not far behind (MacMillan 1999).  They could stay out in canones for days, keeping small fires on stone or other fireproof platforms in the canoes (Reid 2015:143-145).  Earlier authors tended to believe the Indigenous groups could not have caught many whales, but excavations at the Ozette site in Washington proved the contrary, and further historical scholarship by Joshua Reid and others has shown that the Native groups took not only the docile grays but also humpback, sperm, and other whales, even blues and orcas (Reid 2015:144-145).  Ozette was a village covered by a landslide on the Olympic Peninsula coast about 300 years ago.  Ozette also revealed a great deal of fine art, like that historically known, as well as large houses, and a complex use of plant materials, including all the common woods (see Turner 2014-1:108-110 for lists). 

 Whaling from an open canoe is very much like the whaling Herman Melville so graphically described in Moby Dick.  The difficulty of striking a swimming whale with an enormously heavy harpoon from an open boat is made clear by a famous photograph; an early photographer, Asahel Curtis, managed to immortalize the moment when Makah whaler Charles White struck a whale, and the picture has been reproduced countless times (see e.g. Reid 2015:175; a huge blowup of the picture decorates the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay).  It is not surprising that whalers resorted to magical practices that could involve months of ritual preparation (Drucker 1951; Jonaitis 1999; Reid 2015:150). 

On a more practical note, these groups had to be prepared for finding themselves far out at sea.  A harpooned whale could run seaward, towing the harpooner’s canoe on what Melville’s whalers called a “Nantucket sleighride.”  They could take days to paddle back to shore (Drucker 1951).  If the night was clear, they could “steer by the pole star,” but fog was typical:  “Combinations of regular swell patterns and winds enabled them to fix their approximate location, even in the regular fogs that conceal the coast.  Experienced Makah mariners also used the water’s appearance and the set of the riptide to approximate their location when out of sight of land,” and they could also predict the weather (Reid 2015:142).  They thus had a navigational science similar to that of the Micronesians and other deep-ocean voyagers.  

The Makahs also developed a commercial sealing industry in the late 19th century, even purchasing and running some long-distance-voyaging schooners (Reid 2015:177-196).  Unfortunately, overfishing by settlers’ industrial craft virtually wiped out the whale and seal resource by the early 20th century.

Whale and seal products were traded widely, and these groups often had to depend on trade relationships for necessary food items; they were, to a significant extent, specialized whalers.  Such dependence on trade for staple food is unusual, to say the least, among hunter-gatherers.  The westcoast pattern developed from about 3000 to 2000 years ago, but dependence on whaling probably increased after the latter date. The Nuu-chah-nulth naturally yearned to possess the safer living of salmon streams, and fought many a war to acquire such.

On the other hand, sea mammals are not only bigger than fish, they average much fatter.  A seal or whale obviously equals a lot of salmon, and produces an enormous amount of oil as well as meat.  It is quite possible that some Northwest Coast groups got most of their calories from sea mammals, not fish, as was certainly the case for Aleutian and other island Alaskan Native groups (see e.g. Jolles 2002).

David Arnold (2008:24) estimates that the Tlingit consumed about 6 million pounds of fish a year in aboriginal times, given the very conservative estimate of 500 pounds of fish per person.  In fact they could well have required twice that.  500 pounds would represent only about 1200 calories of fat salmon, and only half as many of lean fish.  The Tlingit had little but fish to eat.  They did take many sea mammals and birds, but 500 pounds of fish per year is still a very conservative estimate.

Indeed, at the other corner of the region, the average Spokan ate almost 1000 lb. of salmon in a year.  (Ross 2011:359; I think the figure better applies to all fish.)   This would be about 1,400,000 pounds per year for the whole tribe, representing well over 100,000 fish (Ross 2011:359, citing Allan Scholtz).  And this though the Spokan, unlike the Tlingit, got half their calories from plant foods.  The Tlingit got their salmon at river mouths, where they were fat, while the Spokan caught fish far upriver, where they had used most of their fat reserves fighting their way up the Columbia.  Even so, 1000 lb. may be exaggerated, since the Spokan got half their almost calories from plants and some more from game.  A reasonable guess for the Northwest Coast as a whole would be two pounds of fat fish or three of lean per day.

Fish are low-calorie fare.  Three hundred calories per pound is typical for fish like halibut and rockfish.  Salmon fatten up for their runs up the rivers, and a fat salmon entering a river could be four times that rich in calories, but otherwise even salmon are not high in calories.  Herring and oolichans are high to very high in fat, but not available except during brief runs.  And the Native people lived hard outdoor lives—calorie consumption was extremely high.  The Tlingit would need up to twice Arnold’s estimate.  Other groups would need similar amounts.  Bears and other predators took a huge number of salmon also, and the pressure on the resource base was high.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that all possible resources were used.  This provided, and still provides, an incentive for managing the entire landscape sustainably.  Worldwide, the higher the percentage of natural resources that are used, the more people need to maintain the ecosystem.  Conversely, when people depend on a handful of non-native foods (as in the United States) there is no incentive to maintain the natural environment, and, indeed, every incentive to destroy it.  The wide spectrum of foods and industrial resources used by Indigenous peoples in the Northwest contrasts strikingly with the extreme poverty of crops grown on any significant scale by white settlers. 

Not only were salmon and sea fish important, but river fish now neglected, such as suckers and lampreys, were major resources.  The three local species of lampreys (Lampreta spp., formerly placed in the genus Petromyzon), called “eels” in the Northwest though not related to true eels, are now almost extinct.  They were major resources once.  Temain favorite foods—though now very hard to get (Miller 2012).  Two were parasites on salmon and other fish; the third was a small nonparasitic species.  Suckers were key resources in many inland areas, from the Columbia to the northeast California plateau.  Again many species are endangered, including the Lost River sucker, whose runs used to sustain the Modoc; diversion for irrigation has almost dried up its river.  Suckers remain important in the Pit River area, among other places.

Fish were always carefully managed, as will appear below.  Social groups had depended on the fish for millennia, and knew what they could take and how to maximize returns.  They used a variety of gears, traps, weirs, and other devices, including stone weirs to catch fish on receding tides (Menzies 2016).  Conservation was generally effected by limiting days of fishing, permitting escapements, and improving breeding conditions, rather than by limiting gears or daily takes.  Improving spawning success included things such as clearing redds, returning fish wastes to water for nutrients recycling, and protecting spawning streams.

Shellfish were also carefully managed by developing breeding grounds and enforcing limits.  Charles Menzies (2010; 2016:119-130) has described abalone management by the Tsimshian.  Populations collapsed after settler contact and overfishing.  This led to ethnographic erasure of the importance of abalone in precontact times.  Menzies’ archaeological work turned up massive amounts of abalone shells, leading to new realization of its former importance.  The same could be said of many other resources and foods that we now are beginning to realize were once important.

Marine and freshwater resources were managed carefully.  The high point was the creation of “clam gardens”:  Rock-barriered areas where beaches could upgrade or be developed to maximize clam production.  We will discuss these below.

Northwest Coast knowledge of the environment was as thorough, detailed and comprehensive as one would expect from 15,000 or more years of continuous occupation of and dependence on the land.  Ethnobiology of most groups has been documented in detail.  The most comprehensive work is Nancy Turner’s five-foot shelf of classic ethnobotanies, many of them coauthored with First Nations people, climaxing in her enormous Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge (2014; see esp. vol. 2, pp. 198-244).  The most comprehensive work on animals and places has been done by Eugene Hunn, especially in N’Chi Wana (1991), and his students such as Thomas Thornton, whose book Being and Place among the Tlingit (2008) goes beyond ethnobiology to discuss major ontological and epistemological points. 

Knowledge can be something as simple as knowing bird songs that announce plant seasons.  In spring, when salmonberries flower and set fruit, the woods are suddenly full of Swainson’s Thrushes returning from their winter homes.  Their exquisitely beautiful songs sound everywhere:  woodily woodily woodily woodily, rising up the scale.  The Saanich (Wsáneć) of Vancouver Island hear this as “weweleweleweleweś”—“ripen, ripen, ripen.”  (Turner and Hebda 2012:103.  Such playful wording of bird songs is widespread in North America; I have encountered similar Maya stories.) 

Northwest Coast peoples managed the environment extremely well (Alberta Society of Professional Biologists 1986; Deur and Turner 2005 Hunn 1990; Kirk 1986;  Menzies 2006; Miller 1999, who gives valuable comparative materials and seasonal rounds; Turner 2005).  The basic principle was to use and value everything, or almost everything.  Total-landscape management resulted.  The whole region was managed to some degree, and productive areas were intensively managed.  But since almost everything was useful, the first rule of management was to keep everything.  Since management was by village or extended family, it was also necessary to manage for long-term, wide-flung payoffs.  Short-term payoffs depleted the resource for one or a very few people.  That made short-term exploitation a selfish crime against society, and it was correspondingly condemned.  

They were the first to admit that they were far from perfect; every, or almost every, group has tales of overharvesting followed by famine.  The fact that these tales were retold with cautionary import is what matters.  There was a learning curve, and everyone knew it.  Many individuals, moreover, tell of overharvesting themselves and getting social sanctions applied in no uncertain terms (e.g. Atleo 2011:50).  Such stories are far more revealing of how management really accomplished than are the romantic stereotypes of the “Indian at one with nature.”

Fish management was notably careful.  Not only were spears and hooks universal, but very effective netting was done.  Trawl nets and set reef nets were used in the Salish Sea, and seines, weirs, scoop nets, and other nets were used everywhere.  Nettles might be grown especially for making nets, or tough grass traded in from other areas (Miller 2014:83).  It was easy to take all the fish from a small river or creek.

Thus, strict limits were set on fishing, and this was usually religiously represented—there were strong religious rules and ceremonies relating to fishing.  This is well documented all the way from the Tlingit in the north (Arnold 2008) to the Yurok in the far south (Swezey and Heizer 1977), and for most groups in between, e.g. the groups along the Skeena (Morrell 1985).  The first fish was subject to ceremonies; often it had to be taken by a religious leader.  (The best account is in Swezey and Heizer 1977, but similar practices were universal on the coast.)  People waited until the season was thus opened.  This allowed leaders to provide for escapement, for spawning or for the tribes upriver.  Swezey and Heizer (1977) report for the Klamath River tribes that the latter was a motive; not allowing enough fish to get through the lower river weirs was cause for the upriver tribes to make war on those downstream.  Ceremonies thus not only allowed escapement for breeding, but also kept the peace.

Other areas too had a fish leader to start the season.  The Lakes and Colville Salishans fished at Kettle Falls, and the Lakes scholar Lawney Reyes, recalling his childhood, reports:

“During the salmon harvest, the head authority at the falls was the appointed Salmon Chief.  Before any nets or traps were set or fishermen were positioned, he stood near the lower falls, facing downriver, and prayed.  The Salmon Chief welcomed the arrival of the chinook [salmon].  He apologized and thanked those salmon that would be separed or taken in the traps.  HE assured the hcinook that most would be allowed to go upriver to spawn and bring forth their young….

“It was the responsibility of the Salmon Chief to see that the closely related tribes…shared equally in all salmon that were caught.  Other tribes that came to fish at the falls were also treated fairly….  According to Sin-Aikst [Lakes] tradition, the first Salmon Chief was chosen by Coyote…. [who] made Beaver the Salmon Chief

[and told him]

…. ‘You must never be greedy and you must see to it that no one else is greedy.’” (Reyes 2002:46-47).

The Lakes and their neighbors had, in fact, such a supervisor for all hunting and fishing activities—there was a hunting chief as well as a salmon chief and other fishing leaders.  Such leaders of hunting and fishing had a special title, xa’tús, from a word for “first”(Kennedy and Bouchard 1998b:241; Miller 1998:255).  The salmon chief was locally called “salmon tyee” (Miller 1998:255), tyee being Chinook Jargon for “chief.”

The tight grounding of conservation in religion, including origin myths, is found everywhere in the region.  It goes a long way to disprove the occasional claim that conservation is actually a new idea, learned from the Whites.  Many early ethnographers segregated “religion” and “subsistence” in separate parts of their ethnographies; it would be better to take the religion-environment-subsistence interaction as the basic unity, with “religion” and “subsistence” being artificial categories imposed from outside.

The Nuu-chah-nulth and Tlingit, at least, and probably other groups, stocked eggs and fry in salmon streams (see e.g. Deur and Turner 2005:19; George 2003:74).  Gilbert Sproat describes this from the early 19th century (Sproat 1987 [1868]).  Since Sproat was the first European to visit the areas he described, this was evidently a pre-contact practice.  A Saanich origin myth of salmon, and of the use of wild parsley (Lomatium) as “medicine” to lure it, talks of the creator hero-twins stocking salmon as they went around Vancouver Island (Turner and Hebda 2012:132).   Earl Maquinna George describes the process in detail, and also points out that the Nuu-chah-nulth would clear choking vegetation out of streams but leave enough to keep the stream healthy; salmon need some logs for shelter and protection.  The Nuu-chah-nulth also understood that bears were people too, and needed and deserved their fair share of the catch, for all to cooperate and consent (Atleo 2011:100-101). 

Fish populations throughout the Northwest Coast region were carefully managed (Johnsen 2009).  The European settlers found fish incredibly abundant—rivers during runs were said to be “more fish than water.”  Some of this abundance is surely due to population recovery after Indian fishing was reduced in the contact period (Ames 2005:84), but an extremely important and little-remarked fact is that even the tiniest and most insignificant streams had runs at contact.  Even normal natural processes would have exterminated some of these small-stream runs.  Such streams have few fish and short run-times.  More to the point, one man with a net can easily “rob a creek” (take all the fish in it) in a couple of weeks of fishing.  Since most salmon run eventually into creeks small enough to rob, overfishing can quickly wipe out even a huge river’s salmon stocks.  We know that Indian fishing was heavy.  Only stocking combined with careful conservation could have maintained the runs.

Limiting fishing was, of course, the major and most necessary way to manage this.  It was done by many means, e.g. not fishing before a certain date or before a large escapement, and these limits were ritually enforced.  The classic account is by Swezey and Heizer (1977) for the Klamath River, but parallels exist throughout the region.  Competition and cooperation over resources drove protection of one’s tribal resource base (Johnsen 2009).  As usual, there are equivalent stories from other regions; Erich Kasten quotes Indigenous elders on Kamchatka as counseling leaving salmon and opening weirs (Kasten 2012:79).  One elder remembered asking, as a child, why some fish were spared and being told those were females that would reproduce the fish.  Today, the runaway market in Russia for caviare has doomed the female fish, which are often simply stripped of caviare and left to rot, to the horror of traditional persons.  Kasten recommends reviving traditional ways of conserving before it is too late.  Comparable accounts from Siberia make it clear that conservation was general there (e.g. Koestler 2012; Wilson 2012). Tsimshian anthropologist Charles Menzies records stories of overhunting and overfishing told as cautionary tales, with conservation morals drawn (Menzies 2012, esp. p. 165).  The Alutiiq conserved and managed fish until settler societies forced overfishing (Carothers 2012).

Another conservation measure was returning inedible parts of the fish to the water.  Salmon die on spawning because the young depend on the nutrients from their parents’ bodies; this enormous import of nutrients from the sea to the river headwaters allows the fantastic productivity of Northwest Coast streams, which would otherwise be extremely nutrient-poor.  (Coniferous forests make oligotrophic streams.)  The Native people know this, and some at least see it as equivalent to human parents feeding their children (Gottesfeld 1994b).  We will consider some teaching stories about this, below.  Returning the bones to the water seems to be universal along the acidic, oligotrophic streams of the coast, but on the Plateau the bones were more often ground up for human consumption (e.g. Ross 2011:429), probably because the streams are richer in nutrients and do not need the addition.

The Tlingit of Alaska not only stocked or restocked streams and took out beaver dams that were blocking these streams.  They also excavated shallow pools (ish) in small spawning streams, to prevent drying in summer, freezing in winter, and excess predation.  They devised a complex trap system to divert salmon fry while trapping dolly varden trout, which eat salmon eggs.  They not only prevented overfishing, they were careful to take about three males for every one female from the upriver runs, to maximize spawning.  This was done with the usual recognition of salmon as people deserving and requiring respect.  Steve Langdon calls this an “existencescape of willful intentional beings.”  Following Viveiros de Castro (2015) he speaks of “relational ontology” and “abductive reflexivity” (Langdon 2016).

In addition to stocking salmon, at least some Northwest Coast groups (specifically the Kwakwaka’wakw and nearby Salishan-speaking groups) protected clam beaches by creating low rock walls along the seaward side to prevent beach erosion (Williams 2006).  These “clam gardens” have now been the subject of major research by Dana Lepofsky and her colleagues and students (Augustine et al. 2016; Lepofsky et al. 2015; Moss 2011).  With the help of First Nations advisors and of Randy Bouchard and Dorothy Kennedy, experts on the ethnography of the local Salishan groups, Lepofsky and her group have found large numbers of rock walls separating, marking off, shoring up, and preserving large areas of clam beaches.  More, they learned that local people had been painstakingly clearing the beaches of large boulders, cobbles, and logs for countless centuries.  Also, clam digging—which was rigorously managed for sustainability—broke up the substrate, which otherwise became too hard for easy clam establishment.  The group tried these various techniques on sample beaches and found that the number of clams was increased severalfold.  They recommend that these techniques be introduced to modern beach management.

Given what we know of plant and fish management, and the importance of clams and other shellfish in the diet, it would be surprising if no enhancement of shellfish was done.  It is very easy to overharvest shellfish, and indeed many Native American groups did, as early as several thousand years ago (Rick and Erlandson 2008, 2009).  Huge shell middens stand up as islands or bars in marshy areas, and cover up to hundreds of acres along rivers and coasts in the Northwest; some were several metres deep.  As with fish, only diligent conservation and management could keep the shellfish resource flourishing in near-settlement locations.

In fact, what Lepofsky and her group found is really clam farming—as intensive and demanding as the oyster and mussel farming now practiced widely in Washington state.  It is at least as labor-intensive and landscape-changing as anything done on the Northwest Coast, and is quite comparable in both labor needs and results to the horticulture of many Native American groups in more easterly parts of North America.  Along with the emerging knowledge of plant management, it changes our idea of the Northwest Coast peoples; they were more like proto-agriculturalists than “hunters and gatherers.”

Birds too were carefully managed, with seabirds and their eggs being taken in a self-consciously sustainable way (Hunn et al. 2003), as is archaeologically confirmed by continued abundance of the birds on even very vulnerable islands (Moss 2007).

Game management is less easy to evaluate.  Overall, there are few declines demonstrated in the archaeological record—in fact, none was found in a major review by Virginia Butler and Sarah Campbell (2004; Butler 2005).  They did not even find a shift in exploitation from big game to lower-ranked resources.  Elk were as common 200 years ago as 5000 years ago.  Locally, the situation gets more interesting, with patterns of local decline or scarcity contrasting with considerable abundance (Kay and Simmons 2002, and see below).  The fact remains that the Northwest Coast was rich in game when first contacted by White settlers, and unlike the situation in California (Preston 2002), this first contact came before introduced disease reduced the population and allowed game numbers to rebound.

Game was conserved by conscious choice to shift hunting grounds when game became depleted, and by the whole complex of ideas associated with respect for animals (see below): not to take too many, to kill with a shot (rather than wound and allow escape), to use all of an animal, and other restrictions.  Explicit conservation was common.  This stands in marked contrast with, for example, June Helms’ careful description of the ecology of the northeastern Athapaskas (Helm 2000).  They not only shot what they could, they opposed government conservation ideas explicitly and at length, with the result that game was drastically depleted around settlements. 

Apparently, in the old days, the population of humans was so thin and mobile that it did not much affect local populations, and if it did people simply moved elsewhere.  Firearms and population growth created a problem that eastern Dene culture apparently could not solve (Helm 2000, esp. pp. 66-68, 79-84).  The contrast with the Northwest is similar to the contrast in South America between sparse groups like the nonconserving Machigenga/Matsigenka and more careful groups that are more populous and settled (Beckerman et al. 2002).

Among the Spokan of eastern Washington, “[l]and mammals were never stalked or taken at springs, as this was disrespectful and, if violated, was believed to be the main reason for game leaving an area” (Ross 1998:273)—naturally enough, as waterhole hunting is the surest way to wipe out local game.  Possibly less directly useful was the same group’s way of dealing with bears; “the successful hunter…sang the bear’s death song” and observed “three days of strict behavioral and dietary taboos to avoid dreaming of the bear or being burned later by fire or struck by lightning” (Ross 1998:273, 2011:314).  But this shows both respect for the bear and awareness of interaction and interdependence in ecology—though bears and lightning would not be associated by most peoples.  The Spokan were competent enough hunters to wipe out the game, using tricks like taking scent glands from animals and luring them with the scents (Ross 2011:307-308).  It is worth noting that the Spokan lived on fish and plant materials (mostly berries and roots), about 50% each; game was a rare treat (Ross 2011:311).

Wet sites that preserve many types of remains for archaeologists have given us new insights into the Northwest.  At Ozette in Washington state, whaling was far more important than anyone realized, and wooden arrows without stone points were far more common than stone-tipped ones (Croes 2003), showing that hunting was far more important than the relative rarity of classic “arrow point” discoveries had suggested.  Baskets show cultural continuity and adaptability over long time periods, and reveal the extreme importance of transporting and storing food (Bernick 2003; Croes 2003).

Plant Resource Management

The Northwest Coast peoples, like other western American hunter-gatherers, managed plant resources by cultivating, pruning, transplanting, fertilizing, and indeed all gardening activities short of actual domestication.  Many authors have surveyed these practices for the Northwest (e.g. Blukis Onat 2002; Deur and Turner [eds.], 2005, esp. Lepofsky, Hallett et al. 2005 and Turner and Peacock 2005 therein; Gottesfeld 1994b; Kirk 1986; Turner 2005).  In addition, Kat Anderson’s great study of Californian Native plant management practices (M. K. Anderson 2005) not only covers the extreme southern end of the region, but describes many techniques used throughout.  Jay Miller’s statement that “While women did encourage the growth of certain wild plants, they did this unobtrusively” (Miller 2014:21) is an odd observation.  Burning, planting, massively selective harvesting, and other techniques were far from unobtrusive.  They were also very successful, and carefully done.  In fact, in the same book, Miller more accurately says “this cultivating was intense—much more than a light or selective tending of ‘wild’ species (Blukis Onat 2002) .  Not quite farming, it was definitely gardening” (Miller 2014:131, from a previously published paper).  Women used digging sticks, and had appropriate prayers and formulae for working with them and with plants in general.

At least the Secwépemc (Shuswap) had recognized resource stewards; stewardship was a named office (Ignace and Ignace 2017:193-194).  They watched over fish, game, and plant stocks, organized and timed burning for berries and other resources, maintained trails, and oversaw conservation.  They appear to be a development from the “fish chiefs” and “game bosses” reported generally over western North America.

Burning was by far the most important method of managing the environment (Agee 1993, esp. p. 56; M. K. Anderson 2005; Stewart et al. 2002).  The Northwest forests do not burn easily, but they do burn.  Clearings, meadows, and brushfields burn much more easiliy.  The old idea that burning had little effect on resources is disproved by the rapid recent changes in environments the Native Americans managed by fire.  An idea that burning was relatively recent has been rendered unlikely by pollen studies and Native cultural traditions, though natural burning was common in the drier and higher areas and must have had much role in maintaining berry fields.  (They did, after all, evolve over millions of years before people were there to burn.)  The pollen records indicate localized burning going back at least several thousand years (Sobel et al. 2013:37).  Plateau forests burn much more easily, and were regularly burned for berries, to eliminate pests, and to renew the landscape and kill insect pests and ticks (Ignace and Ignace 2017:192; Ross 2011:267-272, citing an enormous literature as well as his own field work).  There was even special spirit power for burning (Ross 2011:271).  

Burning for berries was simple and productive (Joyce Lecompte-Mastenbrook, ongoing research; Ross 2011, esp. 344ff; many other writers).  The major berries of the northwest—huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries of various sorts, and so on—are basically fire-followers, and all the Native groups learned exactly how often and when to burn to maximize production. 

Root crops also grow largely in burned-over prairie and grassland habitats.  Fire suppression has made them rare or absent in many areas, and indeed the forests reclaim unburned areas rapidly.  The oak forests found from California (commonly) to Washington (locally) to British Columbia (only around Victoria) require burning for maintenance; those of BC are now succumbing rapidly to invasion by palnts favored by fire suppression. They once supplied numerous acorns, which were a staple in California and probably close to one in the Willamette Valley.  Acorns had to be leached, and in Oregon they were often buried in mud for the winter, thus becoming “Chinook olives” (Gahr 2013:74). 

However, in at least one area, pollen records show less burning in the last 2500 years, after Native cultures became complex (Walsh et al. 2008).  This seems to accompany a local wet phase, but it is a confusing finding.  Probably, small local fires reduced the chance of major fires that would have left a clearer signature in the record.

Berries “were closely tended and maintained by fire clearing until government prohibited this practice.  Today …due to lack of burning, they have changed in such a way that inferior species and subspecies of berries have replaced the quality species of the past (Art Mathews in Daly 2005:221; Gitksan data, but applicable everywhere in the Northwest).  I might chalk this up to “good old days” rhetoric if I had not observed it myself throughout much of western North America over the last 60-odd years.  Almost everywhere, the favorite berry patches of my youth have grown up to forests, brush, or grassland.  Invasion by inferior species is bad enough, but a far worse problem (and one thing Mathews was talking about) is the fact that shading and crowding make berry plants produce fewer and sourer fruit.  Every home gardener who has let trees encroach on his berry patch knows this, but it is rarely mentioned in the ecological literature.

Sugar also occurred in sweet sap and conifer cambium, and from Douglas firs, which sometimes exude a trisaccharide sugar from their twigs and branches; it gathers like snow on the twigs.  It was so loved in the interior that it was known as “breast milk” in some groups (Turner 2014-1:215).  Pit-cooking of roots such as camas turned the indigestible inulin to fructose, thus making them sweet; European sweets and starches were accepted quickly and seen as parallel (ibid. and many references cited there).  Balsamroot was similarly prepared not only for food but for medicine; it contains strongly antibiotic chemicals (Turner 2014-1:431).

The only domesticated plant acknowledged in most of the literature was tobacco.  Tobacco cultivation was certainly pre-Columbian, but not necessarily in all groups where it is known (Moss 2005).  One species (Nicotiana attenuata) was grown by the Haida and probably their neighbors, and also was grown widely in California and probably into Oregon.  It seems likely that other groups grew it but stopped doing so before anthropologists reached them.  N. quadrivalvis, a plant from the central part of the continent, was occasionally farmed in its area of origin, and may have spread into our region at some time.

Root crops were harvested in ways that propagated them:  large tubers were taken, small ones replanted; roots might be cut and the stem replanted. Harvesting was done such that weeds were eliminated.  Particularly favored crops show what appears to be actual selection from thousands of years of this care. 

Camas (Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii; the latter may be simply a form of C. quamash) was particularly important, and has been for a long time (Lyons and Ritchie 2017).  It seems to have been at least partially domesticated.  It shows several traits characteristic of domestic crops, including large showy flowers (compared to its close relatives), large edible structures, and extremely good adaptation to gardens and gardening (personal observation, from garden cultivation of it by myself and many other persons I know).  Douglas Deur says it is a “cultivated plant” in the coastal forests, being maintained there only by human activity.  Presumably it was introduced from inland (see Deur and Thompson 2008:51; Gahr 2013:70). 

Turner and Hebda (2012:120-121) quote a detailed account by Marguerite Babcock of camas management in southeast Vancouver Island; it was clearly cultivated, and if not domesticated then very close to it.  Turner (2014-2:167-176) provides an extremely detailed account—unique in the ethnographic literature—of how much yield was obtained from various plant resources by Indigenous harvesting efforts.  Few resources yielded high.  Anyone with experience picking berries, which have changed less under domestication than most plants, will have a good idea of effort involved.  Domestic berries yield higher than unmanaged wild stands, but no higher than burned and cultivated wild stands (my considerable personal experience confirms Turner here).

Roots were managed by harvesting with digging sticks, thinning stands and allowing selection of particular sizes.   Balsamroot (Balsamorrhiza spp.) produces edible roots that develop over years into huge, woody, inedible taproots; these were left to reproduce, and very small roots were left to grow.  Carrot-sized roots were harvested (Ignace and Ignace 2017:190).

Wetland resources such as yellow pond lily nuts (the wokas of the Klamath; Colville 1902) and the wapato or “Indian potato” (Sagittaria; see Gahr 2013:69) were similarly managed.  They too may well have been on the road to domestication.  This sort of root management gave the Native people the ability to shift rapidly to cultivating potatoes.  The Haida were trading potatoes in bulk with English and “Boston” ships well before 1800.  In fact, potatoes have been a staple on the coast about as long as they have in Ireland.  The potato was introduced by the Spanish.  Surviving traditional potatoes of the Ozette and Makah types are still genetically South American (Ignace and Ignace 2017:515; Turner 2014-1:198-200), presumably from direct and early introduction by the Spanish. 

The root foods, including other managed ones ranging from glacier lilies (Erythronium) and frilillary (Fritillaria spp.) to clover (Trifolium, especially T. wormskioldii), were baked for long periods in earth ovens, to break down the long-chain polysaccharides, especially inulin, into digestible short-chain sugars.  As experimenters with cooking such roots may be painfully aware, the long-chain molecules can cause acute digestive distress if ingested without breakdown.  Nancy Turner’s five-foot shelf of books give the best and fullest information on these roots and their preparation; she and her students have devoted lifetimes to the research.

We know that fruit trees like Oregon crabapple, Indian plum, hawthorn, and moutain ash were managed, but we do not know much about it.  Techniques included pruning around them, opening land for them, and otherwise encouraging them.  They were often transplanted into new areas, and local orchards established.  Were the seeds planted?  Probably, but we do not know.  Hazelnuts are better known; they were carefully managed throughout the Northwest, with trees carefully tended, pruned, and probably transplanted locally (Armstrong et al. 2018). 

Fibre crops were also managed.  The Secwépemc, for instance, “carefully tended” patches of Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum) “by removing brush and undergrowthnear the patch to encsure straight and thick growth of the perennial hemp shoots” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:191).  Cutting the shoots for fibre made the new ones grow out straight and tall.  This is typical of Indian hemp management all over western North America (see e.g. M. K. Anderson                                                                              2005).  Indian hemp was sometimes transplanted to new areas in California and presumably in the Northwest Coast region as well.

Bow staves were taken off living yew trees in the coastal forests, junipers and other trees in the Basin and probably the Plateau.  This indicates major forbearance and the working of conscience.  Yews and junipers produce few straight branches. Staves are best taken off the lower part of a branch, to get the compression wood.  The branch very slowly regrows.  With junipers, only one stave in about twenty years can be taken (Wilke 1998), and for yews the figure is probably about the same.  This means that people must be restrained by their conscience; no one can patrol all the few trees with straight branches.  All over the Northwest, one sees yew trees with the characteristic scars, indicating that people saved their bow trees.  (For the same reason—bow staves—yew trees were planted thickly around castles in the British Isles in the middle ages. Many of them are still growing, providing a thick shade.)

Similar “culturally modified trees” or “CMT’s” include cedars used for bark or planks.  Cuts were made near the foot of the tree and then about 20 or 30 feet up, the cuts being shallow for bark and deep for planks.  The bark was pulled off in long strips.  The planks were sometimes split off, but it was easier to let the tree grow until the stresses of growth split the plank off without human effort.  The scars, again, show that people took only enough for their needs, without killing or greatly harming the trees.  The scars healed and bark could be taken again (see e.g. Schlick 1998:59). 

The only true domesticate was the dog.  In some groups, it was subject to serious selective breeding—most unusual for small-scale societies.  A wool-bearing variety of dog was developed by the Salish.  The painter Paul Kane managed to see and draw one; it looks rather like a lamb.  It sadly became extinct in the mid-19th century, but biologist Russell Barsh (pers. comm., 2007) is trying to breed it back.  Another endangered special variety is the Tahltan bear dog, developed for bear hunting by the Tahltan people of northern British Columbia.  It somewhat resembles the Karelian bear dog of Finland.  Other groups apparently also had special hunting breeds in the old days.

Moreover, wild animals were probably tamed on more than a few occasions.  Early accounts speak of Salish women trapping mountain goats in spring, when they were shedding their winter coats.  The women pulled the loose fur off the goats and let them go.  The wool was then spun with the dog wool, and woven on sophisticated native looms to make the beautiful traditional blankets.  Mountain goats are notoriously tameable—they became pests in Glacier National Park, begging for food from tourists—and it is fairly obvious that the Salish tamed their goats.  Goat hunting did go on, but I suspect it was done as an unobtrusive cropping of semi-managed herds.  The rifle has changed game hunting in America; bow hunting required a close approach.  The sensible thing to do with the smaller, more tameable animals, like mountain sheep, mountain goats, and deer, was to keep the herds as tame and unsuspecting as possible, taking laggards and easily-shot animals but never taking enough to alarm the group.  This is why archaeology reveals a “poor management” practice of taking many females and young rather than concentrating on the conspicuous, wary adult males, as a modern rifle-hunter would.  (On hunting in western North America in general, see Frison 2004; Kay and Simmons 2002.  Frison was a rancher and an expert hunter, and draws on his knowledge.)

The Northwest Coast Native peoples were formidable hunters, and certainly kept game populations down.  Respect was a needed, and not always adequate, check on overhunting.  Stories warned people to take no more animals than they needed, or even a specific small number.  For the Shuswap, “’Stinginess’

[in distributing fish and game…invited bad luck for the future….  Most of all, resource management was carried
out through a value system that enforced the use of all parts of killed animals
and sanctioned individuals who were wasteful” (Ignace 1998:208).  A major origin myth of the Coeur d’Alene
instructs hunters to take no more than two deer per hunt (Frey 2001:4, and
subsequent discussion throughout book).  The
Kaska “do not kill animals needlessly,” realize that “animals are best saved
for times when they are most useful” (Nelson 1973:155), are averse to using
poison because animals eating the poisoned animals will die in turn, thus
killing needlessly (ibid, 244), and in short “have a well-developed conservation
ethic” (ibid, 311).

The same could be said for all the
other Northwest Coast groups, so far as ethnography goes. In fact, these rules
are common worldwide among hunting groups, including European ones. 

Clearly, the Native peoples knew
overhunting all too well, and knew exactly what its effects were and how much
hunting would be suicidal (see Kay and Simmons 2002).  These stories make no sense at all unless
people had overhunted, had found out the consequences to their cost, had
consciously learned better, and had even more self-consciously developed a
stern morality of conservation!  The fact
that this morality was taught so diligently, with so many stories, proves that
it met a felt need.  Historians routinely
use the existence of a law as proof that the outlawed activity was common
enough to be a problem.  The same can be
said here. The Chinook and their neighbors had rules about taking no more than
necessary, but supplying the Anglo-American settlers made this a negotiable
issue, and one hunter supposedly took 20 to 30 deer per day in one early-19th-century
winter (Gahr 2013:66; I am fairly sure several hunters were involved, but in
any case the toll was unsustainable).

Martin and Szuter (1999, 2002)
found that “no man’s lands” between warring tribes were rich in game, while
village areas were not.  (Similar
findings are reported from South America to Vietnam, and I have found the same
thing in Mexico).  Martin and Szuter argue
that the game was killed out near settlements, though bothering and disturbing
may have had more to do with driving them away.
Of course the game animals are smart enough to move to safe places.  We can observe this today throughout the

In short, Native people had good
sense but were not infallible, and they created morals accordingly.  Contra the old stereotypes, they are not
wantonly wasteful killers (pace Krech 1999, last chapters; see Appendix 3 below),
not natural conservationists (pace Hughes 1983), and most certainly not mere
animals with no impact on nature (see appalling quotes from Anglo settlers in
Pryce 1999:85-90, and her excellent discussion of this whole issue).


The role of cultivation was underplayed
by early anthropologists.  This was
partly because they wanted to emphasize the sophistication of “hunter-gatherer”
societies as a way of disproving evolutionary schemes.  Douglas Deur and Nancy Turner (2005) point
this out, but they exaggerate the case.  It
remains true that the Northwest  Coast
peoples were hunting-gathering societies, without significant domestication or
agriculture.  Most hunter-gatherer
societies manage the environment, often intensively.  Early anthropologists knew that, and had no
reason not to make the hunter-gatherers seem even more sophisticated by
emphasizing it.

Much more true is Deur and Turner’s
point that women were rarely taken seriously by early ethnographers.  Indeed, what Fiske and Patrick say of the
Babine could be said of almost all Northwest Coast peoples:  “We do not have reliable accounts of women’s
lives, property, or social obligations for the early contact or precontact
eras.  All the available fur trader and
missionary accounts are full of contradictions and replete with biases” (Fiske
and Patrick 2000:238). 

Deur and Turner (2005:33) note that
the famous fish dependence of the Northwest Coast peoples must have been
overstated, because living on fish would cause unhealthy overconsumption of
protein and perhaps of vitamin D.  The
peoples in question had to have been eating a lot of carbohydrates.  Records show diet breadth was always great;
people worked to maintain diversity in all matters. 

On the other hand, it should never
be forgotten that roots, berries, and shellfish are all low to extremely low in
calories, and the Northwest Coast people could not have gotten much of their
subsistence from them.  What has been
missed is not so much the plant foods but the importance of oil, both from
ooligan fish and from mammals (sea lions, whales, deer, elk, and so on).  Early accounts stress the enormous importance
of oils in trade, feasting, and food.  The Makah used to compete to see who could
drink the most whale oil at feasts (Colson 1953).  People were desperate for oils.  Suffice it to say that “ooligan” is derived
from a Tsimshian word meaning “savior,” now used for Jesus.  Watertight boxes of oil from the ooligan
(oolichan, eulachon), a smelt that is mostly fat by dry weight, were traded all
up and down the coast.  The Haida sailed
their great canoes over tens of miles of some of the most dangerous waters in
the world, and traded their most valuable possessions, to get these boxes of
oil.  The biggest ooligan run was on the
Columbia River, where the commercial catch in the peak year, 1945, was over 5.5
million pounds—and the noncommercial (including Indigenous) catch at least as
high (Reynolds and Romano 2013).  The
fish is almost extinct in the Columbia drainage now, thanks to dams and pollution.

Oil provided necessary
calories.  In the Northwest, clothing is
not much barrier against the constant rain, which soaks or trickles through
anything.  Thus oil was used externally
as “clothing,” as well as being consumed internally to keep metabolism up.  Anyone who has lived and worked with Native
people on the outer coast is aware of the incredible calorie needs that working
in that climate entails, and of the incredible amounts of food that have to be
eaten to keep body warmth while carrying out any task.  Early descriptions of people paddling for
four continuous days in cold rain (Drucker 1951; Sproat 1987 [1868]

) may be hard to match now, but I have seen many feats of sustained effort in cold rain that at least make the old stories thoroughly credible.  They are possible only if the workers are eating heavily.

Today, the old oil sources are largely gone, and drinking oil straight is no longer in vogue, so recent writers have generally missed the importance of this in the past. 

An account of a typical meal was provided by William Clark around 1805, in his famously creative spelling.  He “was invited to a lodge by a young Chief” of the Clatsop in Oregon, and received  “great Politeness, we had new mats to Set on, and himself and wife produced for us to eate, fish, Lickorish [shore lupine, Lupinus littoralis], & black roots [edible thistle, Cirsium edule], on neet Small mats, and Cramberries [Vaccinium oxycoccos] & Sackacomey beris [kinnikinnik, Arctostaphylos ua-ursi[, in bowls made of horn, Supe made of a kind of bread made of berries [cf. salal, Gaultheria shallon] common to this Countrey which they gave me in a mneet wooden trancher, with a Cockle Shell to eate it with.”  (Quoted in Gahr 2013:65, from Lewis and Clark 1990:118; her notes in brackets).  The dominance of fish and berries is notable, and the few plant foods were roots.

An obvious question is how many of the cultivation techniques of the Northwest were learned from early European settlers.  By far the most important management technique, burning, was certainly aboriginal; every Native American group in a burnable environment used this method, as did hunters, foragers, and horticulturalists around the world.  Unlike the equivocal situation in California, where natural fire is so common that it makes aboriginal burning difficult to assess, historic and archaeologically evidenced burning on the Northwest Coast can usually be safely ascribed to Native activity.  Natural fire is exceedingly rare west of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington and the Coast Range crest in Canada (see Lepofsky et al. 2005). 

Intensive root-digging was certainly pre-contact, and indeed goes back far in the archaeological record, and the diggers must have known the effects of their cultivation on the crops.  Otherwise, Wayne Suttles (2005), James MacDonald (2005), and Madonna Moss (2005) have considered the matter, coming to rather little resolution. Intensive pruning and transplantation and at least some fertilizing are recorded, but are very possibly post-contact.  Clearing, weeding, fencing, sowing, transplanting, mulching, and fertilizing are all documented (Turner 2014-2:193).

Enormous quantities of plant foods were gathered.   A tribe of a thousand people could easily run through a million camas bulbs in a year, and a single family might eat 100,000 to 200,000 salal berries in a year (Deur 2005:14).  Salal is the commonest berry bush over much of the Northwest, and its bearing capacity, especially when periodically burned over, is incredible—thousands of families gathering on that scale would not make a dent in its yield. 

Boas records a no-nonsense conservation belief among the Kwakwaka’wakw:  “Even when the young cedar-tree is quite smooth, they do not take all of the cedar-bark, for the people of the olden times said that if they should peel off all the cedar-bark…the young cedar would die, and then another cedar-tree near by would curse the bark-peeler so that he would also die” (George Hunt, ed./tr. Franz Boas, 1921:616-617; several other conservation-related beliefs and prayers are given in this section of Boas’ ethnography).

On the other hand, as we have seen, overharvesting cedars was known to occur, though in a different group with less cedar to manage (Lacourse et al. 2007).

More general, and perhaps more valuable, was asking permission of a tree or plant to take its bounty (see below).  Native persons still ask a tree for permission to take some bark, and then thank and praise the tree.  Boas and others recorded many praises and requests of this sort (Turner and Peacock 2005). 

As discussed earlier, resources were owned in the Northwest Coast, according to complex rules and ownership systems.  Nancy Turner et al. (2005; Turner 2014, vol. 2, passim) provide a review, but the full complexity defies summary, and must be found in the old ethnographies, and especially in Richard Daly’s ethnography of the Gitksan and Witsu’weten.  The latter was based on trial evidence of ownership, and thus has an extremely full, detailed and accurate account.  It applies only to the two groups mentioned, but broadly similar ownership patterns exist throughout.  They are generally even more precise and self-consciously maintained along the coast itself, least precise and tightly enforced in the deep interior.

 Along the coast and up the major rivers, every fishing spot, productive cedar grove, and berry patch was tightly owned.  Good hunting grounds for localized species like marmots and mountain goats were also.  Widely necessary goods that were locally abundant but otherwise nonexistent, notably mineral resources, might be open to all (Daly 2005:263).  Complex arrangements for sharing, loaning, and even renting are widely reported, especially for fishing sites.  If a run failed or a slide blocked a stream, a group would be in desperate straits, and neighboring groups would then allow fishing access.  Daly (2005) reports boundary markers, special passes (braided straps and the like) used by people borrowing access, and other highly specific ownership applications.  Male ethnographers underappreciated the importance of female ownership of plant resources, which was incredibly complex and detailed (Turner 2014-2:90-91), quite comparable to land rights of intensive farmers.  Rights were loaned, land was opened, usufruct was differentiated from outright ownership, and sharing was subject to complex rules and norms.  Generosity was always idealized, but ownership strictly enforced.

            Finally, the region had few food taboos.  Animals that ate carrion—including those famous tricksters, ravens and coyotes—or were otherwise more or less disgusting were avoided.   The Haida did not eat killer whales, because humans (especially males, and most especially those who die by drowning) are reincarnated as killer whales and killer whales that die are then reborn as humans.  Killer whales are easily identifiable as individuals by their patterns, and, at least as of the 1980s, Haida would discuss which local killer whale was which recently deceased Haida man (I have heard people do this, and Boelscher 1988:183 also notes it).  The Haida word for “killer whale,” sgaana, also means “spiritual power.”  (A shaman is sgaaga, one who has power; one high god figure was Sins Sgaanaa, “power of the shining heavens”; Boelscher 1988:172-173.)  The Haida also regarded some foods as high status, some as low; the former were foods that came from large animals—whales being particularly high—or that were taken by collective effort, like salmon and berries.  Low foods were those that involved individual and unobtrusive collecting:  shellfish and similar beach foods, especially (Boelscher 1988; I also noted this

in Haida Gwaii, though some shellfish, such as chitons, were so well liked that they had a certain degree of status).  There seems little comparable information on other groups, except the general observation that salmon and large land mammals are highly regarded everywhere.  Whales were certainly special among the whaling groups. 

Studying this successful management reveals a fascinating truth.  The Native Americans managed superbly on the basis of an ontology that postulates spirits in everything from salmon to mountains, and that leads to a practical conclusion that vision questing and contacting spirits through soul-voyages will provide the deepest and most valuable information about the world.  Modern settler societies introduced the idea of hard-headed, pragmatic, rational science, and promptly devastated the resources of the region through incredibly stupid behaviors.  It simply did not occur to these rational, scientific invaders that if you catch all the fish you will have no fish left.  It did not occur to them that if you cut all the trees there will be no trees.  When, belatedly, they came to realize these subtle facts—occasionally by 1880, usually not until well into the 20th century—they had no way of motivating change toward better management.  The result today is rapid extinction of fisheries, with yet another river going out of production almost every year; loss of forest resources, often permanently; loss of berries, roots, and game; and a landscape which in many cases has become a moonscape.  Counter-trends—restored fish, successful farming (far more productive than pre-Columbian root-crop cultivation), sustainable forestry—have come from counter-traditions.  Either the Native Americans have regained some control of their resources (as in Haida Gwaii) or “counter-cultural” settler groups have had their way.  Of these latter, small-scale and mixed farming remains fairly widespread, but organic farming, community forestry, fish restoration by dam removal, and other successful interventions are rare and sporadic.

            In short, mystical spiritism and “irrational” vision-questing outperform economic rationality to the point of total contrast.  This is, obviously, a huge embarrassment for those who still hold that Western Man has some special pipeline to divine wisdom. 

            The reasons for the failure of rational scientific management are clear.  The direct reason is the “steep discount slope”: people discounted the future.  It could take care of itself; only today, or next year, matter.  This has been elaborated into various forms of corporate logic: shareholder payouts, government tax bases, imperative demand, and the rest.  The result is always the same: maximize profit now and forget the long term.  This led to massive accumulation for a while, supporting thousands of people.  But now the landscapes in question are ruined for the foreseeable future, and the short-term profits were usually not reinvested very productively.  Over even the medium term, Native management wins out hands down.  There are more people now than there were once, but that is because the current population gets its food largely from elsewhere.  The areas that supported dense Native populations from local resources are now in many cases deserted.  Some farmland areas—especially the Willamette, Columbia, Yakima, Okanagan and Snake valleys—produce enormous amounts of food, far more than aboriginally, and this may make up for the loss of fish and other foods, but does not excuse the overall damage.

            The reasons for the success of spirit beliefs (“animism” if you will) are not so clear.  Being less than convinced of the reality of sentient, agentive wills within bushes and clouds, I tend to think the reasons are fourfold.  First, animism leads people to respect their environments.  Second, spirit vision questing validates individual knowledge and experience; people learn to take seriously their experience-based perceptions of the world.  Third, Northwest Coast religions are intensely social.  The spirits are part of society, but, more to the point, life is with other people.  One has to be responsible toward them, including the children who will need fish and trees and roots 50 or 100 years from now.  Fourth, respect for everything means that everything should be used—it is disrespectful to ignore a being that is offering itself to you—but that nothing must be overused; that too is disrespect.  Thus, the landscape was used comprehensively but lightly.  Everything had some sort of use, down to the most insignificant scraps of vegetable tissue.  Nothing was overused; monocropping was not a concept.  (The vaunted reliance on salmon has been exaggerated in the literature, as will appear.)  There was an overall, light pressure on the landscape.

Many readers of this book—if it reaches its intended audience—will see plants, salmon, and rocks as conscious agents who decide what to do for their human friends.  (And not all those believing readers are Native American.  I personally know several anthropologists who were converted to Northwestern spirit beliefs by experiences in the field.)  I have no quarrel with this conclusion, or with others that will appear below.  What matters is that we understand that Native management was sustainable in important ways, while settler management has not been, and that this is a problem in need of exploration.

5.  White Settler Contact and Its Tragic Consequences

Endemic local dissention probably explains the ease of European conquest, as well as Jared Diamond’s “guns, germs and steel” (Diamond 1997).  From Cortes and the Pizarros onward, Europeans immediately learned that they could take advantage of Native rivalries to set Indians against Indians and clean up on the result.  In the rare cases when Indigenous people could unite and stay united, they generally held their own.   On the Northwest Coast, the successes of the Tlingit and Tsimshian in early fighting stand as examples, but solidarity never reached beyond the “tribal” level, and the Native people never forged a united front.  Even the rare unity showed by the Nez Perce in the Nez Perce War did not save them; they were harrassed by other tribes and eventually betrayed by Blackfoot warriors.

The total population of the Northwest Coast in precontact times was at least 200,000-250,000 and very likely more, quite high given the resource base.  White man’s diseases, local wars, and massacres reduced the population about 95% by 1900, as established by Robert Boyd (Boyd 1999; Boyd and Gregory 2007; Trafzer 1997).  In one particularly horrendous case, the peoples of the lower Columbia River area, as Boyd relates, “plummeted from in excess of 15,000 to just over 500 survivors” between about 1770 and 1855 (Boyd 2013a:247), a decline of 97%.  Perhaps most serious from California north into Washington was the malaria epidemic of 1830-33 (Boyd 1999; Boyd et al. 2013 passim).  Conversely, some of the tribes of the interior, where malaria was rare or absent, may have lost “only” 75% or so between 1770 and 1900.  They lost population in the 20th century, when—for instance—the 1918-19 and 1928 influenza epidemics wiped out whole communities.  However, the most extremely remote suffered no major long-term declines in population from introduced diseases, since the epidemics—these flu events being apparently the worst—reached them along with modern medicine (see e.g. Helm 2000:120-123, 192-219). 

Boyd notes depression and despair after epidemics; this has been underestimated in the past.  We now know how utterly devastating the loss of even one or two loved ones can be to a community, particularly to children.  The loss of 95% of one’s society is, to moderns, unimaginably horrible, except to those who have gone through genocides.  I suspect it colors the often-gloomy myths and tales of western North American Native people.  One recourse, but a surprisingly rare one, was to blame the whites, who had inadvertently or deliberately introduced the disease and who sometimes threatened to unleash it on the Native population (Boyd 2013a).  This blame was a contributing factor to some killings of settlers; aboriginally, unexplained deaths were assigned to witchcraft, and witches were sought out and killed.  Often these victims were medicine persons, since it was assumed that those who had curing power might well have killing power too.

Boyd and others rightly stress disease as the major killer, but the role of war, massacre, hard usage, denial of hunting and gathering options and of relief food, and other directly brutal behavior need more emphasis than they usually receive.  Catherine Cameron and others have recently established, in an important volume (Cameron et al. 2015), that disease was less important, especially early in contact, than has been alleged in most of the literature, and that declines were often due to direct violence.  Boyd certainly establishes the importance of disease in the Northwest, but it is certainly true that other causes of mortality were highly important.  Small wars around the edges of the region—the Rogue River War in southwest Oregon, the Modoc War in northeast California, the Bannock War in Idaho, the Nez Perce war of 1877 fought from Idaho to Montana, the Chilcotin War in central British Columbia, and others—led to many casualties.  Of course these were wholly one-sided, and usually started by openly genocidal settlers.  Governments collaborated to varying degrees.  The Rogue River War of 1855-56 was extreme, in that troops and settlers indulged in mass murder, leaving few survivors (Beckham 1996).  The Bannock War of 1878 was also notably one-sided as to fatalities.  These two conflicts resemble genocide more than actual war; there was some serious fighting, but inevitable victory by troops was followed by indiscriminate killing.

Wars wound down after this, but starvation, exposure, and other forms of mistreatment continued to kill many Native people on and off reservations.  Alcoholism and suicide have taken a grim toll.  Suicide, especially among young people caught between cultures and feeling they do not belong, reached epidemic levels in several cases, leading to some of the highest rates in the world.  These effects of conquest and racism deserve to be placed with disease as major causes of fatalities.

Native populations began recovering around 1900, and are now close to early levels.  Marriage into settler societies has contributed to this.  However, parts of the Northwest have fewer people now than in 1700.  The languages and cultures suffered blows from which many have never recovered. 

The natural environment did not fare any better.  Clearcutting has destroyed almost all the old-growth forest and created many landscapes where good forest is not recovering.  The fish resources, especially the salmon, are a tiny fraction of what they were, and fish populations are still declining.  In addition to the standard problems of overfishing, dams, and pollution, new problems continue to arise.  Farmed Atlantic salmon have introduced diseases and parasites that are rapidly wiping out the native species in southern British Columbia.

The Native people were rapidly dispossessed of their fisheries and other resources, often despite treaties.  They were urged to follow the “white man” and take to farming, but when they did their lands were routinely seized by greedy whites; one well-studied case study is the life of Arthur Wellington Clah (Brock 2011), who initially succeeded very well in the settler world, but was chased off parcel after parcel until he died in poverty.  (He figures in this book in a less direct but very important way: his son Henry Tate and grandson William Beynon became the great chroniclers of Tsimshian society, Beynon in particular being a superb ethnographer.)  In the 1980s I studied the ways the previously very successful Native fishery in British Columbia was systematically cut to pieces by right-wing governments and shady practices.  The Columbia River, once the richest salmon stream, has suffered from both dispossession of Native rights and destruction of the vast majority of its fish resources.  It will probably lack anadromous fish of any kind by 2100.  (Excellent studies include Dupuis et al. 2006, Ulrich 2001; see also Grijalva 2008 for the general problem of environmental justice and Native Americans). 

Forced acculturation and active repression of Native traditions further devastated the cultures.  The boarding schools, in particular, were sites of major problems.  Fortunately, both the people and their cultures began to get some measure of attention around 1900, allowing a reversal of population decline, and, to some extent, of cultural decline.  A standard history on the United States side of the border is Alexandra Harmon’s Indians in the Making (1998); a British Columbia equivalent is John Lutz’ Makúk: A New History of Indian-White Relations (2008); for a notably temperate, dispassionate, thoughtful Indigenous view, see Richard Atleo’s Principles of Tsawalk (2011).  The clear writing and sober, understated tone make all these books noteworthy.  Harmon’s is better for political machinations that created “tribes” and blood quanta; Lutz’ book is outstanding for its superb history of Indian labor, with discussion of the ways the Indians were forced out of logging, fishing, trapping, and other activities that formerly gave them a good living         

The modern “tribes” and “nations” are creations of settler government policy.  From the start, the settler groups needed clear polities and clear leaders to negotiate with.  Finding fluid polities and leadership systems, the settlers simply created clear-cut “tribes.”  Sometimes “tried to create” is more accurate; groups remained cantankerously independent and fluid.  The process has been described many times, notably in Alexandra Harmon’s and John Lutz’ books and in Andrew Fisher’s Shadow Tribe (2010).  It has left us with most unclear understandings of earlier arrangements, at least on the United States side of the border, where change and population decline came earlier.  The high population density and extensive trade show that there was some way of organizing life above the village level, but we do not really know what it was. 

Native Americans were not even citizens until 1924 in the United States, 1961 in Canada.  Significantly, though, British Columbia had defied the national government by giving Indians provincial voting rights in 1949.  By this time the land was almost completely alienated.  In the United States, at least some large reservations and solid treaty rights obtained, but Canada has been much less accepting of Native title and rights.  The Indians in British Columbia have only tiny reserves and few subsistence rights.  On the American side, having treaties and reservations has not made the Native people much better off than their Canadian neighbors.  A classic study concerns the Okanagan, whose territory was split in half by the border.  Canadians thought the Canadian Okanagan were better off, United States writers thought those on the US side were, but in fact the Okanagan were in the same desperate poverty and want on both sides (Carstens 1991; there is a similar study of the Blackfoot). 

In the early 20th century, less direct cruelty and rapacity was seen, but jobs were scarce for Native people.  Economic depression often led to psychological depression.  Many communities dealt with aimless, disordered lives by heavy drinking.  Others did what they could, especially by maintaining the old hunting, gathering, and fishing ways for sheer survival.

Similar findings occur for tribes split by the Alaska-Canada border.  “In recent years…the Canadian Han have enjoyed far better subsistence hunting and fishing rights than their Alaskan counterparts” (Mishler and Simeone 2004:xxii-xxiii).  This is a very recent situation, and subject to possible change in future.  Conditions for Indigenous hunters, and for game, have rapidly deteriorated in Alaska with a series of Republican governors backed by the oil industry and representing affluent White constituencies, including rich sport hunters who decimate animals needed by Native people for subsistence. 

Conversely, the Canadian situation improved dramatically when courts began recognizing Native rights in the 1990s.  In 1991, in the case of Delgamuukw vs. the Queen, a British Columbia court handed down an infamous decision that denied the existence of Native land title, basically because the Natives had no written records and therefore their obvious occupation of the land for 12,000 years or more did not count.  This was overturned by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1997, and Native title recognized, at least under some circumstances.  This led to the Nisga’a signing a treaty in 2000 that ceded official title of their lands (and, allegedly, some neighbors’ land too) in exchange for money and use rights.  Other tribes still contest their cases.  It should be noted that Canada had recognized at least some native claims from the beginning of British rule in 1763, and thus most of the nation was covered under signed treaties.  However, British Columbia had been a separate colony (not officially part of Canada) for many years, and had not done so, except for a very few in the far northeast and southwest, involving very small areas of land.

The reservations were bones of contention, because treaties were often unfair, and in any case the United States Congress rarely ratified treaties made with Indians.  This led to feelings of betrayal, and consequently to some violent outbreaks by people who had been promised larger and better lands.  The reservations were often treated as concentration camps until the 1930s (or even later).  However, the fact that reservations really helped was made clear by the “termination” of the Klamath tribe in the 1950s (Stern 1966).  The reservation was privatized; almost all the land was taken even before the Indians got their shares, and then the Indians were cheated out of most of what was left.  They have been trying ever since to get a bit back.

Repression of culture and language were comparable in both countries.  The United States’ lack of a safety net has cut deeply; Canadian Native peoples can expect (though they do not always get) better health care and other services.  Racism remains widespread and extremely virulent.  Let not the reader be fooled by the genteel parlor-liberalism of Vancouver and Seattle; the rural Whites are unreconstructed, and they are the ones the Native people must deal with on a day-to-day basis.  When I asked one rural British Columbian why he thought the Indians created so much fine art, his reply was “They are too lazy to work.”

Land claims, treaty rights, and aboriginal title have been the subject of many lawsuits, some successful, in the last 30 years, and the situation has improved somewhat; the problem is so fiendishly complex that discussion must remain outside the scope of this book, even though this book owes everything to that exact question.  For a particularly good story of the movement that inspired my work, see Ian Gill’s All That We Say Is Ours (2009), a biography and history of the Haida struggle to maintain land claims and fisheries.

More directly relevant is the destruction of traditional culture.  An amazing amount survives, but the languages are almost gone everywhere; very few tribes have any speakers under 50, and those few have a bare handful.  Nowhere is there a viable linguistic community of young people, except among the most remote groups of the far north.  Some 40% of the Indigenous languages of North America are gone, with another 40% spoken only by older people.  Stories, knowledge, art, and experience persist after the language is gone, but usually become rapidly impoverished.  Sad experience from more heavily impacted parts of the continent, to say nothing of Celtic languages in Europe, shows that all eventually will die out, unless current attempts at reclaiming traditions and educating the young are much better funded.  Language and cultural loss is an environmental disaster as well as a humanistic one.  Knowledge of the environment and of managing it is encoded in the language used to talk about it, and when the language goes, the knowledge diminishes with it, as has been shown in many studies (see e.g. Hunn 1990).

Language revitalization movements rarely work, partly because they tend to be school-based, often using the familiar rote-drill method that convinced my generation that we could not learn languages.  Native American writer Barbra Meek in We Are Our Language (2010) provides an account of one of the more hopeful, but typical, ones (from just outside our area), and a full review of the relevant literature.  Successes are rare; the lifelong work of Nora and Richard Dauenhauer (e.g. 1987, 1990) among the Tlingit is exemplary but, alas, atypical.  The rural environments in which many Native people live are conducive to the mindless claim that people can learn only one language well.  In fact, the more languages one knows, the better one is at learning more languages, and also at thinking and learning in general.  (In my experience, those who claim otherwise do not know their own languages well.)  Certainly, those Native Americans who have become fluent in both Native and settler tongues have tended to do well.  But the foolish claim persists, and still prevents many children from getting a fair chance at important learning opportunities.

It also remains to be seen whether heritage languages learned as second languages in school will preserve the (formerly) accompanying environmental knowledge.  Teachers are aware of the concern, but traditional ecological knowledge is generally passed on in the bush, or similar settings, and in some cases can only be passed on in such contexts.  The knowledge may be more easily passed on in English in the bush than in a heritage language in a settler-style classroom.

Some recent writers, Native and white, have attacked the “myth of the vanishing Indian” because the Indians did not in fact vanish (see e.g. Harmon 1998).  True, but their populations were reduced by an average of 95% in the Northwest, as in the rest of the New World (Boyd 1999; Boyd and Gregory 2007; Trafzer 1997).  As of the 1890s, there was every reason to believe that the Indians as a separate people would cease to exist in a very few years.  Many groups did vanish entirely, at least as linguistic and cultural entities.  In the Northwest, the grim roll includes the Tsetsaut, the Chemakum, and several Chinookan groups.  (Many groups elsewhere on the continent were completely gone before 1800).  The many people who forecast the final extinction of the “race” had every reason to do so. 

The convenient argument that “introduced diseases” did all the damage is dishonest.  Massacres, one-sided “wars,” and deliberate denial of health care were almost as bad.  Some groups were subjected to outright genocide—merciless attempts at total extermination by the United States.  Among Northwest Coast groups, this was especially the case in the Rogue River “war” of the 1850s (Beckham 1996; Youst and Seaburg 2002).  The Athapaskan and Takelman peoples of the Rogue River drainage had resisted invasion of their lands, and when miners and settlers flooded in, violence quickly spiraled out of control.  There was some actual fighting—it was not pure massacre—but the hopelessly outnumbered Rogue people soon lost, and the genociders moved in.  Local “exterminators”—that was the word used at the time—with the often-grudging aid of the United States Army killed almost all, and exiled the few who were not slain.  An area that had supported at least 10,000 people was left with virtually no Native American inhabitants. 

The survival of the last 5% of the Native Americans of the Northwest was due to heroism on the part of the survivors and their few White allies.  The fact that the Indians did not vanish is due most of all to the incredible toughness of the survivors.  Anthropologists and historians have collected or reconstructed several stories of Native American individuals who not only survived but led their people through the fires of hell.  These make some of the most deeply moving reading one can find in this world.  (Notable examples include Ford 1941; Sewid 1969; and Youst and Seaburg 2002.  The first two are recorded autobiographies, the last an amazing job of reconstructing a long and eventful life from scattered and fragmentary records.  See also Atleo 2004, 2011; George 2003; and Reyes 2002 for later-period accounts.) 

Changing white settler attitudes were also involved.  “Indian lovers” were hated and despised in the 1870s and 1880s, but gradually prevailed, and shamed the nations into changing their ways somewhat.  Anthropologists were leaders in this from the beginning.  Unfortunately, many pro-Indian individuals, including some anthropologists (notably Alice Fletcher), backed breaking up the reservations into individual allotments, in a misguided attempt to make the Indians into Anglo-style small farmers on family-owned holdings.  This proved disastrous; the Native peoples lost almost all their land (see e.g. Stern 1966 for the Klamath).  The million and a half acres of the Siletz Reservation in Oregon dwindled to a few scattered plots, and the Grande Ronde suffered similarly (Youst and Seaburg 2002).  Ironically, gambling is saving it: casino earnings are used to buy back a few acres at a time.

Bad enough to deny the near-extinction of the Native people, and the total extinction of many groups and more languages.  Worse to say, blandly, that the Indians kept right on going, and thus write the heroism of the survivors and the villainy of their persecutors out of the human record.

We need to remember the grim record.  We need to teach it in history courses, just as Europe teaches Hitler’s holocaust.  We need to do everything we can to prevent such genocides in future, and denying them is the worst possible course.

Racism continued through the 20th century, and even the tolerant and successful Sin-Aikst (Lakes) scholar and artist Lawney Reyes had bitter memories of insults, persecution, and ill treatment in youth (Reyes 2002). I remember noting in the 1980s the way the British Columbia newspapers, when highlighting “social problems” such as crime, substance abuse, and dependence on welfare, usually picked a Native family to foreground in any story.  The corresponding Washington state media almost always picked a Black one.  The proportions of Black and Native people in these polities was about the same in both, and was quite small.  White Anglos had by far the most “social problems,” in actual numbers.

Also disastrous have been many of the missionary institutions, which not only attacked Native religion and even family and kinship, but also forcibly removed children into boarding schools that were, in fact, often nothing but sex slave camps where the children were violently abused by beatings and rampant sexual molestation.  Little attempt was made to teach.  The Catholic church, in Canada and in Rome, knew about the rampant sexual molestation in Catholic schools throughout North America and Europe for decades and did nothing about it.  The Church, and the Anglican church, have now made some apologies, but few amends.

Native languages were banned.  A whole “stolen generation” (to borrow an Australian phrase) has resulted.  In my research on alcoholism treatment on the Northwest Coast, I found that all people I interviewed who had been through the residential schools had been active alcoholics for at least some of their lives.  The percentage of alcoholism was much lower among those who had escaped this brand of welfare.

The churches and missionaries got the potlatch outlawed from 1884 to 1953 as a heathen institution incompatible with the modern state; apparently the missionary mind is such that mass organized sexual abuse of minors was regarded as more properly compatible therewith.  Ironically, the first legal potlatch in 1953 was the one organized by Wilson Duff and Kwakiutl artists to inaugurate the totem pole park at the British Columbia Provincial Museum (now Royal British Columbia Museum; see Hawker 2003:138).

Treaty rights to fishing and whaling were guaranteed in the United States and eventually enforced (though not until the late 20th century), but Canadian First Nations still struggle for similar recognition (see e.g. Coté 2010).

Conditions on the reservations and reserves slowly improve.  However, bureaucracy enters, insidiously, in even the best-intentioned situations.  Displacement of Native peoples was followed by waste and misuse of resources by settlers of all sorts.  The Canadian government has had to intervene to save many Northwest Coast groups from starvation and disease, as well as from the alcoholism and violence that followed destruction of livelihood and culture.  Even the welfare system that results has its negative effects.  In their detailed major study of bureaucracy and law in a colonial Canadian context, Fiske and Patrick state:  “It

[i.e., the welfare system]

sustained the hierarchy of state/nation relations that circulates limited resources within the nation while disempowering the extended family…and…has aggravated relations of dependency” (Fiske and Patrick 2000:119).  Even the most benign extension of alcoholism treatment, nursing services, and the like has the effect of rubbing in the “problems” and “difficult situation” of the indigenous peoples.  They do not love this (Fiske and Patrick 2000, e.g. p. 182).

However, thanks to anthropologists as well as Indigenous people, the languages and cultures are at least recorded and available for study.  Some Native people have denounced such recording, but sufficient refutation is found in the marvelous picture of Nuu-chah-nulth elder Hugh Watts reading to his grandchildren from the texts that Edward Sapir collected from Hugh’s great-grandfather, Sayach’apis, in the early 20th century—and the photo is presented by Charlotte Coté, also a descendent of Sayach’apis (Coté 2010:83).  Sayach’apis’ texts represent one of the greatest literary documents in any culture worldwide, let alone one that was reduced almost to the vanishing point in his time.  We are more than lucky to have them, and to have Sapir’s warm and respectful biography of Sayach’apis (Sapir 1922)—a tribute and acknowledgement far ahead of its time, and even of ours.

6.  Resource Mismanagement Since 1800

The Northwest has been as devastated as the rest of the world by foolish exploitation in the last 150 years.  Overlogging has decimated the forests.  Careless plowing and grazing have led to ruin of the soil in many open areas.  The game is shot out.

The mentality was classic pioneer: maximize initial drawdown of all resources, meanwhile hoping to move on to the next open area, or, at worst, build up a replacement in the form of agriculture or the like.  The worldview has been unkindly but accurately summarized as “rape, ruin and run.”  This mentality is not confined to Anglo-Americans (Anderson 2014).  It has been detected archaeologically in the settlement of Polynesia and in the Bronze Age and Iron Age Mediterranean.  It characterized the Japanese spread into Hokkaido.  The Russians and Chinese both acted it out in Siberia.  But the Anglo-Americans had an extreme form of the ideology, one that typically considered all nature to be an enemy, to be utterly destroyed as soon as possible and replaced with a Europe-derived artificial landscape.  And they had the tools: guns, steam engines, fish wheels, machines of all sorts.

Another and more insidious and deadly difference from the Native Americans was and is that the settlers were interested in only a very few resources.  They depleted the game.  They mined gold and later coal and other minerals.  They logged the forests.  They concentrated on salmon and later on other fish.  Gone was the sensitive total-landscape management that concerned itself with berries, roots, bark, grasses, small animals, and other resources.  The white settlers not only drew down the immediately saleable resources with little thought of sustainability; they destroyed the other resources without even considering them.

White individualism contrasts with Native American sociality, but is really a lesser problem in this case, since the Whites tended to stand as a united front against Native Americans. 

The worst damage is to the fish resource, especially the river-running species.  Indian management was displaced over time and replaced with far worse Anglo-American management (excellent histories of this exist:  Arnold 2008; Harris 2008; Schreiber 2008).  Salmon are at least a concern even to Whites, but lampreys, sturgeon, suckers, and other species have almost disappeared without much attention paid to them.  (Sturgeon survive only in a few of the biggest rivers.)  Dams, overfishing, pollution, and the other usual factors have wiped out the salmon from much of their original range and reduced them to low abundance everywhere.  The final “unkindest cut” has been farming Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).  Parasites—notably “fish lice,” parasitic copepods—from these fish escape and decimate the local salmon, which have no resistance.  A small salmon-farming industry in the waters east of Vancouver Island has led to total extermination of pink salmon throughout the region—millions of wild self-reproducing salmon sacrificed for a few thousand high-cost alien ones.  Naturally, Native people have objected to fish farming (Schreiber 2002; Schreiber and Newell 2006—the latter contrasts correct but “spiritual” Native knowledge with either incredible blindness or outright lying by the White managers).

The fate of the Northwest Coast fisheries shows something about ownership regimes.  The White settlers prefer private property, and, failing that, national government ownership and control:  National Parks and Forests in the US, Crown lands or provincial and national parks in Canada.   The national governments lease out most land outside parks for forestry or mining by giant corporations.  The Native people, by contrast, universally vested property rights in localized kinship groups—communities, in a word. 

For farming, individual ownership has its points, but experience shows that fisheries don’t work that way.  Native control allowed exquisitely careful management of stocks—using the most efficient methods to get the exact number of fish that could be safely taken, and then stopping the fishery.  Western control has led to individual or national development that was incompatible with fish—dams, for instance—and to virtually uncontrolled overfishing at all levels.  State and national governments simply do not have the necessary focus, attention, or priority structure.  They have other things to do, like use the rivers to generate hydroelectric power or to dispose of pollution.  They are also subject to voter pressure by fishermen desperate to take just a few more and let the future take care of itself.  There is simply no way to prioritize the fishery while simultaneously regulating it tightly enough to preserve it. 

British Columbia and Washington are the worst cases, with their fisheries devastated.  Alaska still has enough Native and local control to keep some fisheries healthy, but mining interests are closing in fast.  Oregon has, ironically, saved some of its fish thanks to powerful sport-fishing lobbies.  The sport fishers are not dependent on fishing for survival, like the commercial fishermen, and thus are more willing to let some fish escape now to make sure there will be fish tomorrow.  Long and detailed studies of the resulting biological, cultural and social disasters are legion. 

Andrew Fisher’s excellent study of the devastation of the Columbia River Indians and their salmon is one example (Fisher 2010).  Dams and overfishing wiped out the salmon; racism and oppression did not succeed in exterminating the Indians, but reduced them to greater and greater poverty over time.  Fisher quotes some racist comments from settlers, over time, that are too revealing to leave out here.  The local Indian agent, John D. C. Atkins, opined in 1886 that the Indian “must be imbued with the exalting egotism of American civilization so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We,’ and “this is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours’” (p. 90).  A textbook used in Oregon schools in the first half of the 20th century said that “the Indian vanished because he could not learn the ways of the white man.  He could not survive in competition with the dominant race” (144).  This at a time when thousands of Native Americans were trying desperately to survive, and by and large succeeding, in the face of genocidal racism.

A case study, perfect for our purposes because it shows the whole situation in microcosm, is Charles Menzies’ study of the abalone fishery of northern British Columbia (Menzies 2010, 2016).  As he summarizes it:  “In the face of aggressive overfishing of bilhaa (abalone) by non-Indigenous commercial fishermen, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed all forms of harvesting of bilhaa” (Menzies 2010) in spite of the fact that the Gitxaala (Tsimshian) and probably other groups had been harvesting these shellfish with extreme care for sustainability for thousands of years.  This caused some hardship for the Gitxaala.  Menzies documents their caring regime, and advocates a return to a controlled fishery; but it may be too late.

California’s major bit of Northwest Coast scenery, the Klamath drainage, provides a particularly revealing case.  The Klamath Basin at the headwaters was settled early on by farmers and stockmen, displacing the Indians in the genocidal Modoc War.  More recently, drought has reduced the Klamath flows, while irrigation has expanded in the farming areas.  There is no longer enough water for both farms and fish. 

This came to a head in 2003.  The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation had disposal over most of the upstream water, and it was subjected to intense lobbying by the upriver farmers and downriver fishers.  The farmers are largely well-to-do Republicans.  The fishermen downriver are less affluent and very often vote Democrat, and they include large Native American groups.  2003 being a year of Republican national and state governments, the water went to the farmers, and the fish died.  (Much of this is from my own research; see e.g. Service 2003 for a neutral account; Williams 2003 for an unabashedly pro-fish position; Carolan 2004 for a broader overview, but he incredibly misses the political dimension, thus his account is of rather limited worth.  See Swezey and Heizer 1977 for the far superior pre-contact management system.)

The conflicts above thus involve political power as well as property regimes.  Decisions essentially always go to Whites over Indians—racism being severe in the Northwest, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries—and to giant corporations over everyone and everything else.  Some dramatic exceptions have occurred, however, starting with Judge Boldt’s decision in Washington state in 1974 to enforce the treaty rights giving the Native people an equal share of the fish resource.  Since then, Canada has had to recognize at least some Native title to lands.  Other decisions have restored many community management regimes and ownership systems in both nations.

Significantly, the classic claim that humans go for the main chance—material or financial maximization—is massively disproved by this history.  Throughout the last 200 years, White authorities have decided for regimes and stakeholders that were devastating the resource base with extremely low returns to themselves or society.  The potatoes and barley raised by the White farmers up the Klamath were worth far less than the fish would have been if the runs had been maintained.  Political power—from votes, campaign donations, skin color, and actual political position—trumps financial benefit (except to the giant corporations, and even then often only in the short run). 

An interesting case is the evolution of  the MacMillan Bloedel timber corporation.  H. R. MacMillan and Charles Bloedel brought scientific sustainable forestry practices to British Columbia and Washington, respectively.  They appear to have been quite idealistic and to have run their companies well.  Eventually they joined forces.  At first all went well, but long before MacMillan died in 1976, the logging was out of control.  By the 1980s, after decades of corporate mergers and political shenanigans, “Mac and Blo” became a worldwide byword for evil and irresponsible logging.  Things have improved since, especially since Mac and Blo fell on hard times and were taken over by Weyerhauser in 1999.  However, the sustanable forestry of the original founders is still a dream (the literature on this is huge and need not concern us; see Vaillant 2005 for a dramatic but accurate popular account).

An interesting comparison comes from the Russian coast closest to the United States.  Anna Kerttula (2000) describes Russian mismanagement and waste of resources.  The Yup’ik villagers there had been sustanably and efficiently hunting sea mammals, birds, and fish while the Chukchi herded reindeer on the tundra.  Russians brought wasteful hunting and herding practices (throwing away much of the meat).  They also damaged the tundra seriously by construction and driving heavy vehicles, and caused rampant pollution.  This was totally uneconomic; it was subsidized by the state as a way of “civilizing” the “natives,” whom the Russians despised openly and treated as utter inferiors.  When the USSR collapsed, this artificial and destructive economy collapsed with it, and the local people were thrown back on their traditional subsistence economy—much damaged by Russian environmental abuse.  It is interesting to see how clearly foolish and culture-bound the Russians’ “superior” practices were.  We in America are so used to Anglo settler mismangement that we tend to forget just how awful it is, and how much it is driven by culture rather than economics.  The Russian way is culturally different enough to be striking in that regard.

  The result of these bad management practices, and above all of the politics that creates them, has been widespread economic ruin in the rural Northwest, especially the Native communities.

Today, global warming is causing even more widespread damage.  It has caused millions of acres of forest to die; pine beetles give the coup de grace, but the real problem is warm winter that spare the beetles from freezing, followed by hot dry summers that weaken the trees.  Fish, root crops, and other resources are succumbing to increasingly hot and dry conditions. 

However, in recent years, comanagement of resources has come in, with local Native communities cooperating with government agencies (Natcher et al. 2005; see above).  One notable area is the west coast of Vancouver Island (Goetze 2006; Pinkerton 1989; Pinkerton and Weinstein 1995).  This does not always work well, especially when the government ignores Native input—as is often the case (e.g. Nadasdy 2004).  Obviously, comanagement works only if it is in fact comanagement.

            Perhaps it is best to leave the last word to Snuqualmi Charlie, talking to Arthur Ballard in the 1920s.  He concluded a long story of Moon’s creation and transformation of the world:

            “Moon said, ‘Fish shall run up these rivers; they shall belong to each people on its own river.  You shall make your own living from the fish, deer and other wild game.’

            “I am an Indian today. Moon has given us fish and game.  The white people have come and overwhelmed us.  We may not kill a deer nor catch a fish forbidden by white men to be taken.  I should like any of these lawmakers to tell me if Moon or Sun has set him here to forbid our people to kill game given to us by Moon and Sun” (Ballard 1929:80). 

7.  The Ideology Behind It All

            Native American biologist Raymond Pierotti has written:  “A common general philosophy and concept of community appears to be shared by all of the Indigenous peoples of North America, which includes:  1) respect for nonhuman entities as individuals, 2) the existence of bonds between humans and nonhumans, including incorporation of nonhumans into ethical codes of behvior, and 3) the recognition of humans as part of the ecological system” (Pierotti 2011:198-199).  These indeed fully apply on the Northwest Coast, where they are considerably elaborated.

            Thanks to early and superb ethnographic research, we can understand the Northwest Coast ideologies of management in a way we cannot do for other parts of the world.  Enormous record of myths, texts, tales, and instructions, compiled by early and more recent ethnographers, allows us to see exactly what people said in traditional times.

            Some of the Northwest Coast ethnographic collaborations are particularly impressive.  The Tsimshian chief William Beynon collected materials for several ethnographers.  All too predictably, he never got authorship credit for this, though he did most of the work; his first major publication under his own name came out in 2000, 42 years after his death (Beynon 2000).  He was in fact the real ethnographer in many cases (Halpin 1978).  Incredibly impressive also is the work of Edward Sapir with Tom Sayachapis and other Nuu-chah-nulth elders, of Franz Boas with George Hunt, and of James Teit with many interior Salish.  Teit became a major activist for Native American rights as well as an ethnographer, and his story—forgotten until a stunning recent biography (Thompson 2007) saved him from oblivion—is one of the most impressive in the history of “action anthropology.”  

More recent collaborations, such as Nancy Turner’s “five foot shelf” (much of it written with Native coauthors) and the collaboration of Eugene Hunn (1991) and James Selam, carry on the great tradition.  Just out of our region, but very close and sharing the same ideology, are the Yupik of Alaska, whose ethical relations with the animal persons has been described in exquisite detail by Ann Fienup-Riordan (1994, 2005).  She quotes elders at enough length to fill several books.  Many Northwest Coast groups remain sadly little known, but at least we have excellent work by many ethnographers for representative groups from every region.  No other part of the world except the American Southwest and the central desert of Australia has been so well documented in terms of ecological and environmental beliefs.  We do not have a single account of local knowledge and conservation in a modern American town that is as good as the work of Turner or Hunn or Fienup-Riordan.

One major component was attachment to place.  Northwest Coast groups had lived where they were for countless years; the Haida seem to have occupied Haida Gwaii for over 10,000 years, continuously.  Knowledge of and devotion to one’s immediate habitat is at a level possibly unparalleled in the world.  On the Skagit River, the local version universal Northwest Coast story of the boy left alone who must re-create his slain tribe includes a passage that says it all: the people he revives from bones “had no sense…so the boy made brains for them from the very soil of that place” (Miller 2014:70-1).  That line really says it all.

Conservation was based on the simple principle of “leave some for others.”  The Nuu-chah-nulth phrase was “7uh-mowa-shitl,” “keep some and not take all” (George 2003:74; the 7 represents an initial catch in the voice).  This is John Locke’s point that individual users, even if they are owners of his beloved “private property,” have an obligation to leave “enough and as good” (Locke 1924) for others when drawing on a resource base. 

There are, however, several crucial beliefs lying behind this.  These beliefs are the keys to conservation in Northwest Coast ideology, and all the resources of the collective representation of community are deployed to make people accept them.

A good place to begin is with seven “fundamental truths” of Northwest Coast ecological thinking, as abstracted by Frank Brown and Kathy Brown (2009:folder, p. 2) of the Heiltsuk Nation:

“…1.  Creation:  We the coastal first peoples have been in our respective territories (homelands) since the beginning of time.”  (This might be interpreted as “since the beginning of our peoples as identifiable cultural and linguistic entities,” since in fact much migration has occurred, and many of the origin myths actually recount it.  But, for instance, archaeology demonstrates cultural continuity in Haida Gwaii for well over 10,000 years.  The Haida and the other major groups of the Northwest certainly or almost certainly emerged in their present homelands and have been there since the glaciers.)

“2.  Connection to nature:  We are all one and our lives are interconnected.

“3.  Respect:  All life has equal value.  We acknowledge and respect that all plants and animals have a life force.”  

“4.  Knowledge.  Our traditional knowledge of sustainable resource use and management is reflected in our intimate relationship with nature and its preictable seasonal cycles and indicators of renewal of life and subsistence.

“5.  Stewardship:  We are stewards of the land and sea from which we live, knowing that our health as a people and our society is intricately tied to the heath of the land and waters.

“6.  Sharing.  We have a responsibility to share and support to provide strength and make others stronger in order for our world to survive.

“7.  Adapting to Change:  Environmental, demographic, socio-political and cultural changes have occurred since the creator placed us in our homelnds and we have continuously adapted to and survived these changes.”

More specific rules for food gathering are listed by Inez Bill of the Tulalip of northwest Washington state:

“Taking and gathering only what you need so Mother Nature can regenerate her gifts to us.

“Remembering to not waste any of our traditional food.

“Sharing what you gather with family, friends and elders that are not able to go out and gather whenever possible.

“Including prayer and giving thanks when gathering.
“Preparing local native foods at gatherings.

“Preparing food with a good heart and mind so when you serve your meal, people will enjoy their meal.

“Providing nourishment for our people and their spirits, but also the spirit of our ancestors.  We will strive to continue this way of life” (quoted Krohn and Segrest 2010:42). 

There is some obvious modernization and settler society influence here (“Mother Nature…”) that may divert attention from two critically important traditional ideas:  prayer and thanks while gathering, and having a “good heart and mind” when preparing and distributing.  Throughout the Northwest Coast and onward to a great deal of North America and Siberia, these are vital points for maintaining good relations with the spirits of plants and animals, and indeed with the spirit powers in general.  One may contrast the Euro-American food rules for the Muckleshoot school, a few pages later in the same folder:  “No trans-fat and hydrogenated oil.  No high fructose corn syrup,” etc. (Krohn and Segrest 2010:49).  The contrast of spiritual and chemical is significant.

            Rodney Frey, writing on the Coeur d’Alene of northern Idaho, also (and with appropriate modesty and tentativeness) identifies five basic principles, but they are somewhat different:  “…the understanding that the landscape is spiritually created and endowed…that the landscape is inhabited by a multitude of ‘Peoples,’ all of whom share in a common kinship…. That… [humans have an] ethic of sharing [which includes the animal people too]….that…the gifts [of nature] are also to be respected and not abused…and…one is to show thanks for what is received…  The fifth and final teaching encompasses…the ethic of competition” (Frey 2001:9-12).  The last is particularly interesting.  Humans do not simply wait around for the gifts to come to them.  They must work, compete with each other and with other beings, and compete with the powers of weather and geography.  Life is not easy, and nothing comes without major effort.

            Richard Atleo (2011:143-144) sees unity as basic, but coming from reconciling complementary polarities.  He sees individual identity as “an insignificant leaf” (144) in face of basic unity.  He elaborates a philosophy of haḥuuƚi, “land” in the sense of communally owned and managed place (cf. Australian Aboriginal “country”), deriving from the idea of unity.

Marianne and Ron Ignace explain  the Secwépemc (Shuswap) foundational belief thus:  “…ce ntral to the relationship between an animal and the fisher or hunter who ‘bags’ the animal is the concept that the animal gives itself to the fisher or hunter….  Plants as sentient beings also give themselves…. Therefore, the harvesting of all things in nature presupposes prayer that thanks the Tqelt Kúkwpi7 (Creator) for providing the animals or plants…as well as thinking th eanimals or plants for giving themselves…. All parts of the Secwépemc land and environment are …thought of as a ‘sentient landscape.’” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:382 ).  This belief appears to be universal throughout northwestern North America and eastern Siberia.  More specific to the Shuswap is a tradition of painting one’s face red or black at power places, such as lakes and mythic spots, but other groups have similar ways of paying respect to spiritual sites.  This general custom extends through much of east Asia, where such sites may be tied with sacred cloths, circled clockwise on foot, and otherwise revered.

            These are not new ideas, and not the product of Native Americans catching up with the environmental movement of the 1960s.  Manuel Andrade, collecting Quileute language texts in 1928, recorded a “speech…spontaneously offered” by Jack Ward, “when he found out that the texts which he was dictating would be published.”  The entire short speech is worth looking up; it is devoted to calling on the Whites “to observe conservancy of the products of the land….”  Jack Ward speaks in eloquent Quileute.  Andrade translates: “…you should take good care of the trees….  Be careful with fire.  Make sure to extinguish it when leaving a camping ground.  Otherwise, all the animals of the woods may disappear, such as elk, deer, and others.  This applies also to the fish…. Let no one…destroy too much trout, steal-head [sic], salmon, and all other kinds of fish.  Proud and happy I am knowing that my people, the Indians, are moderate in the use of nature’s supplies, never killing wantonly the fish in the waters…. But you, White people, are wasteful. You are not mindful of what you do in your camps, and consequently, many trees are often destroyed by fires.  It is heartbreaking to us Indians to see how the country around us has changed…all the animals in the land are beginning to disapper.  Much of the fish in the…waters is disappearing.  Many of the good trees are disappearing….” (Andrade 1969 [1931]:12). 

            I believe all these principles apply to all northwestern cultural groups, with varying emphasis in varying areas.  All these themes can be identified in folktales and teachings throughout the region, and indeed throughout all northern North America.

Countless authors have pointed out for decades that the Northwest Coast people, and indeed most North American indigenous groups, consider plants and animals to be people—“other-than-human persons,” in the standard phrase, apparently introduced by A. Irving Hallowell from his studies on the Native peoples of central Canada (1955, 1960).  Like humans, these people have spirits that are conscious and have agency and language.  All have a life force.  The Nuu-chah-nulth anthropologist Ki-Ke-In relates that there are many ch’ihaa, spirits, in the world, which draw closer in winter; that humans and other beings have a life force, thli-makstii, which goes ultimately into the stars after death, eventually ending in the Taa’winisim (Milky Way; Ki-Ke-In 2013:28).  Plants were people, and as such critical in ceremonies and in the search for guardian spirits (Turner 2014-2:324-350).

Other-than-human persons can take human or humanoid form when in their own world; salmon, for instance, are people who live in houses at the bottom of the ocean, and don their salmon skins only to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their relatives on shore.  (This represents Philippe Descola’s ontology of shamanism [Descola 2013], being the same belief that he reports from his South American researches.)  The Katzie Salish, living where the most sturgeons spawn, in the lower Fraser drainage, believed the Creator had two children; the boy was the ancestor of the Katzie, the girl of the sturgeons.  Whenever they caught a sturgeon, it was their beloved sister sacrificing herself for them (Jenness 1955).  Widely believed among Salishan groups is the idea that all living resources are human-like in their own homes, donning outer coverings for human use.  Berries are like small babies in their real—spiritual—state (Miller 1999).  For the Sahaptin, “waqayšwit ‘life’ [is] an animating principle or ‘soul’ possessed by people as well as animals, plants, and forces of nature.  The presence of ‘life’ implies intelligence, will, and consciousness.  This is the basis for a pervasive…morality, in which all living beings should respect one another and are involved with one another in relations of generalized reciprocity” (Hunn and French 1998:388).

Thus, the basic or original being that became an animal, or was transformed into one by the Transformer, was incarnated in all subsequent animals of that kind, or—alternatively—remained as master of them.  Thus, mythic Raven is incarnate in all ravens, or else exists in the spirit world as the guardian of all ravens. The former version of the belief seems to prevail in the north.  The latter prevails in some parts of the coast (being e.g. reported for the Puget Sound Salish by Miller 1999:10-11).  It is the standard form in many areas to the south, including Mexico.  (This belief reaches to the Maya of Quintana Roo.  The deer god Siip, Zip in old literature, still has some role in overseeing deer today; the “leaf-litter turkey,” a giant ocellated turkey, is the eternal master of wild turkeys, punishing hunters who take too many of them; see Llanes Pasos 1993.  Versions of the same belief extend into South America [Blaser 2009; Descola 2013]).  The Yukaghir have spirits of the animals, overall game-guardian spirits, and locality spirits (Willerslev 2007).  Even farther afield, so do the Khanty of northwest Siberia, for whom an excellent ethnography by Andrew Wiget and Olga Balalaeva (2011) is now available.

The leading character in creation myths was a Transformer who changed ambiguously humanlike persons, and more or less formless supernatural beings, into the humans, animals, trees, and geological formations of today.  This story is known from Alaska (e.g. the Han people; Mishler and Simeone 2004) to California and beyond (see comparisons, mostly for the central coast, in Miller 1999; and many stories in Boas 2003 and Thompson and Egesdal 2008).  People who are broadly humanlike but have some animal-like characteristics became the animals they resembled.  Formless supernaturals became rivers and mountains. 

Usually the Raven is the transformer on the coast, Coyote the major one in the interior.  (The missionaries originally used the Chinook word for “coyote” for God; Lang 2008:70.)  A being without specifically known form does the job farther north and east.  The Gitksan Transformer, Wegyet, can be either raven or humanoid, apparently at will; similar shape-shifting is found in several other creator figures throughout North America.  The Tsimshian had a high god known as gal (Miller 2014b:42) and the Haida seem to have regarded the Shining Heaven as a high god.

In the Columbia Plateau region also, there was a widespread concept of a high god who oversaw the animal spirits.  Coyote may have been the immediate creator of much that we have here, but he was under control of a higher power.  (The old idea that “primitive” people lack a high god and have only animistic spirits was disproved a century ago; Lowie 1924.)   For the Colville of northeast Washington, the creator was originally a sort of Power-in-process, a being whose existence was the flow of his creation.  Eventually “the ‘chief’ who made the world and all its creations decided thereafter that he would have no body, legs, or head, and would instead become Sweatlodge for the continued benefit of human beings” (Miller 2010:47; cf. Ray 1933).  He lives on, instantiated in every sweatlodge created since. 

Also reported from the Plateau and not from other areas is a concept of sacred spaces with sacred deer:  “Near my home is a sacred area—about one acre—where sacred deer used to live.  One adult deer would always present itself only to a young man just before he was about to get married.  But only to a young man who, before starting his hunt, had for three days sweated while singing his power song, of course fasted,” and been virtuous.  He would shoot the deer, give the meat to his intended-wife’s mother to redistribute, and make the hide into a robe for the new wife or (in due course) their baby (Ross 2011:145, quoting an unfortunately unnamed elder recorded in Ross’ field notes). 

Not only plants and animals, but also mountains and rivers, were people, and were owed consideration accordingly; “we…talked to the river, so we could get some fish from it without hurting the river at all,” as an Elder woman told First Nations student Johnnie Manson (2016).

Such kinship with all being obviously made conservation a great deal more compelling.  Even people who care little for unrelated fellow humans will care for their own kin.

This implies that animals are not just killed by humans; they offer themselves voluntarily to their human relatives.  Their spirits then reincarnate in new members of the species, just as human souls reincarnate within a descent group. 

Today as in the past, a new baby will be examined to see which recently-deceased elder has reincarnated.  The Khanty (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011) and Yukaghir have the same belief, and the ever-perceptive Rane Willersley (2007:50ff.) points out for the latter that, while the essence of the person is reincarnated, the new child is his or her own person—not just a recycled relative.  This is so strikingly like genetic reality that one assumes the indigenous peoples noticed that descent produces great similarities in appearance and basic personality and yet considerable differences in the final result.  Like Aristotle realizing that heredity must be a “pattern” conveyed from parent to child, rather than a tiny homunculus or divine intervention, the Northwest Coast people recognized the inheritance of traits and reasoned an explanation based on their worldview.

If the souls of previously hunted animals were treated with respect, new (newly reincarnated) individuals of that species will offer themselves.  Of this much more below, but at this point we must quote Richard Atleo’s point that Northwest Coast people pray for the animals to make themselves available, but when European “religious people pray to God for a supply of meat…the meat has no say in the matter” (Atleo 2004:85).  The key here is respect, as will appear below. 

Under special circumstances, humans can visit the salmon people, or the bear or mountain goat people, and see them in human or humanoid form.  Countless Northwest Coast stories recount such adventures (see e.g. Andrade 1969 [1931], with tales of visits to shark people, seal people, and others).  Unsurprisingly, there is also a Yukaghir one: (Willerslev 2007:89-90).  Humans can marry animals, plants, or even stars, and many Northwest Coast kinship groups are descended from such unions.  Totem poles typically show the animal ancestors of the sponsors of the pole.  Hunting involves the hunter leaving the human realm and entering into animal worlds.  This often requires a great deal of ritual, in which the hunter’s wife is often essential, especially in hunting for large animals from whales to deer (see S. Reid 1981 for a detailed description of Kwakwaka’wakw ideology in this area).

Many a local crest derives from such visits.  Some members of the Tsimshian Blackfish phratry “met Nagunaks” when they “inadvertently anchored over his house” at the bottom of the sea; “he sent bglue cod, one of his slaves, to investigate…. The steersman was annoyed by the splashing of the fish, caught it and broke its fins,” which caused the sea-guardian Nagunaks to take them to his house, warn them never to harm animals unnecessarily, and then release them with privileges and songs, sending them off in a fast-speeding copper canoe.  They thought they had been gone for four days, but they were gone four years.  The privileges became lineage crests and emblems (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:42).  This is a version of a story known not only throughout the Northwest Coast but through much of North America and Eurasia.  The sequence of offense, warning, release with teachings and privileges, and days that were really years is canonical.

This is a form of the Native American theory that Eduardo Viveiros de Castro defines as “’perspectivism’: the conception according to which the universe is inhabited by different sorts of persons, human and nonhuman, which apprehend reality from distinct points of view.  This conception was shown to be associated to some others, namely:

  • The original common condition of both humans and animals is not animality, but rather humanity;
  • Many animals species [sic], as well as other types of ‘nonhuman’ beings, have a spiritual component which qualifies them as ‘people’; furthermore, these beings see themselves as humans in appearance and in culture, while seeing humans as animals or as spirits;
  • The visible body of animals is an appearance that hides this anthropomorphic invisible ‘essence,’ and that can be put on and taken off as a dress or garment;
  • Interspecific metamorphosis is a fact of ‘nature.’
  • …the notion of animality as a unified domain, globally opposed to that of humanity, seems to be absent form Amerindian cosmologies.” (Viveiros de Castro 2015:229-230).

The Northwest Coast people, however, do not so often seem to see the anthropomorphic form as the real or essential one; in many cases, it seems that animal persons have two forms, equally their own.

Animals have powerful spirits, and are in fact spirit beings, able to move back and forth between our everyday world and the spirit realm.  For the Spokane, “[a]nimals are in touch with, and move between, the two worlds.  That sensitivity allows certain animals to foretell eveents, such as weather, death, or the arrival of a guest.  They can see into the spirit world…. Through animals, man can obtain a vision into that other world; through them, he finds his spirit power….” (Egesdal 2008:140.) 

Animals have many powers.  In the northern Northwest Coast, the land otter (the river otter, Lutra canadensis) can lure one to drowning and then take over body and soul and turn the person into an “otter-man,” a zombie-like being.  This is still a matter of concern, and on Haida Gwaii the fear has spread to the Anglo-Canadian settlers, who can be quite nervous about the “gogeet” (Haida gagitx, otter-man; Anderson 1996).  Otters move easily in both the great realms of life, land and water (de Laguna 1972; Halpin 1981a; Jonaitis 1981, 1986); they even enter the underworld (they live in burrows).  Moreover, they play a lot, and even incorporate humans into their play.  Most daunting of all, they often try to lure people into the water to play with them, as I have personally experienced on several occasions.  Significantly, otters abound in shamanic art (charms and the like) but are largely absent from public art (totem poles and crest art; Jonaitis 1981, 1986, and my personal observation), though a few appear on Gitksan poles (Barbeau 1929:73, 88).  Barbeau recorded a shaman’s otter song, for curing, among the Tsimshian (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:122).  The bukwus or “wild man” took the place of the otter, to some extent, in Kwakwaka’wakw tradition (Halpin 1981a).

At least among the Tahltan, mink and weasel have some similar magical powers (Albright 1984).  For the central Salish groups, the fisher, a very otter-like animal, has magic curing powers, and passing a stuffed fisher over a person is part of healing (Lévi-Strauss 1982). 

            The dog is ambiguous, as in most of the world (Amoss 1984; for the Yukaghir, Willersley 2007:76; the Tłįchǫ Dene are descended from a dog who took human form and married a human woman).  As the only aboriginal tame animal, it moved in the human and the nonhuman realms, as the otter moves in three worlds.  It is singularly absent from myths and art on the Northwest Coast, though obviously not elsewhere.  (The Tłįchǫ Dene, who are well outside the Northwest Coast cultural area, treat dogs with respect but think them unable to survive in the wild—unlike wild animals and the Tłįchǫ themselves.  The Tłįchǫ also tend to think of animals as very different in powers and natures from humans, though still being other-than-human persons.  One Tłįchǫ wanted to learn caribou knowledge, and eventually could turn himself into a caribou—but he learned so much that he became a caribou and could not become human again, since he had more caribou knowledge than human knowledge; Legat 2012:89.)

            Salmon are people too, and abundantly present in myth.  Something of the empathy between human and salmon people is found in a powerful song recorded by Marius Barbeau and translated by William Beynon—the song the salmon sing as they go upriver:

“I will sing the song of the sky. 

This is the song of the tired—the salmon panting as they swim up the swift current.

            I go around where the water runs into whirlpools.

            They talk quickly, as if they are in a hurry.

            The sky is turning over.  They call me.”

                        This was sung by Tralahaet (a Tsimshian chief) and translated by Benjamin Munroe and William Beynon, early 20th century.  Recall that the salmon give birth and die; this poem is about sacrificing one’s life for the rising generations.  (Garfield, Barbeau and Wingert 1950:132.)

            “Commonality between species” means “we are all brother and sisters not only to each other, but also to every life form.”  This implies “respect, kindness, generosity, humility, and wisdom” not only toward and for humans, but for other life-forms (Atleo 2004:88).  It should be pointed out that “brothers and sisters” here translates Nuu-chah-nulth words that cover all related persons in one’s own generation.  Since Nuu-chah-nulth kinship is reckoned over many generations, almost all traditional Nuu-chah-nulth can trace some relationship to almost all others, and thus are all literally brothers and sisters (or whatever generation term is appropriate).  And, since animals are persons involved in human kin networks, one can be quite literally brother to a wolf or sister to a whale.  This extension of kinship does fade over distance, and a far-off “brother” or “sister” can be no closer to oneself than some of my long-lost third cousins are to me.  However, it is taken seriously, to a point really striking to an outside observer; correspondingly, my Nuu-chah-nulth friends were struck by the weakness of kin ties among Euro-Canadians.

            One may add that society—human, but also other social mammals’ society—is reinforced by strong social codes.  These are generated, and apply, at the level of community: for humans, on the Northwest Coast, the local realm of a chiefly lineage or lineage-group and associated commoners and others.  This would involve around 500 people—fewer in the cold interior, many more around the rich Salish Sea.  It also involved all the nonhuman lives in the area. 

            Communities were tightly organized.  This too varied, from the extremely close-knit kin and community groups of the Nuu-chah-nulth to the loose and flexible ones of the interior Athapaskans, but the similarities still strike me as more important than the differences.  Even the Nuu-chah-nulth recognized individuals and their needs, balancing them with the collectivity in a very self-conscious manner (see Atleo 2004:55-56).  The strong awareness that a community is made up of interacting individuals led to a philosophy of individuals-in-society.  This integrated harmoniously with the philosophy of people-in-nature—more accurately, no “nature,” only different kinds of people. 

            The contrast is with the western world, where the usual alternative to individualism is “communitarianism,” which, often, consists of justifications for top-down autocracy.   Northwest Coast community morality integrates the individual in the community but does not subject him or her to a king, pope, or dictator.  Chiefs had real authority, and in some parts of the coast could sometimes get downright tyrannical, but their power was limited—usually very much so.  These were face-to-face communities, strongly ranked but small enough that the chief knew he had to get along; otherwise, as noted, he would be abandoned or killed. 

            What Theodore Stern says of some Plateau groups would apply throughout the Northwest:  “On winter nights [children] were an apt audience for elders reciting myths; daily they heard the headman’s exhortations and on special occasions the war stories….  From their parensts and grandparents, as well as those brought in to speak of their lives, they heard praised the virtues of obedience, of honesty, and of charity to the unfortunate” (Stern 1998:406).  The “unruly” were punished.  Teaching stories were filled with lore on managing and the morality behind it (Turner 2014, vol. 2, esp. pp. 244-266). 

            Thus, the Northwest Coast peoples could be paradoxically freer than most westerners manage to be.  Rampant individualism cannot work in practice in a large group, for obvious reasons, and the western remedy has always been top-down autocratic control—by church if not by centralized government.  The ancient Greeks already saw, and criticized, this, in their pessimistic ideas on the sequence from democracy to aristocracy to tyranny.  The alternative of free self-organizing and self-governing communities was not unknown to them.  It was a reality later in much of the Celtic and Germanic world until medieval times and locally later, but it never replaced the dismal alternation between libertarian and tyrannical alternatives. 

Thomas Hobbes (1651) is the locus classicus; he saw no alternative to “warre of each against all” except a totalitarian king.  If only he had known enough about the peoples he called “savages,” he would have realized there were other possibilities. 

On the other hand, recall what has been said of warfare above; typical of the Northwest Coast was superb relations with nonhuman persons, good relations with one’s own people, and warfare with other people of different language and homeland.  The goal, at least for some, was peace with all species within one’s own lands, and warfare outside of that.  By contrast, the western world has long had an ideal—often neglected but never quite forgotten—of peace with one’s own species everywhere.  Unfortunately, modern western societies also exhibit total war against nature. 

            The intense Native American relationship of community and land must be continually stressed, and this brings us back to stewardship.  A group is localized, and their local world is desperately important.  Its mountains, trees, major rocks, and rivers are transformed beings that are part of local society.  They may be actual kin to the humans of the immediate area.  This concept is alien to the modern Euro-American settlers, who have been in the area for three centuries or less.  However, it is similar to the rootedness of many villages in Europe, with their sacred wells, their megalithic monuments, and their churches built on sites of pre-Christian temples.

            This and the two previous principles led to a powerful and quite deliberate conservation ethic.  Conservation was “wise use” of every resource, rather than lock-down preservation.  It contrasts especially with the modern concept of sacrificing most of the land for devastating misuse while locking up a tiny fraction for aesthetic or recreational reasons.  The Northwest peoples used all the land in a carefully managed, sustainable manner. 

For example: “Among the Lower Lillooet, resource stewards…directed the use of specific hunting grounds and some fisheries.  These were hereditary positions, at least in the historic period, but required special knowledge.  Spiritual qualities were not requisite for this position, but such qualities were required for the specialized hunters” (Kennedy and Bouchard 1998a:182).  All other groups in the northern interior had these stewards also.  The Spokan, for instance, had a fish leader or fish chief to oversee fishing, and a fish shaman to make sure that all the rules of proper resource management were kept; there was also a fish trap keeper (Ross 2011).  Rules that were pragmatic (no blood or waste in the water; it repels salmon) merged into purely ritual rules, all being believed equally necessary to keep the fish coming.

The Lakes (Sinixt) Salish of southern British Columbia had almost all moved to Washington state (to a reservation with related groups), had mostly merged into other groups, and had been declared extinct in Canada as long ago as 1956, but when a road was punched through their main surviving cemetery they all appeared in force and blockaded the road (Pryor 1999).  A threat to the old sacred ground brought the tribe together again.

Individual moral experience, especially the vision quest, is discussed and constructed into community morality.

This is brilliantly described by the Nuu-chah-nulth scholar Richard Atleo, a traditionally-raised Northwest Coast person who is also highly educated in European science and philosophy: “In traditional Nuu-chah-nulth culture…the world of good and evil is known and experienced collectively through the practice of oosumich [vision quest; spiritual discipline including bathing in cold water].  Consequently, in these communities the collective spiritual experiences of people determine human perceptions of the nature of the world.  There can be no equivalent to a Plato, or a Socrates, or some such individual who might create a school of thought abvout reality that is later shared by some loyal followers.  Rather, good and evil are determined by consensus through personal spiritual experiences that are reflected in the physical realm.  Individual experiences are judged in the context of broad community experiences” (Atleo 2004:37).  Atleo has gone on to elaborate concepts of consent, continuity, personal independence and responsibility, and polarity, including the reconciliation of opposites (Atleo 2011).

Socialized conservation comes naturally to the highly social Nuu-chah-nulth, who live in a world of kinship and community that is tight and close even by Native American standards, but it applies generally. The first words I learn in most languages are “hello” and a couple of cuss-words, but the first word I learned in Nuu-chah-nulth was tłeko, which is most simply translated “thank you!” but which has so many deeper implications of exchange, interdependence, formal relations, and group morality that it is routinely used even by Nuu-chah-nulth who are otherwise strictly English speakers.  (See e.g. Coté 2010:xi-xii. She spells it “kleko,” which is itself interesting; English-speakers find “tł” difficult as an initial, and substitute “kl”; traditional Nuu-chah-nulth speakers of my acquaintance have the opposite problem, and naturally substitute “tł” for “kl,” thus, for instance, saying “ten o’tłock.”  Coté is Nuu-chah-nulth, but finds the English spelling more convenient.)  The Nuu-chah-nulth tend to pack a huge range of associations into one word, instead of multiplying highly specialized words as English does. 

The Haida seem a good deal more self-consciously individualist, and the Athapaskan groups less communal in lifestyle, but they have the same philosophy; the difference is that the resulting consensus is looser.  (At least this is my experience, and I know at least some would agree with me.)  The contrast of Nuu-chah-nulth and Euro-Canadians is really striking in this regard, as anyone who has observed extensive interactions within and between these groups can testify.  Discussion to reach a collective moral conclusion contrasts vividly with defiant independence and militant liberty of conscience (Atleo 55-56; 2011, amply confirmed by my own research). 

On the other hand, note that in the final analysis the Northwestern collective morality is based on individual experiences, from which the shared principles are then teased out.  This contrasts with the rigid top-down morality and power/knowledge of many western institutions:  the more hierarchic churches, the schools, and above all the state.  (Of course, this brings church and state into many a conflict with the individualistic Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans!  But that is another story.)

The Plateau groups, however, display a key difference:  Individuals can indeed use their spiritual experiences on vision quests to start social movements that take on a life of their own.  The “prophets” famous in 19th-century Plateau history almost certainly have a long, complex history reaching back centuries or millennia.  This makes them more like the ancient Greeks, especially when one remembers that the philosophy of Plato—and still more that of sages like Pythagoras—had a strong spiritual component.

This brings us to the vision quest, the all-important life-transforming experience that all Northwest Coast young people used to experience, and that a surprisingly large number still undergo.

Let us begin with Richard Atleo again: “Oosumich is a secret and personal Nuu-chah-nulth spiritual activity that can involve varying degress of fasting, cleansing [often by using herbal emetics], celibacy, prayer, and isolation for varying lengths of time depending upon the purpose” (Atleo 2004:17); it also includes beating oneself with medicinal branches, including those of a plant containing a natural soap, which thus has a cleansing effect (Atleo 2004:92).  For whaling it could last eight months, for hunting three or four days (Atleo 2004:17). 

The Nuu-chah-nulth oosumich, or uusimch (George 2003:48; phonetically ʔuusumch) is a quest for spiritual power and purity.  “Oo” or uu literally means “spiritual mysteries” and is used just to mean “be careful” (Atleo 2004:74, 83).  It is related to management practices, even controlled burning, which similarly manages the world to reconcile conflicting impulses of destruction and preservation (Atleo 2011:133). 

Related lonely quests for power, with bathing in cold water, beating oneself with medicinal branches, fasting, and other self-denials, occur among most Northwest Native groups (Benedict 1923; Miller 1988, 1997, 1999).  Similar spiritual quests are known throughout the continent.  Such quests or spiritual retreats are undergone throughout life by medicine persons, warriors, and others in need of extra spiritual power.  The extreme eight-month retreats of Nuu-chah-nulth whalers (e.g. Atleo 2011:101-102) show the great danger, great potential benefits to the whole community, and consequent special needs for spiritual power of that enterprise.  (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is worth recalling.)   “Indian doctors,” shamans or spirit-possessors, were primarily curers, but they could kill by sorcery, become invisible, foretell the future, protect people, and find lost persons and objects (see e.g. particularly complete account in Ignace and Ignace 2017:387-393; also Jolles 2002:;172-173). 

Secwépemc children as young as five or six might receive spirit powers.  Elders might “doctor” them with animal skins or parts to give them the power of the animal.  Ron Ignace received grizzly bear and woodworm powers this way.  Woodworms, the larvae of wood-boring beetles, are known throughout the Northwest for their ability to drill slowly and patiently through the hardest wood, and thus give persistence and tenacity.  In early adolescence, youths went for the more typical Northwestern vision quest: “…a yong person had to live in solitude for days, potentially weeks and months, often on more than one stay.  Through…fasting and prayer in solitude, individuals found their personal seméc (spirit guardian power)…. Songs would come to them, given by an animal or a force of nature, like fire or water, that thus showed itself to the person questing and transferred its spirit power” (Ignace and Ignace 2017:383-384; see long list of spirit powers on p. 386).  The initiate thus had to shift for himself or herself for many days, with only the few resources brought along for the trip.  One elder lamented the difficulty of finding remote enough places in this modern world.  Getting one’s power from natural beings created an intense bonding with the wild and with natural realities.

Bathing in cold water was apparently a universal part of the quest in the Northwest.  Under conditions of hunger, cold, stress, and loneliness, the young person would sooner or later have dreams and visions, and these would validate the calling.

Known from the Northwest to the Plateau (Benedict 1923) and the Plains (the classic account being Neihardt 1932, but there are many others), vision questing extends down into Mexico, but from the southwest and southern United States on southward it was often supplemented or replaced by group or social training and initiation. 

In the vast majority of cases, it is undergone around the time of puberty.  Often there is one long and arduous quest; sometimes a boy or girl will undergo several quests.  Boys usually—but not always—undergo longer and harder quests than girls, and further discussion below will focus on the boys, whose quests are much better described in the literature. 

            The typical adolescent spirit quest usually involves isolation at a Power Place, an area of great known concentration of spirit power.  Power places can be mountaintops, dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, stream eddies, or other dramatic spots.  Mountaintops are the ones preferred for spirit questing, because of their isolation and extreme conditions of cold, violent weather, spectacular scenery, and fearfulness. 

The youth subjects himself to fasting, drinking only cold water, bathing in cold water, purification, staying awake as much as possible, and continual praying or crying for visions.  After a few days or at most weeks of this, visions or powerful dreams are virtually guaranteed.  Stress physiology combined with cultural expectations insure that even the least sensitive person will have them. 

The quest was highly individual among the Plains and Plateau nations, more socially constructed and integrated into collective ceremonies on the Coast, and reduced to a quiet, secret, lonely forest experience among the Athapaskan groups.  There is a huge literature on it, particularly for the Coast. 

The Salish peoples are especially well covered.  Among them: “In order to exploit his natural environment successfully a person needed to establish lines of communication with the nonhuman realm. He would doso primarily through a vision or encounter with a more or less individualized, personalized manifestation of the power which pervaded the wild realm of nature…. Contact could be achieved only if the human supplicant were purged of the taint of human existence….  Daily bathing in the river was the cornerstone of this regime” (Amoss 1978:12-13, from research with the Nooksack).  The young person had to be away from humans, in a power place, subjecting him- or herself to privation and discomfort.  Women were restricted in action, less often allowed to go far off, and thus tended to get lesser powers (Amoss 1978:13-14).  They could, however, become clairvoyants.

The vision typically tells the youth what power he has—or, in western psychological terms, gives the youth mental freedom to realize what he really wants to do with his life (cf. Jilek 1982).  For the Plains tribes, it normally gave warrior power, but the Northwest Coast groups, with their highly varied range of activities, presented a wider range of possibilities.  Woodworking power came from Master Carpenter or an equivalent spirit being, thus proving the deeply religious nature of art in traditional society.  Seamanship, fishing, housebuilding, and all manner of other powers could be given. 

Since this power comes from the all-important spirit world, it cannot be gainsayed.  Thus, if parents had been hoping the boy would become a woodworker, but the spirits make him a hunter, a hunter he shall remain.  This is not infrequently used by a boy or girl to validate his or her career choice at the expense of parental planning.  Many a college student forced by parents to “go into medicine,” learning of this aspect of the spirit quest in an anthropology class, has dearly wished for such an institution in modern America.

Obviously, some of these spirit gifts were more noble than others, and youths were counseled to be happy with whatever they got.  Some delightful stories make the point.  Among the Upper Skagit, one youth got only the power to win eating contests.  He was embarrassed and ashamed.  But then a much more powerful enemy tribe challenged the Upper Skagit people to war or equivalent competition.  The Upper Skagit had the good sense to demand the right to pick the type of contest…and of course our poor youth was soon the hero of his people (Collins 1974).

Special, everywhere, was healing power.  All the way from Siberia to California (thus bridging the Bering Strait), healing or shamanic power had a special name, separate from other spirit power.  A healer received power to travel to the spirit world to find out the cause and cure of illness.  The whaling power of the Nuu-chah-nulth was also of a special nature, and involved meditating among human skulls and other mementi mori, as part of dealing with the danger of the art.

            The spirit vision quest thus gives meaning and direction to life.  It has thus been rehabilitated lately for treating adolescent alienation and problematic behavior, and community alienation and aimlessness (Amoss 1978).  This is especially true among the Salish groups, because among them the youth returns to society and dances out his vision in a public ceremony.  A youth is not supposed to reveal or talk about the actual spirit that gave him the vision, but he receives a song and dance that sometimes make the spirit identifiable.  A youth who moves and growls like a bear, or a wolf, for instance, reveals what sort of spirit he has.  Others then dance their visions, or simply dance along with everyone. 

This gives the Salish youths a chance to validate their power, life choices, and personal experience of the Divine, as well as to reconnect with their culture, community, and identity.  This is done through dancing during the winter ceremonial season.  The youth—and the adult for the rest of life—dances in such a way as to demonstrate, but not show too clearly, his or her spirit power.  Onlookers can only guess what animal or other spirit the individual received, but his or her life and work demonstrates the actual power received.  

Spirit dancing holds the community together, reveals and reinforces social structure, spreads resources widely, and acts as religious focus; as such, it maintains a vibrant cultural and social world in what is otherwise a situation of limited possibilities (Amoss 1978).

Spirit dancing has proved a powerful social therapy.  It has been instrumental in reducing alcoholism, suicide, depression, and anomie among young people, especially if combined with other help.  It has given people a sense of control and self-efficacy.  Literally hundreds, perhaps by now thousands, of Salish youths have had their lives turned around by it (Amoss 1978; Collins 1974; Jilek 1972).

Psychologist Wolfgang Jilek (1972) memorably described his findings on this and his conclusion that the spirit dancing worked far better than clinical therapy for the Salish youths.  I have talked to Jilek, and many others, about this; the encounter that I most remember was with a Catholic priest who had actually taken part in the dancing.  Someone with me asked “Doesn’t the church say that is all from the Devil?”  To which the priest replied, quietly and seriously, “Anything that has the effects I’ve seen must be from God.”

Returning to the wider—lifelong—quest for spirit power, as Richard Atleo says, powerful individual spiritual experiences validated individuals’ sense of self, and then fed back into the community’s collective experience of spirituality and thus of morality.  Morals were constantly being tested against individual transformative experience.  Since the latter was, inevitably, highly conditioned by cultural expectation and tradition as well as personal experience, it normally reinforced the moral tenets of the people. 

On the other hand, it also allows for change, and validates ideas about how to cope with new circumstances.  This is most obvious on the Plateau, with its many prophets announcing visions about the Whites, the horses they brought, and other new matters.  These prophets were lifelong vision-questers, who had mystical experiences and intense spirit journeys on a regular basis throughout life.  The coastal Salish also had prophet cults, and other groups had individuals who taught new adaptations.

The relevance of this to conservation will appear below, in the consideration of traditional stories.  Many of these depend on some young person having a spirit vision in which the animal persons tell him or her what they expect and need from humans.  The vision is described matter-of-factly—the youth meets a mountain goat and is led to the home of the goats—but many touches reveal that the journeys are spirit journeys rather than physical ones.

Spirit journeys by medicine persons were also regular features of life in the Northwest.  Healers sent their souls to the spirit worlds for many purporses.  They also used their special spirit powers, those peculiar to the curing life.  Curing was especially important, and usually involved sucking out objects or “pains” magically implanted in a patient by a witch or else going to the land of the dead to retrieve a lost soul (see e.g. Boyd 2013a).  More directly relevant to ecology were spirit-journeys to find out why the fish were not running or the game was scarce.  Typically, the finding was that a taboo had been broken—in particular, someone had been disrespectful to the animal persons.  Social rules were powerfully reinforced.

A point not often enough made is that the major role of curers in traditional times was probably treating mental illnesses and sicknesses.  Infectious diseases were rather few, until the Whites brought the full range of Old World conditions.  The healers had no way of coping with these, and died along with their patients.  In pre-contact times, the few infectious diseases were generally either minor and easily treated with herbs, or were chronic and fluctuating.  Probably much more common were physical traumas—accidents, bear bites, war wounds, falls—and these could be treated by first aid and some dramatic placebo-effective ritual. 

Conversely, mental and social problems were evidently numerous and serious.  Winter confined people in their houses with seemingly endless rain, cold, and night outside.  Summer brought frantic activity to get food put away.  Dangers of war and interpersonal conflict were always present.  Anyone even slightly prone to depression, aggressiveness, schizophrenia, or other problems would be sorely tested.  Thus, healers had to specialize in these conditions.  Of course, they interpreted them as spiritual, but their ways of dealing with them were pragmatic.  Psychologists such as Wolfgang Jilek (1972) have pointed out that traditional psychological therapy was stunningly effective, and was based on principles perfectly comprehensible to a modern psychologist.  I can testify to the truth of this from some experience (Anderson 1992; Anderson and Pinkerton 1987). 

All this ritual, healing, and animal protection is part of a religious system loosely known as “shamanism.”  A better name should be coined.  True shamanism is a tightly defined complex of religious ideas and behaviors that centers on Siberia and central Asia (the classic account by Eliade, 1964, is dated and less than satisfactory; see the superb work of Caroline Humphrey 1995, 1996, and the beautifully illustrated work of Pentikäinen et al. 1999 for better overviews).  The word “shaman” is the word for a soul-sending individual healer, in the Tungus languages of eastern Siberia.  Northwest Coast religion is so similar that is can be called “shamanism” without stretching definitions, but as one moves farther east, the characteristic shamanistic features gradually fade, and we are left with a religion more focused on individual spirit experience, less on the spectacular and complex rituals of the shaman per se. 

Shamanism is based on individual soul-travel to the land of gods and dead or to the skyworld or underworld, to find lost souls or lost objects, find causes and cures for illness, and otherwise fix social and personal problems.  The shaman has an animal familiar, or several of them, and often other kinds of spirit powers exist.  Shamans can normally transform themselves into animals or spirit beings.  Ordinary people with special spirit powers can transform also.  Folktales in shamanic societies almost invariably include many competitions between rivals, to see who can assume the most powerful shape, foiling the rival (see Bland 2012).  (Such stories endure even in modern Europe, e.g. the Child ballad of “The Twa Magicians,” a Scottish tale that survived into the 20th century).  Moreover, animals—usually the predators in particular—can transform into humans, or into other shapes.  In fact, the transformation, interpenetration, and mutual shape-shifting and soul-shifting between human and natural realms is a key basic tenet of shamanic societies.  (This problematizes, to say the least, Descola’s claim that “animism” postulates spiritual similarity but physical difference beween people and other-than-human persons; Descola 2013.)

Some authors describe all Native American religion as shamanic, even the priestly religion of the high cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andes.  Others do not even allow the Northwest Coast into the “shamanism” camp.  Still others draw the line somewhere in between.  Some exceedingly acrimonious exchanges have taken place about this.  Some of the best studies, like Jay Miller’s Shamanic Odyssey (1988; see also Miller 1999), integrate Northwest Coast religion into the shamanism complex.  Others do not.

This allows us better understanding of the superficially “strange” or “exotic” ethnozoology of the Athapaskan peoples of northwest Canada.  Recent superb descriptions of these people by Julie Cruikshank (1998, 2005), Jean-Guy Goulet (1998), Leslie Johnson (2000, 2010), T. F. McIlwraith (2007), Paul Nadasdy (2004), Robin Ridington (1981a, 1981b, 1988, 1990), Henry Sharp (19878, 2001), David Smith (1999) and others have presented a very consistent picture. From somewhat outside our area, but from closely related Athapaskan peoples, comes the thorough account of Richard Nelson (1983), which speaks to conservation issues.

The Athapaskans see the world through trails and paths (Johnson 2010; Legat 2012; Ridington 1981b, 1988).  They have complex terminologies for types of places, mostly habitats for hunting and gathering.  They may name features that seem small and insignificant to outsiders, while leaving whole mountains unnamed—as do many peoples worldwide (Johnson 2010; anthropologists were surprised at this, but the beautiful high ridge I see from my window has no name, and it is in a major city).  The trailways were taken by ancestral beings long ago, and the small features were spots that were critical in those mythic adventures.  Again there are world parallels; I have stood in a quite young grove of trees, in Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia, that is locally regarded as composed of transformed supernatural beings from the Dreaming time. 

Robin Ridington has studied the Dunne-za (“Beaver”) people of British Columbia.  He reports:  Beneath each mountain or valley lay the body of a giant animal that had been sent below the earth’s surface when the great transformer Saya taught the Dunne-za of old to be hunters rather than game.  The melodic lines of their songs were said to be the turns of a trail to heaven and the steady rhythm of drum, the imprint of tracks passing over this imaginary terrain” (Ridington 1981b:240).  The giant underground animals are widely known in the Northwest (Sharp 1987), and are the explanation for earthquakes; stories about one of them cluster around the faults running through Seattle.

Ridington continues to describe finding the game by dreaming where they are.
Camps among the Dunne-za were always set up so that there was bush unbroken by human trails in the direction of the rising sun.  People slept with their heads in this direction and received images in their dreams.”  Dreaming the locations of game is also noted for related nearby groups by Henry Sharp (1987, 2001) and Jean-Guy Goulet (1998).  The hunters, among these Athapaskan groups as among other North American Indigenous nations, find that “the animals could not be killed unless they had previously given themselves to the hunter in his dream images.  It was said that the real hunt took place in the dream and the physical hunt was only a realization of what had already taken place” (Ridington 1981b:241).

Leslie Johnson has written at length about the differences between this moving-traveler view of the world and more static or totalizing views (Johnson 2010).  She contrasts the Athapaskan view, rich in narrative, personal history, and subsistence knowledge, with the abstract, arbitrary, geometric grids laid down on the land by modern states.  True, but having grown up in rural Nebraska almost a century ago, I can testify that a few generations of farming and childrearing transforms a grid into a richly-known, well-loved, story-laden landscape. It is the living, or “dwelling” (Ingold 2000; Legat 2012) that counts.  The Anglo-Canadians may have soullessly gridded the land, but more serious is their tendency to “rip, ruin, and run,” taking all the fish or trees or minerals and leaving a desert.  If they had stayed and made a living from the total landscape, as the Native peoples did, they would have come to appreciate it—as Johnson and other long-resident immigrants have indeed done.

For Canadian Athabaskan peoples, animals exist as spirits, as well as in fleshly form.  One dreams of these animals, and dreams of their trails.  The spirit comes from the sky (Ridington 1981a, 1988) or some other nebulous place, moves about on earth.  The hunter dreams the path and goes to intersect the animal.  If successful, he kills it, and the animal’s soul returns to spirit land, to take fleshly form again later (as we have seen, above, for other groups). 

One summary of an Athapaskan worldview sees the past as “continually pulled through to the present” by stories and experiences; humans constantly learning spiritual and practical knowledge; “all beings take different trails, each utilizing different places within the dè [land, country],” (Legat 2012:200).  All are related and interact.  Stories and trails hold the world together. 

What is astonishing is that the hunters do, in fact, dream where the moose and deer are, go where their dreams lead, and actually find and kill the animals.  Often, Anglo-Canadian hunters have no success using their hi-tech hunting methods in the same woods.  Thanks to the work of Goulet (1998), Ridington (1981a, 1981b, 1988, 1990), Sharp (2001), and David Smith (1998), we have some sense how bioscience can explain this.  The hunter notices countless cues at a preattentive level while he (men do most of the hunting) is out in the forest.  Every faint track, nibbled twig, bent branch, distant sound, muddied watercourse, old bedding ground, and unusual bird noise is noted.  Trying to notice and evaluate all these cues consciously would overwhelm the mind.  They are attended preconsciously or at the bare edge of consciousness.  At night, they are all integrated in dreams—and the dreams do, indeed, tell the hunter where lies the game.  Psychologists now hold that the purpose of dreams is to integrate and organize such preattentive knowledge, and process it or store it for use.  The Dunne-za were years ahead of the psychologists.

The First Nations of the Northwest know every tree, every rock, and every fishing spot in a vast wilderness better than I know my own living room.  They also believe also that giant fish produce earthquakes by twitching their tails (Sharp 2001), and that animals have spirits that communicate with hunters.  These beliefs make perfect sense in the context of animism.  Many, perhaps most, cultures worldwide explained earthquakes by assuming a giant animal lived underground.  Spirits that communicate is not only the basic postulate that defines “animism”; it is also a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation for what is perceived by hunters in traditional situations. 

A particularly fasciating belief, subject of a long and brilliant study by Julie Cruikshank (2005), holds that glaciers hate to have meat fried near them.  This belief obtains around Glacier Bay among the Tlingit and their neighbors, and has apparently even spread to some local Whites.  As Cruikshank points out, people avoid throwing meat into the fire, or otherwise creating a smell of burning meat, because it attracts bears (as McIlwraith 2007:114 also reports).  Since a glacier is a huge, moving, unpredicable, constantly changing, and dangerous thing, it appears like a grizzly bear to people who believe that all animated and growing things have spirits.  Nothing could be more natural than assuming that the glacier will wax savage at the smell of scorching meat, as a grizzly would. 

            The coast proper had a quite different set of ideological systems, widely based on extended kinship groups: moieties (dividing society into halves), phratries (dividing it into fourths—originally by halving the moieties), lineages, and other extended kinship groups.  Individuals could inherit or be given privileges and spirit powers; so could groups, from whole communities down to families.  Especially common were powers, songs, myths, and art motifs inherited at the lineage to moiety levels—that is, the level of large groups but not entire communities.  A large group could sponsor a potlatch, and a community needed the variety and competition allowed by having several groups each with its own powers.

            This system reached a high development among the Tsimshian peoples (Adams 1973; Beynon 2000; Menzies 2016 [Southern Tsimshian]; Miller and Eastman 1984).  These groups—the Coast Tsimshian, Southern Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan—were divided into four phratries, probably created by dividing into two the moieties basic to neighboring societies.  The key concept is halait: supernatural, spiritually derived power, or anyone manifesting that power, as in a dance, ritual, or chiefly display of authority.  Halait were spiritual groundings of chiefship and power.  They are validated and explained by adaox, “the family-owned histories of the origin, migrations, and eventual settlement…of the Houses…they indicate how the latter acquired their crests and powers” (M. Anderson and Halpin 2000:15. These last include the naxnox, hereditary privileges in the form of masks, totem pole motifs, dances, songs, myths, and ritual regalia. 

            These are displayed in actual ceremonial contexts.  Initiation and name-taking was necessary to assume naxnox.  A chief would have to go to heaven (or have a vision of it).  This made him a semoiget, “real person.”  On return he would often be able to display a terrifying power, such as cannibalism (biting people or pretending to) or eating dogs.  Dogs were considered inedible and even poisonous, so tremendous power was necessary to eat one and survive.  In practice, the devouring was faked (at least in reported cases), but—just as wearing a mask makes one into the being represented by the mask—the fakery had a transcendent reality.

            The full displays in the winter ceremonies included potlatches, feasts, dances, storytelling, and other performances.  Here and elsewhere on the Coast, they were carefully planned and absolutely spectacular.  No one who watches even the etiolated winter dances of today fails to be profoundly moved.

            Of course, all this had everything to do with ecological management and resource ownership.  Here is the great Tsimshian? Gitksan? leader and spokesman Neil Sterritt explaining it:

            “For centuries, successive Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en leaders have defended th boundaries of their territories.  Here, a complex system of ownership and jurisdiction has evolved, where the chiefs continujally validate their rights and responsibilities totheir people, their lands, and the resources contained within themn.  The Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en express their ownership and jurisdiction in many ways, but the most formal forum is the feast, which sisometimes referred to as a potclatch” (as quoted in M. Anderson and Halpin 2000:31).

8.  Respect and Its Corollaries

            The Browns’ Fundamental Truth 3 seems to me the most critical characteristic of Northwest Coast thought, and indeed of Native American thought in general.  It deserves special treatment.

Above all, the Native peoples believe that one must show “respect” to the animals or they will not offer themselves to be hunted successfully.  Even where the discourse of “respect” is eroding with westernization, the practices of treating slain game animals politely and reverently still go on, with that as the ultimate justification (McIlwraith 2012).  It is particularly striking to find these beliefs still vividly and powerfully alive and motivating even among quite acculturated groups that have been subjected to Canadian colonial domination and coerced assimilation for a couple of centuries; as McIlwraith points out, they were supposedly assimilated more than 50 years ago.   McIlwraith cites a whole lineage of authors on this (McIlwraith 2012:25, citing Goulet 1998; Nadasdy 2003; Ridington 1990; Tanner 1979; Teit 1919; and many others).

Critically, respect involves not taking more than one needs for immediate consumption.  This includes family and needy neighbors.  It also includes guests, especially for rituals involving necessary feasting.  A large feast may mean a very large take.  Still, taking too many animals is always bad and disrespectful and always is subject to punishment.  This clause frightens even the greedy (if they are at all traditional in their beliefs).  It succeeds well in practice, as I know from research in both the Northwest Coast and Maya Mexico and several places in between. 

This wide concept of respect—iisʔaḱ in Nuu-chah-nulth, and as usual the word covers far more than English “respect”—is found throughout the Northwest, and, indeed, much more widely.  The Gold Tungus of Siberia have the same basic attitudes (Arseniev 1996), which are apparently continuous right across Bering Strait.  The Mongols share this; traveling in Mongolia I found the same concept of respect for all nature, from trees to rocks.  A young Mongol friend of mine wanted to collect pretty rocks, but did not, because it would be disrespectful to the rocks to move them for such a frivolous reason.  The word used in Mongolia is shuteekh, focally respect for elders.  Khundelekh is used among some Mongols (Marissa Smith, email to me, July 8, 2013), and in Inner Mongolia bishirt (Lulin Bao, pers. comm., 2014).  Many other cultures, from Rumania to South America, have the same concept. My student Jianhua “Ayoe” Wang found respect to be the key concept for environmental management among his Akha people in southern Yunnan (Wang 2013).  The idea of respecting flowers and rocks by leaving them in place is found in the Northwest Coast too.  Annie Peterson Miner, last speaker of Miluk Coos, after commenting on the need for a girl to share her first berries and a boy his first game without eating them themselves, added:  “Annie said that picking flowers and gathering shells and rocks were also prohibited.  ‘It might start to rain or bring bad luck.’  She said, ‘Things were just to be there, not to be picked.’   It was also bad luck to catch wild things” (Youst 1997:68). 

The same basic stories about the person who killed wantonly and was given stern warnings by the supernaturals are heard from Alaska to South America.  Every Northwest Coast collection of tales records myths about this, and often actual stories of people punished for it, for example by having to give all their kill to relatives (Atleo 2011:50), or being turned to stone with one’s dog for hunting too many mountain goats (Teit 1919:241-242), or simply having accidents and bad luck (very widely).  I have heard such stories in both British Columbia and Yucatan. 

Evert Thomas (pers. comm. at Society of Ethnobiology meeting, 2009) tells me that among the Bolivian Quechua, susto (fear sickness) in children can come from overhunting by their parents; the masters of the game punish the hunter by making his family sick.  The Khanty, who at least until recently practiced sustainable hunting and careful reindeer herding, apparently have similar ideas (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011).   Even the Yukaghir, who are now apparently far less conserving than the Northwest Coast peoples, have something of this idea (Willerslev 2007). 

Sport hunting and trophy hunting are thus definitely out of favor, being clearly disrespectful: killing an animal for pleasure, and as often as not leaving the carcass to rot.  This put the people of Iskut in another quandary:  should they guide White sport-hunters?  Survival forced that issue—they had to do it to get enough money to live—but it was a debate.

Thomas Thornton’s Tlingit consultant, Herman Kitka, recalls “Uncle noticed how we enjoyed the [halibut] fishing; he told us that to fish for the halibut for fun we would be wasting our food supply—to do so would offend the Holy Spirit and cause us to lose our blessing and go hungry” (Thornton 2008:124).  And  he lets others use the resources at Deep Bay, of which he was designated monitor:  “’I don’t own it,’ I tell them, ‘I’m just taking care of it’” (Thornton 2008:168).  Thornton comments on this:  “This typifies the Tlingit attitude towards conservation:  it is not a matter of ‘resource management’ as much as a matter of taking care of places.”  Kitka also noted that when a weir blocks the river totally, the salmon leave because they are “insulted,” not because they’re physically stopped:  “Those little sockeye get offended if you don’t leave them a hole in your [fish] weir; they won’t come back…” (Thornton 2008:173-174).  Tlingit often tell guests, in formal contexts, Tleil dagák’ ahwateeni yík, “Don’t leave insulted like those little sockeyes”  (Thornton 2008:173).  Thornton’s superb account of the phenomenology of place and land among the Tlingit has much more of this kind.

Weirs themselves also need respect.  They are ritually constructed and often consecrated, and thus they become persons.  This is known for the Iroquois and Yurok, as well as for Northwest Coast peoples.  They must be treated with proper attention, and (among the Iroquois and Algonquian, in early times) given wives (Miller 2014:135-142).

Mistreating fish is deadly.  When a man on the Nass harmed a small salmon gratuitously, his whole village was destroyed by fire (Barbeau 1950:77).  Frogs are even more dangerous when offended; a widespread northern coast myth deals with individuals who wantonly cast frogs into the fire, only to have frogs destroy their village by giant conflagrations (versions in Barbean 1950:65-75; many other versions exist).  Salmon remains are usually returned to the rivers, insuring good nutrition for the young, but among the Tsimshian they are burned, and failure to burn every leftover causes trouble (Barbeau 1950:165-176).

Deploring sportfishing as disrepectful “playing with fish” is so widely condemned that it has become the title of a book of “lessons from the north,” by Robert Wolfe, who encountered this particuilar lesson among the Yupik of Alaska (Wolfe 2006).

Respect is also basic in Plateau societies.  It “included not only other human beings but also food, air, water, the plants and animals whose lives were taken, and all other aspects of nature….  The very acts of making or teaching art were highly regarded” and artists respected (Loeb and Lavadour 1998:79).

Rodney Frey, talking about the educational function of Native American folktales, uses as examples the moral injunctions to hunters:  “’Nothing will they throw away,’ ‘you must not be proud,’ ‘you must not kill too many of any kind of animal’” (Frey 1995:173).  These are his prime examples not of Native conservation, but of Native moral discourse; he is not selecting game management to talk about.  It was simply what came first to hand.  Note that hybris is condemned as well as waste.  Respect means proper humility before one’s animal spirit beings, as well as intelligent management.  For one thing, it means not mentioning the name of whatever one is hunting or fishing for, or otherwise being overconfident about one’s expedition (see e.g. Palmer 2005).  It also means killing the animal cleanly, with one shot (animportant mark of respect for the game among my Maya friends in Quintana Roo, too).

The pattern is worldwide, and extends to the Yuit of St. Lawrence Island.  R. Apatki, talking to Carol Jolles in 1992, tells us:

“Whatever they first caught, they show them to…God….

They return the bones, whatever they are to the fields.



that belong to the sea, they went to throw away down to sea….

They light small lamps.  There they sacrifice.  The small ceremonial fires are some sort of altars….


[the ancestors]

had taken very good care of it [St. Lawrence Island], just like they honor it, those people.

They take good care of the hunting grounds, these places—all hunting ground.  Respectfully.

They don’t go to places until when it is time to go there.

They don’t put some things [trash and the like] on hunting grounds.  They respectfully use them….” (Jolles 2002:296-297; the whole text is well worth looking up).

Jolles also gives accounts of respectful treatment of kills.  Estelle Oozevaseuk told her in 1989 of giving water to seal kills, a universal custom among Inuit peoples and their neighbors, and giving bits of food to fox kills and others (Jolles 2002:298-299).  A whole complex of respectful behaviors is described in following pages: special games, special ways of dividing kills, special stories.  Reverential ceremonies for major games animals, notably whales, go on all year.  Jolles effectively shows how closely the respect for animals tracks the very respectful, structured behavior traditional within the human community.

            Finally, one is not supposed to boast of success.  Hunters and fishers return saying they have taken nothing much.  (This also is shared widely; Willerslev [2007:37] reports it for the Yukaghir, and I can testify from experience that it is a rule in Finland.)  Boasting brings ridicule and censure, but it also can actually drive the animals away, since it is disrespectful of them. I think anyone with much experience in the field will understand these and related concepts.  I have seen more than one proud White hunter humbled, and more than one biologist as well.  One need not believe in spirits to see the value of humility in the bush.

South Wind, the Tillamook Salishan trickster and transformer hero, learned this the hard way.  He caught no fish, day after day, till it was explained to him that he would have to cover any fish he caught with green branches and leaves, then burn the bones and skin in a fire that is to be extinguished.  Water from washing up must go on that fire, not in the bush (Deur and Thompson 2008:38).  Similar stories come from the Chinook (Boyd 2013b).  More common and interesting is the instruction to return all bones (and often other waste) to the water (which the Tillamook and Chinook did not do, at least with the first salmon).  As noted above, it restores necessary nutrients.  The Tututni had a rite in which “[a] religious leader offered thanks to the fish for returning once again…the villagers sent out their private thoughts of gratitude.  This giving of respect to the salmon—and in othersettings to deer and elk, roots and berries, and other gifts from the lands and waters…was not some romantic construct.  The Tututnis saw themselves as…citizens along with the plants and animals, and it was proper to show appreciation” (Wilkinson 2010:22-23).

Frey (2001:9) tells of a Coeur d’Alene woman who resisted a pest control worker’s call to get rid of spiders.  As she said, “’…that Spider might have had a message for me, something to say to me.  Why would I want to kill him?’”  And two pages later, we read of a man who wanted to rob a muskrat’s store of food, but was prevented by his wife (Frey 2001:11).  The Coeur d’Alene pray extensively before hunting or gathering wild foods, and also give thanks, often by leaving some tobacco where they have gathered (Frey 2001:180-182).  He quotes a wonderful oration about respect for deer who have given their lives to the hunters as food (p. 205).  

An extreme (and possibly a bit self-serving) bit of rhetoric on the Northwest Coast is a Nuu-chah-nulth speech to a just-harpooned whale: 

“Whale, I have given you what you wish to get—my good harpoon.  And now you have it.  Please hold it with your strong hands.  Do not let go.  Whale, turn towards the fine beach…and you will be proud to see the young men come down…to see you; and the yong men will say to one another:  What a great whale he is!  What a fat whale he is!  What a strong whale he is!  And you, whale, will be proud of all that you hear them say of your greatness” (Coté 2010:34, quoting text recorded and translated by T. T. Waterman).  Significantly, the Nuu-chah-nulth abstained totally from the very active whale fishery initiated by Anglo-Canadian settlers on Vancouver Island (Coté 2010:64).  Apparently they saw that the whales were not treated with respect.

As usual, this has parallels all over North America.  The Yup’ik of southwest Alaska have enormously elaborate rules (Fienup-Riordan 1994, 2005) for paying respects to mammals and fish, even the small, poor-quality blackfish (valuable because once a winter staple for dogs as well as a back-up food for humans).  Fish see traps and nets differently according to the behavior of the fishers; the fish want to sacrifice themselves to those that have treated their previous incarnations with respect (see esp. Fienup-Riordan 1994:123). 

Seals are thought to live in a giant ceremonial men’s house under the sea.  Here they arrange themselves by social rank, as humans do.  They discuss “whether to give themselves to human hunters” (Fienup-Riordan 2005:xvi), giving themselves only to those that show respect.  When seals are caught and shared out, the seals’ yuit (persons; sing. yua) go into their bladders, so these are saved and restored to the sea at a major festival at the start of winter (the sealing season and the ceremonial season; the Yup’ik have an extremely rich and evocative ceremonial life, beautifully described by Fienup-Riordan).  Here too, bones had to be ritually disposed of; seal bones had to go into fresh water (1994:107), but salmon bones were not returned to rivers.  “Yup’ik cosmology is a perpetual cycling between birth and rebirth, humans and animals, and the living and the dead” (1994:355), and between land and sea also.

Generosity to other humans is rewarded by generosity from nature; generous hunters are successful hunters (Fienup-Riordan 2005:38; a belief that seems to be worldwide).  Other social rules too lead to good fortune if followed, bad fortune if violated.

In general, there was a strong separation between sea creatures and land ones, but they were interlocked by trails and processes.  Sea creatures wanted land amenities (hence the seal bones in fresh water), land creatures wanted sea goods (see 1994:140ff.).  This fits well with Claude Lévi-Strauss’ analysis of the separation of land and sea, and its mediation by travel and myth, among the nearby Tlingit and other groups (Lévi-Strauss 1958, 1995).

People are observed by a high god, the Ellam Yua, “person of universal awareness.”  “Ella can mean ‘outside,’ ‘weather,’ ‘sky, ‘universe,’ or ‘awareness’” (Fienup-Riordan 1994:262).  The ellam iinga, all-watching eye, is shown as a small circle with a dot in the center, a universal motif in Yup’ik art (p. 254 ff.).  

As in most of the Arctic and much of Asia, there were elaborate rules for dividing up large animals and giving particular parcels to particular categories of relatives.  Any violation of rules led to the animals going away.  For instance, if the blackfish are taken with an ordinary dip net, instead of a special device reserved for them, “the blackfish will become extinct and be depleted” (Clara Aagartak, quoted Fienup-Riordan 1994:119).  Most of this long book consists of similar rules.  The great Greenlander ethnographer Knut Rasmussen found equally elaborate rules in the central Arctic (Rasmussen 1931, 1932).

The Tłįchǫ Dene, far to the northeast of the Northwest Coast, have very similar concepts.  Blood of a slain animal must be cleaned up, butchering must be done properly, and there are many rules for such matters.  “The Tłįchǫ elders attribute the disappearance of wildlife to industrial development and to a lack of respect, which inevitably causes destruction” (Legat 2012:30).  On one hunting trip, caribou did not show themselves, so the hunt leader made the people eat all the meat they had brought and made Dr. Legat send away her leather backpack—whereupon the caribou immediately appeared.  Since there was meat and hide in the camp, they had not felt needed (Legat 2012:84).

            James Teit records for the Tahltan:  “The Meat-Mother watches her children, the game, and also the people.  When people do not follow the taboos, and do not treat animals rightly, the latter tell their mother; and she punishes the people by taking the game away for a while, or by making it wild, and then the people starve…the Moose children are the most apt to tell their mother of any disrespect shown them: therefore people have to be very careful of to how they treat moose” (Teit 1919:231-232, as cited in McIlwraith 2012:68-69). 

Among the Spokan, as reported by John Alan Ross:  “After killing a deer, the hunter exercised considerable care in butchering…and skinning…for fear than an act of disrespect would impair his future hunting success, or worse, keep the offended species away from the hunting range of his group” (Ross 2011:256).  Ross records several other respectful practices also, including slitting the throat of a slain game animal to release its life-force (p. 257).   He also watched as a youngster borrowed his great-grandfather‘s traps and went out to trap coyotes without thinking to carry out the necessary ritual; the elder expected both of them would now be kept awake at night by the laughter of the coyotes, who, of course, would laugh at the trapper rather than approaching the traps (Ross 2011:290). 

Plants too had to be respected; when berrying, shouting “to a distant partner…was considered as being disrespetful to the plants” and would cause them to withhold berries; recent widows could not pick (Ross 2011:352).  Ceremonies, especially for the very valuable huckleberries, paid respect to the berry plants.  Roots were the subject of ceremonies, including the rather touching one that recognized a young girl when she got her first digging stick and another when she dug her first root—which was, of course, given away (Ross 2011:335; or the root might be worn as a charm).  Wild rose was ritually very important, used to drive away evil spirits and influences, cleanse after a death, and the like; brushes of the plants were used, and water in which flowers or hips were soaked (Ross 2011:351 and passim). 

Finally, a particularly touching example of respect and care is the universal custom of leaving something for the rodents when taking resources they use.  People often find and steal the caches of seeds, nuts, and roots that rodents make, but they always leave enough to keep the animals from starving.  Ross (2011:249) reports that, also, cattail leaves were left for squirrels for nesting material.  This has some self-interest to recommend it—without the mice, no more caches—but less practical is the widespread tendency to leave something valuable to humans also. 

Similar beliefs extend to Mexico.  A Nahuatl fish-trapping charm recorded around 1600 says, in part:   “I have come to lay for you your oriole arbor, your oriole fence, within which you will be happy, within which you will rejoice, within which you will seek all kinds of food, the flowery food…My elder sister the Lady of Our Sustenance…spread out for you your oriole mat, your oriole seat…she is awaiting you with her atole drink…” (Ruiz de Alarcón 1982:166-167, modified).  The oriole arbor is a fish trap, and this is a charm to lure fish into it!  Apparently the idea of promising much to a flighty water-creature is widespread. 

Finally, the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala do not allow men to touch the metates that the women use to grind maize, because for a man to touch it “shows the stone no respect” (Searcy 2011:93).  I have not heard this among the Yucatec Maya, who are less sharply gender-divided than the K’iche’, but certainly the idea of respect for stones—let alone living beings—is thoroughly established among the Yucatec too.  My Yucatec friends respected animals—domestic, game, or useless—and would completely understand the Spokan hunter.  They took pride, for instance, in killing with one shot, and were both ashamed and heartbroken when they wounded a game animal and thus made it suffer.

Respect also must be given to the supernatural powers (as in all cultures).  In Haida Gwaii (Haida Land—the Queen Charlotte Islands), every stream has a Creek Woman, a female supernatural who guards and protects that creek and its salmon.  A man once swore at the Creek Woman of Pallant Creek, because he kept losing his hat—one he was not entitled to wear in any case.  The woman destroyed the whole town (Enrico 1995:160-169).  This prohibition on disrespect for spirit guardians of waters carries right across the Bering Strait, being important to the Mongols (Roux 1984:132ff.).  Insulting supernaturals draws collective punishment, as did disrespect for God in ancient Israel.  

Natcher et al. (2005) describe a situation in which Native people—Tutchone, in the Yukon— resisted advice from biologists to release caught fish that were small-sized or rare.  The Native persons insisted that this would be disrespectful to the fish, whose spirits would be offended.   Moreover, sport fishing was even more disrepectful of the fish—it was wanton destruction for fun.  Needless to say, these beliefs made for major problems in communication between the Tutchone and the Anglo-Canadian biologists.  McIlwraith (2007:123) found the same opinion among the nearby Tahltan-speaking Dene of Iskut.  Other conflicts between Native thinking and biologists’ “scientific management” surface (Schreiber and Newell 2006).

However, respect can be anti-conservation as well.  Respect includes taking an animal that offers itself to you.  This is another belief shared all round the subarctic, from the Cree (Brightman 1993) to the Yukaghir (Willerslev 2007:35; see the already-cited sources for the Northwest, with a particularly good discussion in Nadasdy 2004).  In fact, it goes right down to South America.  In Paraguay, a Native American game management program ran into heavy water because the local people, the Yshiro, were willing to conserve, but had to take peccaries that offered themselves, thus severely discomfiting the biologists (Blaser 2009; there was special concern for the rare and local Flat-headed Peccary). 

The offering-and-reincarnating belief can thus become a charter for overhunting.  This has occurred among the Yukaghir, who have the same basic beliefs about animals as the Northwest Coast peoples, but are now seriously overhunting game (Willerslev 2007:30-35).  Rapid decline in game numbers are met with the pathetic line I have heard from fishermen all over the world:  “They’ve just gone elsewhere for a while.”  However, even the Yukaghir have traces of a respect-by-not-overhunting belief.  Thus Willerslev expresses very well a tension clearly found all over the Siberian and Native American world:  “In fact, it would be fair to say that we find two polar tendencies in Yukaghir subsistence paractices:  One in the direction of overpredation…, the other in the direction of limiting one’s killings to an absolute minimum….” (Willerslev 2007:49).  The Yukaghir have rather different reasons for this from Native Americans, but the basic ideas are the same.  The Yukaghir’s neighbors, including the Mongols, Tuvans (Kenin-Lopsan 1997), and Tungus, are far more conservationist in their ideology and behavior, but face some of the same tension.

However, even the Yukaghir must have once had a stronger restraint on hunting.  They would long ago have hunted themselves into suicidal starvation without it.  Apparently, Soviet cultural oppression (chronicled in harrowing detail by Willerslev) ended it.  (Willerslev cites Soviet ethnography claiming that massive overhunting is aboriginal and traditional in the Arctic, but this is so obviously tendentious as to be ridiculous.  The Siberian Arctic has been settled for centuries by Russians, and their devastating cultural impact on hunting beliefs as on everything else was felt by the early 18th century; see e.g. Georg Steller’s observations in Kamchatka in the 1740s [Steller 2003].) 

Similar problems with overhunting, justified by reincarnation, are reported for eastern Canada (Brightman 1993; Krech 1999; Martin 1978).  Similar cultural pressures from settlers have occurred there.  Most sources seem to maintain that eastern Canadian hunters maintain respect and hunt with some care (Berkes 1999), but unquestionably there has been heavy hunting in the past, especially in the fur trade days (Martin 1978).  Overhunting by Native people does occur in the Northwest, but I am convinced from my own experience and that of other researchers I know that overhunting is far less common than it would be otherwise—and far less common than among local whites.  The Coast Salish traditions, for instance, hold that a family could take only one grouse per year (Krohn and Segrest 2010:97)—a tight limit.

The rigors of hunting must be undergone, partly to show the animals that the hunter really wants and needs them.  If they then come to care about the hunter and the people dependent on hunting success, they will offer themselves.  On the other hand, if the hunter has offended them, they will take off and be unapproachable.  Sometimes a mountain can withhold them.  Near Iskut is a hill called Stingy Mountain, because the mountain goats there are notoriously good at escaping hunters.  An outsider would probably find that the mountain affords good lookout and listening posts for the wary goats, but the local people say the mountain is deliberately refusing to let them be hunted (McIlwraith 2007:116).  Among the Yukaghir, even one’s own protective spirit can be stingy (Willerslev 2007:43), but I have not encountered this idea on the Northwest Coast.

Thus, if an animal offers itself, it has to be killed.  It spirit goes on to reincarnate in another animal.  Hence the problem with fish, above, and similar problems with moose conservation (again the same problem surfaces for the Yukaghir).  McIlwraith (2007) reports that the people of Iskut refrain from killing cow moose when they possibly can, especially if the cow is likely to be pregnant; so, if a cow just stands there when a hunter comes up on her, the hunter is in a terrible quandary.  The ban on killing female game animals in breeding season (and moose pregnancies last almost a year) is widespread if not often emphasized in the literature (see e.g. Miller 1999:98 for the Salish), and is another part of the “respect” rule that says “don’t waste.”

In fact, this dilemma has caused confusion for both indigenous people and anthropologists.  The indigenous people must always decide whether respect in the form of not taking too much or respect in the form of taking what is offered prevail in a given situation.  The anthropologists argue about whether the “natives” “conserve” or not, depending largely on whether they have observed people take what is offered or go with the conserving option.  Individual hunters differ greatly in this regard.  I suspect the general pattern is what I found among my Maya friends:  the greedier ones go with taking what is offered, the more thoughtful ones with conservation.

This brings us back to the problem that, since the animals’ souls go on to reincarnate, there is little recognition of the finite quality of game.  A Cree (from eastern, not western, Canada) told Harvey Feit (2006):  “The animals are still there, they just do not want to be caught.”  Obviously this attitude is unhelpful for conservation.  Long experience with hunters and fishers of all races, however, teaches me that almost all of them say this, whether or not they believe in reincarnation of animal souls.  Fishermen in particular almost never admit the fish are actually getting scarce.  The fish are always out there, “just not biting today.”  Sometimes they secretly know the truth, and will admit that over a drink, but usually they are genuinely in denial; such at least is my experience, studying fisheries development in many countries. 

Critically, however, respect also involves the point mentioned above:  not taking more than one needs for immediate consumption.  This includes family and needy neighbors.  It also includes guests, especially for rituals involving necessary feasting.  A large feast may mean a very large take.  Still, taking too many animals is always bad and disrespectful and always is subject to punishment.  This clause frightens even the greedy (if they are at all traditional in their beliefs).  It succeeds well in practice, as I know from experience in both the Northwest Coast and Maya Mexico. 

The animal, when dead, must still be treated with respect, since its spirit lives on and takes notice.  This is particularly true in more northerly groups.  Inuit and Yuit groups offered fresh water to kills, and treated them respectfully; disrespecting a dead animal could lead to major accidents (see e.g. Jolles 2002).  Cutting up a dead walrus disrespectfully was thought to lead to the terrible winter of 1878, and more recently disrespect to a slain bear caused a snowmobile crash and human death (Jolles 2002: 98-9, 183).  Once again, this extends across the Bering Straits, reaching an apogee in the bear cult of the Ainu. 

Significantly, only wild game is thought of this way.  Domestic animals get less respect.

 “Respect,” however, goes much farther than this.  One does not speak ill of animals, or insult them.  Saying anything disparaging about a fresh kill is particularly serious (see e.g. McIlwraith 2007:115).  Animals must be killed as cleanly and painlessly as possible.  McIlwraith was told quite graphically to be sure a fish was dead before gutting it:  “’How would you like to be gutted if you were still alive?’” (McIlwraith 2007:117; I remember being told similar things by Anglo fishermen in my childhood).  Very widely throughout the Northwest, fresh water is offered to a newly-killed animal (especially sea mammals, along the coast).  Various ceremonies, some of them extremely elaborate, must be performed.  A large animal may be decorated before being brought home.  This practice extends right across the Bering Strait into Siberia, where it is widespread.  Permission must be asked, and thanks given, even to small bushes and herbs for use of their valued parts (see e.g. Turner 2014-2:316-320, and for ceremonial recognition 326-328, 337-342). 

Many geological features remind children of such matters.  Typical is a story McIlwraith (2007:146) brings us from Iskut:  A hunter protested against a goat refusing to be caught, and the hunter and his dog were promptly turned to stone.  The rock is evidently one of those vaguely human-shaped rocks that people everywhere love to tell stories about.  It is pointed out to children as a cautionary tale.  There are similar cautionary rocks everywhere in the Northwest, and for that matter throughout the world.

An actual recent event—not a folktale—was related by Lawrence Aripa (quoted in Frey 1995:177-179).  There was an individual named Cosechin who was a doctor and prophet of the 19th century (see Pryor 1999).  However, this story probably does not apply to him, but to another Cosechin, or to some generic bad actor who has, in the story, picked up the name.  In any case, it is considered historically true.  The ellipses represent Mr. Aripa’s pauses in the story, not my leaving out material; italics represent spoken emphasis. 

A person named Cosechin

“was just cruel…to animals.

He would knock down trees

            and not use them.

He would grab leaves from the trees in the springtime

            and scatter them to try to kill the trees.

And you know it’s the custom of the Indian that when they’re going to use

something from a tree

            or…even fish or hunt,

                        they…ask permission first…

                                    ‘Mr. Tree may I use some part of you

                                                or I need it…for warmth for my children,’”

And so on.  Cosechin treated humans just as badly, but notice the animals and plants come first.

Cosechin was told to reform, and threatened.  He shaped up for a while, but

            “he went back to his old ways like. 

And then…all of a sudden…he disappeared….” 

The obvious implication is that someone did away with him, and no one was about to inquire into the matter.  There are many similar stories in the literature.

The Northwest Coast and the Quintana Roo Maya definitely prefer—or used to prefer—to err on the side of caution.  The literature suggests that overhunting seems much more common in Siberia and perhaps east Canada.  Again, I suspect this is due to outside influence, but there is a difference of opinion on this (Brightman 1993; Krech 1999). And the Northwest Coast people explicitly credit past overhunting for their conservationist rules.

To western biologists, the combination of intimate knowledge and “exotic beliefs” is incomprehensible.  Conversely, to First Nations people, the biologists’ cold numbers and impersonal regard for animals as mere statistics is incomprehensible.  Nadasdy describes many cases of nonmeeting of minds.  These would be hilariously funny if they were not so tragic, but in fact they are tragic, because the biologists generally win, with disastrous consequences not only for the Native people but for the animal populations.  Nadasdy (2007) has more recently argued for adopting the Native viewpoint on spirits and personhood among animals, or at least a willing suspension of disbelief regarding it.

We can now, however, see why the First Nations believe as they do.  They relate to the animals through lived experience, not through abstract book-learning.  Thus their knowledge and teaching are experiential and procedural, not analytic and declarative.  Being close to the animals in question makes avoiding the agency heuristic difficult or impossible.  The animals are assumed to have a human consciousness within them.  They can talk, and even take off their animal skins and appear in humanoid form.  Because of these things, relationships with the animals are intensely emotional, and the emotions in question are complex and deep.  Finally, this emotionality drives a relationship of mutual power and mutual empowerment; the animal persons have their power, humans have theirs.  Biologists, on the other hand, assert a particular kind of power/knowledge and also represent the power of the State intruding on local societies (Nadasdy produces an excellent, detailed Foucaultian account of this). 

The recent work in northwest Canada, and similar work elsewhere, is surprisingly disconnected from cognitive anthropology.  This was not true of earlier researchers like Robin Ridington, and is not true of some modern ones like Leslie Johnson, but most of the above-cited authors seem ignorant of the cognitive anthropology literature, or at least do not cite it.  Yet, they could profit from cognitive anthropology at least as much as cognitive anthropology can profit from the Canadian research.  Cognitive anthropology can benefit from their attention to total phenomenological experience, especially the embodied and procedural types of knowledge and the awareness of emotional and moral responses.  The Canadian researchers and their equivalents elsewhere could benefit greatly from cognitive anthropology’s rigorous investigation of specific word meanings and semantic domains, from procedures to assess cultural consensus and variability, from awareness of models and the relationship of models to reality, and, in short, from much greater awareness of exactly what they are recording and how to make sure they are getting it precisely right. 

Some of them would fear this as too scientistic or cut-and-dried, or too limited to small domains like firewood taxonomy.  Yet, one need only recall such studies as Steven Feld’s Sound and Sentiment (1982) or Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places (1996), which are thoroughly sophisticated in use of ethnosemantic and psychological methodologies, to realize that extremely sensitive and humanistic studies of feeling and experience can benefit from cognitivist techniques.  Both groups can benefit from more attention to the immediate experiential bases of knowledge; both have dealt with the issue at some length, but traditional cognitivists have often confined their attention to limited and rational systems, while some of the newer researchers are prone to think in generalizations (like Nadasdy’s highly defined and rather stereotypic contrasts of “hunters and bureaucrats”), and could pay more detailed attention to fine-grained systems.

The Northwest Coast and North Woods Native peoples have a cosmology that is not only “spiritual” but intensely moral.  They ask for permission before taking anything from nature; I have seen women ask permission of a tree to take a bit of its bark.  In regard to animals, respectful treatment is required:  killing only for necessity, not killing too many at a time, treating the remains in accord with ritual regulations that communicate respect, giving away one’s first kill (especially for male hunters) or first basket of berries (for girls; to elders; Gahr 2013:68) and much of one’s subsequent meat take, and so on through countless rules.  There were ceremonies for the first salmon taken in the year, and also first fruits and first roots ceremonies (Gahr 2013:68 for the Chinook, but every well-described group reports them or something equivalent).  These are taught through myths—typically stories that communicate the dreadful consequences of not following the rules (Anderson 1996).

As so often, related ideas from the nearest parts of Eurasia illumine these relationships.  Siberians—both hunters and herders—butchering animals may apologize, or pray, or even say “I had no idea to kill, I killed you by mistake” (Stépanoff et al. 2017:58).  Herders maintain the attitudes of hunters, and vice versa; they all know the animals of their neighborhood, they treat them with respect, and then care for them in life and, ritually, in death.  Animals have souls and spirit power, and agency not only in normal animal ways but in spiritual and sacral ways. 

Kinship is closely involved in this.  Extended kinship groups (widely called “clans,” though not always such in technical anthropological usage) are religiously and ritually constituted, and succession to leadership titles in them is by means of potlatch involving wealth donations and feasting.  Clans in turn own and control resources.  Naturally, as was observed as long ago as 1826, an individual of authority in a clan, when hunting, “is particularly careful neither killing too many himself nor allowing any to do so” (William Brown, quoted Fiske and Patrick 2000:128).  In this group—the Babine—as in others, the clan maintained the fishing weirs and owned the fishing stations.  By introducing individual nets, the Canadian settlers ruined this arrangement, which of course had unfortunate knock-on effects on the entire kinship system as well as on resource management.  Enforcing conservation is almost automatic in a clan-owned weir but almost impossible in a world of individually-owned nets.

On the Northwest Coast, knowledge is divided sharply into esoteric vs public.  Esoteric is divided in turn into knowledge of shamans and knowledge of secret-society initiates.  Public knowledge is divided into special ritual and mythic knowledge of chiefs and ordinary knowledge available to everybody.  Most “science”—that is, empirical knowledge not depending on supernatural belief—is in the public sphere, but not herbal medicine, which is mostly a shaman specialty.  These other ways of dividing up and classifying knowledge are valuable in their particular situations. 

            Athabaskan knowledge is rarely formally discursive.  In other words, people rarely talk about it in general principles.  Significantly, conservation is an exception here, at least among some Athabaskans (Nelson 1983); others are much less prone to talk about conservation in general, but still talk about management rules (McIlwraith 2007).  People are quite conscious of, and vocal about, the need to manage and to harvest selectively. On the other hand, education was thorough, systematic, extensive, and carefully managed (Mandeville 2009:199-204).  It was done through a combination of field training and apprenticeship, myths and tales, ordinary storying, and plain old-fashioned outright explanation.

Teaching and discussimg was most usually done via stories—highly personal, specific, geographically grounded narratives (Cruikshank 1998, 2005; Frey 1995; Goulet 1998; Legat 2012; Mandeville 2009).   This is true of all Native Americans, from Alaska to my Maya friends in Yucatan.  In fact, it is worldwide.  I am used to it, not only from field work, but—much more—from my own rural and small-town youth.  All knowledge about hunting, fishing, and the outdoors was illustrated with stories, or told purely in story form, by my Anglo-American elders.  Talking about anything so grounded in personal experience and local knowledge is simply not reasonably done any other way.

Education was gender- and kin-structured.  Among the matrilineal Gitksan, for instance, much education was expected to come from the father’s side.  This was partly due to gender roles (a father would teach his son hunting), but partly to the desire to keep the father’s side involved in the ordinary and ritual life of the child.  Many privileges, ritual and ceremony came from the mother’s side, since the child would succeed to those, not to his or her father’s privileges.  Conversely, in patrilineal societies, a mother and her kin would teach the child both women’s work and their own family stories and privileges.

Other education processes involve meetings of the whole community, which may involve long and ritualized speeches and ceremonial rhetoric in general, as well as storytelling.  The Okanagan have a political process known as En’owkin (Armstrong 2005a), basically a council meeting of a type familiar over most of Native North America.  Everyone gets together and talks out issues, with elders—not necessarily older people, but rather citizens with special knowledge or political ability—address the issues.  Sharing and community are addressed as major values in such meetings. 

Conformity was less important than having one’s own spirit visions.  For the Kwakwaka’wakw (and they are not alone): “Everyone had to be divided from the familiar, the ‘natural,’ so that he could see freshly and learn to act according to circumstances and not according to routine.  The anti-social hero is typicallyl he who ‘looks through’ society.  I was one of the main aims of Kwakiutl society to use his insight…It would be say of Kwakiutl society that it was based on common dissent.  Every member was carefully trained to be able to decide for himself” (S. Reid 1981:250-251; this was and is as true for women as for men). 

9.  Worldviews Underwriting Knowledge:  Confrontations between Native and Anglo-American Views

            The Native Americans have constructed a whole worldview from such experiential knowledge and from the logical conclusions they draw from it.  Given the well-demonstrated human psychological tendency to infer agency whenever possible, they inferred that there are spirits in the trees and animals, or divine game-masters guarding them.  The daughter of the spirit guardian of fish, for instance, might marry a forsaken boy and provide him with rich stocks of fish, as in a Wishram folktale (Sapir 1990:169). They also inferred many more mundane things, such as the idea that earthquakes are caused by monstrous fish or animals moving about. 

These views and many others, some reasonable, some shamanistic illuminations, comprise a whole cosmovision, or ontology—far more than a “religion” in the ordinary sense, far more than a mere worldview or creation story.  It is different from the western scientific view, and even from western religious stories, constructed as those are by priests and theologians.  A cosmovision based entirely on logical developments from direct, embodied, experiential knowledge is an amazing and wondrous creation (on Northwest Coast worldviews, see Turner’s superb overview, 2014-2:24-350, which defies summary but emphasizes the personhood of plants and landscapes including mountains and rocks). 

As Fiske and Patrick say (citing Theresa O’Neill), “Western philosophy marginalizes morality and spirituality as optional while ‘perceiving practical principles of processes of production, reproduction and power relations as basic to human life everywhere….’ Western notions of the self based on economics and the individual as opposed to notions of the self based on spirituality and the group underlie conflicts that arise in efforts ot create autonomous and/or parallel legal orders” (Fiske and Patrick 2000:236-237).  This is clearly a bit overdrawn—western thought does not consider morality optional!—but there is a real point here.  Both the fusion of spiritual, ethical, and practical in Native Northwest Coast thought, and the application of all three to both human and nonhuman persons, are really totally different from anything in the western tradition. 

On the potlatch, they quote the early anthropologist Pliny Earle Goddard to good purpose:  “There are perhaps two main principles involved; first that all events of social or political interest must be publicly witnessed; and second that those who perform personal or social service must be puiblicly recompensed.  There is a third more general social law that all guests on all occasions must be fed”  (Fiske and Patrick 2000:218, quoting Goddard 1934:1311.)

Thus, as Nadasdy points out in a passage that should be read by all those interested in traditional knowledge (2004:112), anyone analyzing traditional worldviews cannot separate out the knowledge that outsiders see as “practical” from the knowledge that outsiders see as “mere cultural belief.” 

One can, to be sure, take the clearly useful knowledge out of context and use it, but this does not represent the traditional view.  It is, thus, inadequate for comanagement or co-work purposes.  Yet, bureaucrats and outsiders generally have major problems with this; total acceptance of the Native view means accepting those giant earthquake-causing fish.  One can only hope for understanding.  There is never pure acceptance. 

Nadasdy sees no real hope of cooperation.  The bureaucrats must assert power over knowledge, the Native people must lose.  This is partly guaranteed, as he points out, by the fact that “numbers” and “scientific” evidence is all that is taken seriously by the Canadian government and its agencies; local knowledge is “mere anecdote” or “unverified.”  A better way of assessing local knowledge is desperately needed.

However, Nadasdy, and some other recent anthropologists (such as Jean-Guy Goulet 1998), in otherwise superb accounts of such knowledge, reify and essentialize culture.  They see experiential knowledge as confined to First Nations, and revealing “incommensurability”—that word again (Nadasdy 2004:62ff)—with bioscientific knowledge.  This is not the case—as Nadasdy admits (footnote, 2004:277), undermining his whole claim.  The Native people obviously have an incredible pragmatic knowledge of their resources, and that is fully commensurable with genuine bioscientific knowledge.  What is incommensurable is the abstract ontology behind the different views:  the Native spiritual one and the biologists’ lab-based reductionism. 

As to the wider issue of incommensurability, however, Nadasdy is working from a highly essentialized view of  “culture.”  He appears to see a culture as a perfectly integrated, rather unchanging whole.  My more practical view allows me to be more open about learning from others.  I bake bread by feel rather than by recipe; I use stoneground whole wheat flour, and used to grind my own.  My only modern convenience is a gas-fired oven.  In short, I bake bread the same way as the nameless women who invented it (except they used wood as the fuel).  I cannot imagine what their worldview was like, but the bread is pretty much the same.  Bread cares little about cosmovision, but—as every baker knows—it is a living thing, thanks to its vibrantly alive yeast networks, and knows a sure hand from an incompetent one.  In the ways that matter to it, those wonderful women of old are with me in my kitchen, and we all meet in perfect understanding.

Similarly, my elders in the Anglo-American midwest and south had many of the same attitudes as the Northwest Coast peoples.  We children were taught to kill animals cleanly, not take too many, not let them suffer, and so on.  We were taught to look down on indiscriminate shooters.  Moreover, many, if not most, hunters and fishers believed that ultimately a catch was a gift from God, not just a matter of your own skill.  You had to be grateful accordingly.  This all goes a fair way to bridging the gap between “indigenous” and “western.”

Worldviews do indeed influence the realities of counting sheep (Nadasdy 2004), but do not prevent comparison of the results.  Nadasdy’s main example of a failure to communicate does not involve cosmovision at all, but was a simple disagreement over whether the local mountain sheep were overhunted or not.  The more knowledgeable Native Americans thought so, and had all the good evidence.  The biologists thought otherwise, after hearing from powerful trophy-hunter interests.  One need not go beyond common sense, of a sourly cynical sort, to understand this disagreement. 

If people are trapped in narrow views, that is not incommensurability at work.  It is just ordinary narrowness.  In the case of Settler society not understanding Native society, it is all too often mere racism.  

McIlwraith (2007) appears to argue that biologists are so trapped in a mentality of lists and reductions that they cannot and therefore should not use “TEK” at all—they would only corrupt it.  This does not fit the practice of biologists I know (and I know many biologists).  In any case, there are real reasons to pick out the most useful bits of traditional knowledge and bring them into wider practice.  Of course it does violence to the holistic vision of culture, but so does all technical and medical practice.  Does one treat malaria, or contemplate its holistic phenomenology?  There is a place for the latter, and it may even be necessary in some sense, but direct treatment is what we usually wish.

            The Native view generates a particular morality, one of caring and nurturing; animals are protected and conserved out of “respect” or care, rather than because of mathematical models of populations (Nadasdy 2004).  Nadasdy points out that the Native people he knew tended to think of the mathematical models as disrespectful; they treated animals like things, instead of like the people—or “other-than-human persons”—that they are.  Readers who find this strange should think of pets.  Are dogs and cats in Anglo-American society mere numbers in a population graph, or are they individuals with complex lives and moral claims?  How would you, dear reader, feel if your pet were a mere number, to be culled if there are several other dogs in town?  This, in fact, occurred in northeast Canada, when Inuit dogs were indiscriminately killed in the mid-twentieth century, leaving the Inuit utterly heartbroken.

This is not to imply that wild animals are “pets” to the Native Americans; they are not.  They are hunted for food.  They are seen as having spirits that are powerful and often dangerous.  The point is that they are known to be complex, deep, individual beings, not just numbers or soulless automatons.  In this the Native people are more right than the scientists; animals may not have powerful guardian spirits, but they are certainly not automatons or mere creatures of instinct.  That view of them stems from the religious views of Descartes and his peers, who were concerned about souls, not science.  Long discredited in serious science, it remains basic to bureaucratic management.  Biologists talk of “harvesting” game, setting Indigenous peoples’ teeth on edge.

Proof that we are dealing with practical experience rather than essentialized Culture is found in eastern California.  There, ranchers who know the land and wildlife from experience find it impossible to deal with, or communicate with, biologists who know it only from books (Hedrick 2007).  Even though cows exist only to be sold for slaughter, they are not mere numbers to the ranchers; they are living beings with personalities and with needs for care.  Even though grass is merely a food for cows rather than a spirit being, the ranchers can tell if it is overgrazed or not; the biologists are clueless, and assume the worst, thus ham-handedly interfering with ranching.  So we wind up with serious disagreements among people who not only share an Anglo-American culture but in some cases actually took more or less the same general science courses in college!  Particularly ironic is that the biologists in Hedrick’s study took  the same superior, unwilling-to-listen attitude to the ranchers that Nadasdy’s bureaucrats did to the people of Yukon, though the ranchers were not only from the same culture but a good deal richer, and often better educated, than the biologists.  Status in these transactions does not depend solely on race or socioeconomic position.

            Nadasdy and many others have noted the double-bind in which indigenous people are often placed:  if they change with the times, they are no longer practicing their “traditional, authentic” culture and thus need no consideration, but if they do not change, they are “locked in blind tradition.”  Of course there was never a frozen “traditional, authentic” time.  They deserve consideration for what they have, not what they supposedly once had.  The Maya of Chunhuhub, within the time of my work there, have added several plants (such as Hawaiian noni and South American passion fruit) to their gardens, have tried out and abandoned pesticides, and have even taken to computers, but their culture and cosmovision still live.  They are getting more and more comfortable with international bioscience, abstract and rationalized as it is, but their direct knowledge, and the distinctive Maya culture built from that, go on.

            Nadasdy is contrasting an extremely traditional and land-based group with an extremely urban bureaucratic world.  The Anglo-Canadians who deal with the Kluane First Nation are often totally ignorant of the bush and are also trapped in Weberian bureaucratic rationalism.  Wildlife biologists who know nothing about wildlife except from books try to deal with people who know everything about wildlife but have hardly read a book.  Thus, though the contrast he evokes is not all-pervasive or intrinsic, it is certainly real and extreme in northwest Canada (as I can attest from my own research there).  Native peoples who have never seen a city try to deal with city bureaucrats who have never seen a moose.  The result is predictable, and chaotic.  Culture is real, and the fact that it is not necessarily destiny is easy to forget in the Yukon.  But personal experience is real too, and surely the Kluane would be much more able to deal with Hedrick’s ranchers than with biologists turned bureaucrat.

            Nadasdy is on surer ground when contrasting Native and bureaucratic views of the land as “property.”  The Athapaskan peoples were more or less nomadic.  They used the land, they managed it, they had a strong sense of it and of who belonged to what area, but of course they did not have a concept of formal title and deed, either collective or individual.  They were, however, not even remotely like the mere aimless wanderers on a vast unowned space, as the Canadian government officially held them to be (until very recently).  Since “property” and “title,” and even “rights” to land, are legal fictions rather than experience-derived knowledge, they are more amenable to Nadasdy’s cultural-idealist analysis.  Among other things, he points out (2004:233) that modern notions of “property” were developed partly in conscious opposition to the old (and mistaken) view of Native Americans as mere wanderers who owned and managed not at all.  He is, of course, referring primarily to John Locke’s famous, or infamous, line:  “In the beginning, all the world was America” (Locke 1924:140.)

This said, the contrast between ageless, culturally constructed, “spiritual” Native knowledge and rational, cut-and-dried “Western” knowledge is greatly overdrawn in much of the literature.  It has everything to do with the stereotypes of “the Indian” in romantic literature, from Locke to Chateaubriand and J. Fenimore Cooper to Walt Disney’s Pocahontas.  The Indian was sure and silent in the forest, taught by instinct and by native cunning.  His (or even “her”) knowledge was innate and mystical.  The westerner can never match the Indian’s woodcraft, but the Indian can never be rational and civilized like the westerner, and attempts to make Indians civilized end in dismal failure—Pocahontas’ archetypal death and Nadasdy’s community’s alcohol abuse.

            The problem comes not from contrasting a basically spiritual and moral view with a basically reductionist and materialist one—that is real enough in these cases—but from overdrawing the contrast.  Native knowledge is dynamic, flexible, experience-driven, and basically practical.  So is much of Western knowledge.  Native Americans construct from their local knowledge a spiritual cosmovision that has certain logical features, notably spirits of the animal and plant world.  Westerners had similar beliefs until recently, and many east California ranchers believe strongly in a Christianity that involves an intimate, personalistic relationship between God, humanity, and the land (Monica Argandona, pers. comm.; Hedrick 2007).  Perhaps many urban Westerners have become “rational” in Weber’s sense, but Westerners too have experiential and spiritual knowledge. 

Morality is constructed from experience, in all societies—indigenous or not.  Morals emerge and are negotiated within the family, the immediate peer group, and the local community—however far they may then be extended.  Westerners tend to confine morality to human persons, but do extend it at least to pets, and often to livestock and wild animals (at least “charismatic megafauna”). 

            Thus, cultural essentialization and reification fail.  Culture is not an arbitrary crust, a frozen crystalline array, or a unified, harmonious whole.  It is a lot of working knowledge, shared to varying degrees, constructed into varying levels of abstraction, and—above all—moralized.  It works from actual behavior to necessary working rules, and from there to abstract rules, covering both “is” and “ought.” 

            It is, thus, not deduced from general principles or from its big, broad covering assumptions or laws.  Quite the reverse:  the latter are induced from the daily practice.  They are, to exactly the extent that they are general and all-covering, removed from reality.  Reality tells us how to catch a fish, how to make a snare, how to ride a horse.  From this working knowledge we have to go farther and farther into speculation if we want grand generalizations.  We induce or infer these from increasingly abstracted principles.  The final claims—animals are persons, God is an angry god, science is objective—are the farthest from daily experience.  They do feed back on practice, as in the miscounted sheep, but even then the truth on the ground is more complex.  Racism and greed had much more to do with the sheep count than worldviews did.

10.  Teachings and Stories

            Northwest Coast storytellers are famous (Frey and Hymes 1998; Hymes and Seaburg 2013).  Folklore scholar Rodney Frey reports that he observed Mari Watters, Nez Perce storyteller, hear a twenty-minute dramatic Sioux presentation that was new to her, and promptly reproduce it with her own added touches (Frey 1995:152).  Experts on tales were not just any oldster; stories were associated with high status.  The Tsimshian ethnographer William Beynon—one of the greatest ethnographers of all time, but almost forgotten because he was Native—was a high chief (Halpin 1978; Roth 2008:78), and this gave him power and possession over many stories (MacDonald and Cove 1987).  An entire long book of superb stories of animals and divinities has come from notes taken by early ethnographers on the narrations of Coquelle Thompson, an Oregon Coast Athabaskan (Seaburg 2007).  Nancy Turner has compiled dozens of stories relating to plant management (2014-2:231-296).  Crisca Bierwert, story collector herself, has analyzed sensitively the problems of collecting and publishing Native traditions, and the variations, multiple versions, and sometimes downright corruptions that occur (Bierwert 1999).

            These stories get around—sometimes around the world.  Franz Boas (2006 [1895]:660) traced many elements all over North America and even to Asia.  Some, like the Flood, Swan Maiden, and Orpheus stories, are almost worldwide.  In a marvelous collection of tales from the Thompson Indians of south-central British Columbia (Hanna and Henry 1995), Annie York tells a version of the Swan Maiden myth that harmoniously blends European and Native elements of this story—known all across the Holarctic from Ireland to Canada.  It is delightful to see the ends meet this way.  (See also Snyder 1979—a study of this myth in Haida Gwaii and elsewhere, done by the great poet Gary Snyder, in his early days as an anthropology student.)

            Local stories capture truths.  A recent analysis showed that myths of a vast serpent under the earth coincide perfectly with the location of the giant east-west fault that endangers Seattle (Krajick 2005).  The local Salish had obviously observed enough earthquakes to know where to expect them, and they shared the worldwide, and thoroughly common-sense, belief that earthquakes are caused by a monster in the earth shaking himself.  (I have run into exactly the same belief in China, where people know that dramatic scarp faces are earthquake-prone locations, and hold that a dragon in the earth is responsible.  It is worth noting that the scientific explanation for earthquakes has been discovered within my lifetime.  When I was in college, the dragon was still as good an explanation as anything dominant in the geology of that era.)

            All Northwest Coast groups that have been studied report teachings about conservation and wise management.  These include cautionary tales, outright instruction, prayers, and other oral literature (see e.g. Ignace and Ignace 2017:203-210).

            Throughout the Northwest Coast, stories tell of people who were disrespectful to fish, mountain goats, and other animals, only to have these prey animals move away, leaving people to starve.  Native American ethnographers often stress these, and non-Native anthropologists have learned to recognize their importance as moral conservation teachings. 

Tsimshian ethnographer Charles Menzies repeats from the earlier Tsimshian ethnographer William Beynon a story of a salmon woman who married Raven, the creator-trickster; of course he inevitably disrespected her (his way) and she and the salmon left him to starve.  Other stories tell of disrespectful behavior toward salmon that lead to the same result (Menzies 2016:87-90). Menzies concludes:  “If respected, they will reward the harvester.  History has taught us that catching too much salmon…will result in a marked decline or total extirpation…The same history has also shown that not taking enough seems to have a similar effect [because of overspawning or disease—ENA].  Thus the oral histories provide guidelines…” (Menzies 2016:90). 

The Coos of Oregon told a story of children who caught and roasted a raccoon, laughing at its shrinking up and looking funny while roasting, all died except one who did not laugh.  This was universally known and taught to keep kids from laughing at animals (but the irrepressible Annie Miner Peterson, narrator of this story to ethnographer Melville Jacobs [1940:146-147], said she laughed anyway, and survived).  Peterson also narrated a story of a man who was pitied by the supernaturals for his poverty; he was given a strange fish for good luck; his wife made him ask for too much, and he lost the luck (Jacobs 1940:133-135).  This is a version of a story almost universally known from ancient Greece to China to America.

            The origin stories of the Northwest Coast all tell of a Transformer who traveled the world, making it what it is today.  Sometimes he is Raven, Mink or Coyote, sometimes wholly human or wholly supernatural.  Often, supernatural beings opposed him, and he changed them into what they are today.  Most widespread of these stories is that the ancestral Deer was a humanoid, found sharpening two stone knives to kill the Transformer.  The latter jammed the knives onto his forehead and made him a Deer, running off to be food for people henceforth.  More friendly was a powerful fellow transformer who made friends with the hero, and was thus given the privilege of choosing what to be; he chose to become the Nimpkish River (on Vancouver Island; versions in Barbeau 1950:150; Boas 2006 [1895]:306).  That is why this beautiful stream has all the kinds of salmon in it (or had before the logging companies massacred it—to the heartbreak of the Nimpkish people). 

            The close connection of humans and animals comes through in all the myths and tales. 

Myths, as elsewhere, convey the basic moral and personal lessons of the societies that tell them (see e.g. Atleo 2011 for an extended account of their uses in Indigenous education).  Long epics of human/nonhuman transformation and interchange are universal.  Famous examples include the bear-mother story (see e.g. Barbeau 1953:108-146) and a long, brilliant, tightly organized tale of human-salmon transformations and interactions (several versions in Barbeau 1953:338-367).  All these reinforce the general message of respeft for animals and concern for the entire living world. 

            Conservation is promoted by countless stories (Frey and Hymes 1998, esp. pp. 585-587).  Most promote it indirectly, by stressing the importance and interdependence of all plants and animals.  Thus whole books can be almost devoid of specific directions to conserve; Coquelle Thompson’s repertoire has almost nothing, for instance (Seaburg 2007).  But, given the wealth of stories in the northwest, even a small percentage adds up to a huge number of stories.  Many stories include incidental comments about saving a few animals to reproduce and maintain the population (e.g. Mandeville 2009:214).  Sometimes these few are referred to as “seeds.”

The commonest and most widespread concerns a hunter who takes too many animals, is captured by animal powers and taken into a mountain or under a lake, and instructed never to do that.  He is then released if his sins were not too great, but if he wantonly disregarded advice, he dies.  This story occurs with strikingly little variance from Alaska to the Popoluca of far southern Mexico (Foster 1945).  Related stories exist in the Old World, from Tuva (Kenin-Lopsan 1997) to the Caucasus (Tuite 1994). 

Rodney Frey (1995) gives several versions.  Since his book is about Native storytelling, not about animals or conservation, this represents a fair sampling of how important the story is.  The purest form he provides is a Wishram story, originally published by Edward Sapir and beautifully re-edited by Frey, of a man who got elk power, took too many elk, and was punished by death (Frey 1995:197-182 from Sapir 1995:283-285; it is the source of the quotes above on pride and taking too much). 

A happier outcome is found among the Thompson:  the hunter listens to advice.  A hunter of mountain goats was taken in by them in their humanoid form.  (The reasons they took him in are unclear in this version, but in other versions the hunter has helped a goat, or other animal, and been respectful to it, and is rewarded.)  He learned their ways, marrying and having a son in the process.  He returned to teach his people to respect them:  “When you kill goats, treat their bodies respectfully, for they are people.  Do not shoot the female goats, for they are your wives and will bear your children.  Do not kill kids, for they may be your offspring.  Only shoot your brothers-in-law, the male goats.  Do not be sorry when you kill them, for they do not die but return home.  The flesh and skin (the goat part) remain in your possession; but their real selves (the human part) lives just as before, when it was covered with goat’s flesh and skin.”  (Teit 1912:262, quoted Lévi-Strauss 1995:70).  Claude Lévi-Strauss has discussed this myth at length in another context, showing its relationship to other myths of kinship to the animal people. 

            A story from the Klickitat (southern Washington): 

“Coyote would go about hunting;

            he would shoot and kill all sorts of things.

And now then he shot and killed a deer.

Then he butchered it.

There were two young ones in its belly.

He threw them away and left them there,

            at that place there.

The two young deer lay there.

And rain and snow came upon them.

And the Deer who he had killed felt very badly at heart about them.

Then after that Coyote went all over

            and shot and killed nothing.”

For the obvious reason.  He is instructed to sweat in the sweat lodge five times (the Klickitat sacred number) and then never do such a thing again.  He leaves this instruction for human beings, who are soon to come into the world:

“’All right then….

And this is the way the people will do whenever they shoot

            and kill game.

They will carry all of it back home.

Nothing will they throw away.

Alnd always will they sweat for the purpose of the hunt….”

(Joe Hunt, collected and translated by Melville Jacobs in the 1920s, ed. and publ. Frey 1995:49-52)

            Wasting anything killed gets punishment:  no more game.  Note that the slain deer survives in spirit form and is able to bring this about.   Killing a pregnant doe is already bad, and made much worse by the lack of respect shown to the fawns.

            Even relatively useless animals must be treated with respect.  The Haida have a story of people who tortured frogs by burning them, the result being that the frogs burned their village (see e.g. Boas 2006 [1895]:608).

            And even Coyote himself.  He was vital to creation, he made the world what it is, but he was always a zany, greedy, irresponsible, delightfully silly rogue.  The idea of the Creator as a wild, wise, poetic fool not only makes beautiful poetry, it solves the “problem of evil”; evil was created by mistake and by foolishness.  Raven, along the coyote-less northern coast, has a similar role, but is smarter, greedier, and rather more sinister.  Still, he attracts the same mix of respect and scorn.

            One of the finest Coyote narrations ever recorded is Lawrence Aripa’s telling of the Coeur d’Alene story of “Coyote and the Green Spot” (Frey 2001:134-144).  It was originally told in English, allowing us to share the wonderful style that is otherwise inevitably lost in translation.  In it, Coyote’s long-suffering wife Mole reflects:
“This worthless Coyote,

            he’s no good,

                        he’s mischievous,

                                    he does things that are bad…

                                                But he’s a Coyote….

                                                            and we have to have Coyotes on this earth.”

She reflects on this several times as she revives him from the dead—her role in many a Coyote tale. Coyote’s tricks always fail, he always gets killed in the end, but he is always revived—because, as she says, “Well we do need a Coyote.”  He promises to reform when he revives, but of course is soon back to his tricks, and Aripa ends the story:

“But he is still the Coyote,

            and he will always remain the Coyote.”

And we are fortunate in that.

            This sense that all beings are necessary to the world, no matter how inconsequential or annoying they seem, is absolutely basic to Native North American religion, and has been underemphasized in the past.  We need it now.

            A sad indication of how much of the teaching is lost comes from a Salishan tale of a man who went off to join the seals.  (This story reminds us of the were-seal legends of Scotland and Ireland; as so often, Celtic and Northwest Coast thinking run parallel.)  Franz Boas recorded this story in the 1890s (Boas 2006:221-224), but without a moral, leaving it merely a story of a man who unaccountably went off to become a seal.  Around a hundred years later, Honoré Watanabe recorded a version from Sliammon narrator Mary George.  In George’s version, the man is actively captured or persuaded away by the seal folk, and becomes an ancestor of the Sliammon.  She added a long moral (extracted here):

“You always see seals.

            If you see them, you appreciate them.

            Talk nicely to them….

They are a part of us.

That’s why we really respect seals today…..

            Seals are our people.”  (George and Watanabe 2008:128-129.)

A related story was told by Annie Miner Peterson of the Coos (Jacobs 1940:149-150), and a long and complex seal narrative filled with ideals of respect for animals was recorded from Sauk-Suiattle Salish elder Martha Lamont (Bierwert 1996:230-309).  Presumably most other early collectors failed to hear or record morals in cases like this.  We are deprived of many applications that we now need to know.

            Sometimes conservation is stressed indirectly.  The Kutenai culture hero Yaukekam (I am simplifying the spelling) had to get the components of arrows from their animal keepers.  Ducks had the feathers, and he gave them the power to grow a new crop of beautiful feathers every year, freeing up the old ones for fletching, during the annual moult.  (Ducks do not make the greatest arrow feathers, but I assume geese are included here.) 

            These conservation stories were often dramatized in the spectacular winter dance ceremonies.  In 2010 I was privileged (greatly) to see the ?Atla’gimma dance-drama, a forest spirit ceremony owned by four Kwakwaka’wakw families from the Rivers Inlet area.  It was performed at the 33rd annual conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, by kind courtesy of Kwaxsistalla (Adam Dick) and his family.  It is a spectacular performance, involving some twenty dancers masked and costumed as fantastical spirit-beings of the forest.  The story is the standard one known from the Arctic to the Maya of Quintana Roo, Mexico, where my friend Don Jacinto told it to me from his own experience:  a young man goes hunting, takes more than he needs, and is caught by the spirits and warned never to do that again.  The spirits instruct him in how to act properly and respectfully toward the forest and its living beings.  A number of minor points of ecology appear incidentally; a young tree growing from a stump (a universal sight in the Northwest Coast) shows continuity and rebirth.  The full performance is long and extremely dramatic, and is accompanied by many long speeches that thank, bless, and instruct all those present. 

            Plants too can be over-collected.  From Columbia River people comes a story of a mouse who stole too many roots, which loaded her down so much she drowned crossing a creek; mice have been thieves since (Ackerman 1996:21-22).

            In the mid-19th century, Chief Seattle (Sealth, Siatl) gave a famous speech defending his people’s land and land rights.  This speech was, unfortunately, heavily “edited” by a Baptist group in the 20th century; much of the militant defense of land was taken out, and some syrupy Christian-sounding rhetoric substituted.  Alas, the syrupy additions tend to be the parts most often quoted.  This has given rise to a myth that the speech is purely fraudulent.  This is not the case; Seattle’s famous and passionate defense of Indian rights and of the hunting-gathering way of life against White theft and ruin was real.  However, no full version of it appeared for about 30 years, so the one that finally emerged is rather suspect.  Yet, shorn of the purple English added in late versions, it rings true to the general spirit of northwestern American rhetoric of the time.  The whole story has been told by Albert Furtwangler (1997), and by Rudolf Kaiser (1987), who salvaged what can be found of the original.

11. The Visual Art

            In this section I will confine myself to the coast from northwest Washington to Alaska.  The interior and southerly groups have their own art forms.  These are not only very different from the classic “Northwest Coast” art; they are also less directly concerned with animals and the spirit world.  They are usually geometric and ornamental, rather than visual statements of a whole philosophy.  (On Northwest Coast art, see esp. the superb and encyclopedic collection Native Art of the Northwest Coast, edited by Charlotte Townsend-Gault et al.; for the interior, Ackerman 1996.)

This contrasts with ideology and verbal art, where the commonalities overwhelmingly outweigh the differences.    The obvious practical reason for the difference is the more stable, settled life on the coast and the consequent greater opportunity to amass whole arrays of tools as well as gigantic works of art.  The Plateau tribes and the Oregon and California coastal ones had large permanent houses and sophisticated tool arrays.  However, there is more to it than that.  There are clearly some aesthetic and philosophical differences that so far defy analysis but that have an important effect.

It was briefly thought in the early 20th century that the spectacular art of the Northwest was largely a post-contact phenomenon, but archaeology has found plenty of examples of fine art going back more than 2000 years (Duff 1975).  The climate is not kind to wood or even to soft stone, so little remains except hard-stone work.  However, that is revealing.  Also, we can compare the ancient ivories from Alaska (Wardwell 1986), dating back as far as 2000 years, which reflect a style rather close to Northwest Coast art—considerably closer to it than are contemporary Yupik and Inupiak art.  (Compare the plates in Wardwell 1986:71-91 with the stonework in Duff 1975 and with the earliest historic northern Northwest Coast art.)  The sheer volume of art certainly increased after contact, but the style and content were developed before.

            Sheer aesthetic wonder at the bounty of fish and other resources must lie behind the Northwest Coast attitude to nature and art (as noted by Lam and Gonzalez-Plaza 2007).  It is, however, not the major drive.  The main focus is on spirits, and the unity of cosmos and local community that exists on the spiritual level and that is maintained by spiritual exchanges, gifts, and actions. 

            The highest purpose of this art is to display kinship affiliations and stories and associated hereditary privileges within the kinship groups.  Dance costumes including huge masks, blankets, frontlets, and other goods are for displaying in ritual dances—usually kingroup-owned—at potlatches and cemeteries. 

            “Totem poles” have nothing to do with totemism; they display important events in the ancestry of the chiefly descent group that set them up.  The great ones are usually house poles; smaller ones are memorial poles, so similar to gravestones in concept that many groups have switched to the latter without changing the associated ceremonies.  Still others are for art’s sake, or for museums, or parks.  Whatever the purpose, the poles always commemorate the chiefly ancestry of the carvers or their people (see Garfield and Forrest 1961; Halpin 1981b). 

            Aesthetic power shows spiritual power.  An artist whose work has a powerful emotional effect on the viewer has received power from the appropriate spirit.  The Haida have a Master Carpenter (or Carver) as one of their most important supernaturals.  The evocative quality of the art is greatly enhanced for its intended audience by the social connections, family histories, and personal connections. 

            Indigenous lawyer and leader Douglas White, with his sister, visited the American Museum of Natural History.  They came upon a screen that had belonged to their Nuu-chah-nulth great-grandfather.  “ My sister and I were stunned and deeply moved.  After standing in front of the screen for five minutes…we realized we had to do something.  I told my sister that we should go back to the screen, and I would sing one of our family’s potlatch songs, and she should dance.”  Which they did, “for a full five minutes—tears streaming down our faces at the emotional and spiritual impact of an unexpected reconnection with such a critical part of our family’s existence…. No one disturbed us, not even the security guard, who came close but did not intervene…my sister and I were transformed that day by the experience of singing and dancing in front of our screen” (White 2013:642). 

            Thus, gifts of carved, painted, or woven art works are the highest of gifts, and are appropriate prestations to new title-holders at the most important events.  The best Northwest Coast art still usually stays in this highly-charged, emotional world, and rarely gets out to the museums, at least until everyone has seen it and viewed it appropriately.  Exceptions occur when a museum or public body can directly commission a work of art for an appropriate public ceremonial purpose.  It is within this personal universe that craftsmanship becomes both a social and a spiritual thing.  “As the late Haida artist Bill Reid never tired of pointing out, the highest morality is craftsmanship.  One can give nothing more precious of oneself than something well-designed and well-crafted” (Bill Reid, personal communication to Richard Daly, in Daly 2005:45; Reid said more or less the same to the present author).  This obviously takes art far beyond the decorative (or merely shocking or titillating) function(s) it serves in the modern western world.  Northwest Coast art is much more comparable to art in Europe in the medieval age of cathedrals and altarpieces.

            It therefore makes sense that carving was considered a powerful spiritual gift—from the Master Carver himself, in Haida thinking—and that many carvers were of high rank.  Tsimshian artmakers were gitsontk, “people of the hidden studios”—they were highly respected people who worked in chambers or studios taboo to ordinary people and used for formal meetings as well as art (Garfield 1939; Halpin 1981a:274).  This sense that artists are specially gifted, and the corollary that high-born persons are drawn to that trade, is very much alive today.  Studios are still power places for many, all up and down the coast.

            Totem poles and other outdoor art weather away quickly in the Northwest, even if made of cedar.  (They almost always are, because it is easy to work but relatively slow to weather away.)  This disappearance is regretted, but seen as the natural process.  New poles are carved at need.  Again one recalls medieval European attitudes toward art:  wooden sculptures in the open, or days of work on exquisite detail far up in the church roof where no human eyes would ever see it.  The art was for audiences more than human.

            Daly (2005:68) notes:  “The art-appreciating public….forgets that its perceptions are informed by its own literate, written-down tradition….  This public does not see past the rotting artifact to a culture alive and confident of its roots and its pedigree.”  He is thus not in favor of specially preserving the poles.  The public could answer that culture is all very well, but there is also all humanity to consider.  The species at large may have some moral claim on a truly beautiful object made for public display, and this is a moral claim recognized by all nations today (via UNESCO among other vehicles).  Today the rule is still for the best poles to be in the open, to pass away with time, but also to carve replica poles for museums, if so desired.

            Body, house, and cosmos are often equated.  For the Puget Sound Salish, a house is a kneeling body, the house front being the face (Miller 1999:36).  The hearth in the house could be the sun, the ridgepole a backbone, river, and Milky Way all at once, and the four main supporting posts then become human limbs as well as the pillars that hold up the sky.  Canoes were similarly represented.  “In consequence, curing, bailing, and cleaning were all reflexes of a renewal of the world” (Miller 1999:36).

The Tsimshian, and Haida (Duff 1981:215), however, saw the house front as the whole front-facing side of an animal sitting on its haunches, with the result that the door is often the entrance to the womb.  One housefront represented a female bear.  The humans entered and exited through its vagina, thus either being born or returning to the womb whenever they passed.  There is even a small face above the door where a clitoris should be.

(Jonaitis 1981, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1999, 2008)  MacDonald (1983) Vancouver Art Gallery (2006)

            Ronald Hawker (2003) has chronicled the “dark ages” of coast art, from 1921 to 1961.  The first date was that of the arrest of dozens of people and the confiscation of potlatch goods, including fine art objects, at the Cranmer potlatch.  This marked the beginning of really condign and general enforcement of the anti-potlatch law, previously rather less than seriously enforced in remote areas.  The second date is, of course, the granting of citizen rights (including freedom of religion and thus of ceremonies) on the Canadian side.  Hawker points out that art survived, but he has to admit it was down to a slender thread //n//.  //Footnote/ Hawken (2003, esp. p. 8) has some rather unfortunate  things to say about those who speak of a “renaissance” after 1961.  He was evidently not on the coast before 1961.  If I may be permitted a bit of reminiscence, it was indeed possible, though difficult, to find good art then—but it was considered “mere craft” and a fine carving or basket would cost $10 or $20.  Fine large pieces were virtually impossible to find.  Having watched from a distance and later studied close-hand the renaissance, from 1960 through the 1980s, and interviewed many of the participants, I can testify that there was a quite incredible explosion of quantity and quality—and of price, as people of all “races” came to appreciate the work.  Sordid lucre may be the worst way to evaluate such things, but it does give some measure of how much people care.// 

Few artists continued.  Charlie James in Alert Bay continued to carve “Kwakiutl” poles, with some government and business patronage, and taught his stepson Mungo Martin.  The latter, who organized that first potlatch at the British Columbia Museum, was a genuinely great artist by any standards, European or Native.  He was also a fine and patient teacher of art, culture, and ceremony.  (My introduction to Northwest Coast art in its native home was watching him carve at the Royal British Columbia Museum in 1960.)  He taught a whole new generation, including the art historian Bill Holm, long curator at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.  Holm’s classic analysis of Northwest Coast art as serious art rather than craft (Holm 1965) was the opening fire of the revolution in publc appraisal of and attention of the art.  It remains a standard textbook, found in countless art studios throughout the coast.  Holm, a highly capable artist himself, also knew the other traditional forms. He was, for a while, the only person to know several classic Kwakwaka’wakw dances, and generously taught many young First Nations people.  For this he eventually received a Kwakwala name.  

Meanwhile, art revived among the more northern tribes.  Of course the Tlingit and Alaskan Haida benefited from the fact that potlatches and ceremonies had never been banned in Alaska (thanks to the First Amendment), though the missionaries tried their hardest to discourage them.  So art had not shrunk so much there. 

In any case, a huge explosion of art followed from legalization of the potlatch, local White interest, and patronage by the University of British Columbia as well as the two museums and their local urban counterparts.  Bill Reid became a leader of the Haida art renaissance, along with Robert Davidson and several others.  Like Martin, Reid and Davidson went far beyond mere copying of old forms, and were genuinely great creative artists by any standards.  Reid was also an excellent writer and speaker (De Menil and Reid 1971; Reid 2000); he had a career in radio before turning to art.  Reid’s dialogue on classic art pieces with Bill Holm (Holm and Reid 1975) was a landmark in understanding the art as form and message.

Another pioneer of the renaissance was Wilson Duff, longtime curator of art at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, later professor at the University of British Columbia.  He analyzed the art in depth and with sensitivity and theoretical interest, trying to understand the mindsets behind it.  His work was cut short by early and tragic death, but stimulated serious thought as well as public interest (Abbott1981; Duff 1975, 1981, 1996). 

Wilson Duff, Bill Holm and Bill Reid (1967) worked together on the famous “Legacy” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver’s city art museum, not a private gallery).  The combination of anthropological theorist, structural analyst, and leading artist was perfect.  A major stated purpose of this exhibit was to get Native art taken seriously as fine art, rather than dismissed as “craft” and consigned to museums of natural history.  At this the show succeeded brilliantly.  Native art prices shot out of sight, and many a career was launched.  Also, the show more or less explicitly gave Native people the right to explore, expand on, and develop their traditions any way they saw fit, without being attacked for “unauthenticity” whenever they got beyond the pre-1921 forms.  We now have Native video, glassmaking art, mixed media, everything, and the art keeps getting better all the time—but this is beyond my subject matter here. 

A later Legacy show organized by Peter MacNair (MacNair et al. 1984) highlighted new creations since the 1960s revival.  The catalogue contains particularly fine photos and biographies.  Great art continues, increasing every day, as more and more of the younger generation find emotional satisfaction as well as economic prospects in the art.  The spiritual knowledge that drives it remains active and vibrant.  It has reacted to Christianity and secular modernity, but those settler intrusions have strengthened the old concepts as often as they have weakened them.  (This point derives largely from my own field work and interviews, but see e.g. G. Wyatt 1994, 1999.)

The art is highly relevant to environmental ideology and practice.  Above all, it encodes the spirit beliefs recorded above, putting them in dramatic visual form for all to see.  (Among major collections, see e.g. Musée de l’Homme Paris 1970;  MAYBE THIS IN FN?)  Stonework was particularly difficult to make under aboriginal conditions, and thus particularly revealing, and it preserves for thousands of years, allowing us to see that Northwest Coast art developed slowly and steadily.  A thorough collection of stone art, with all too brief introduction (the author died about the time the book was published), was provided by Wilson Duff (1975). 

Masks are particularly important, because anyone wearing and dancing with a mask becomes the being or animal portrayed, or at least is inspired by its spirit.  In the spectacular performances of the central and northern coast, huge masks were created, many of which could be changed during performances by strings attached to moving parts.  Raven could open and close his beak, cranes could flap their wings, supernaturals could open and close their eyes.  Among the Tsimshian, fast shifting of masks was also practiced; men could shift from male to female and back by shifting masks, often along with women doing the same (Halpin 1981a).  This partially explains one of the most striking works of Northwest Coast art: a set of two neatly-fitting masks carved in hard stone by an unknown Tsimshian artist in the mid-19th century (one was collected in 1879; Duff 1975:164).  Apparently, metal tools were used.  The inner mask has eyes wide open, with an alert look; the outer mask has its eyes closed and appears peaceful and at rest.  Duff (1975) and Marjorie Halpin (1981a) analyzed this pair, noting that they could be changed rapidly.  In the flickering firelight of a winter ceremony, it would seem that a stone-headed being was opening and closing his eyes.  Open eyes stand for alertness and perception.  Halpin quotes a Tsimshian writer in 1863 describing relgious conversion as having his eyes bored (Halpin 1981a:286).  Tsimshian masks and other visual privileges are naxnox (see above), and often accompany societies of initiated persons of noble lineages, such as the Dog Eaters and Cannibals. 

The Kwakwaka’wakw also have hereditary mask privileges that go with secret societies, including a supposedly cannibal society whose members can theoretically take bites out of people (but in practice usually or always fake it).  The most famous cluster of initiate-related masks and dances concerns the monstrous man-eating birds known as the Hohokw, the Baqbaqwalanukhsiwe, the Crooked Beak of Heaven, and others.  Masks of these beings are so large that only a very muscular person can dance with them; they can weigh 30 kg.  Other classic masks include Moon, Sun, wolf, raven in various incarnations, bukwus (Wild Man of the Woods), nułmał (a sinister “fool,” an ominous clown), grizzly bear, sea creatures, and many more.  Many of these are significantly ambigous figures, like the terrifying but helpful monster-birds and the humorous but dangerous nułmał.  The mix of danger with humor or help is an expression of strong spirit power, and the three together make up a basic underpinning of Kwakwaka’wakw philosophy, an armature on which to base ontological and moral thinking.

12.  Conclusions

            NancyTurner, leading authority on human ecology on the Northwest Coast, has compiled a list of lessons she wants the world to learn.  She advocates “connecting with communities and places,” celebrating generations and elders, recognizing relationships, being grateful and responsible while maintaining accountability, “valuing and supporting diversity,” using different teaching styles, and using all these to re-create healthy, sustainably managed ecosystems (Turner 2014-2:403, 404, 405-411). 

            More specific recommendations and more radical views come from the Indigenous authors already cited. 

Appendix 1.  A Note on Languages

            The Northwest Coast is famous, or infamous, for the variety and difficulty of its languages.  Many, especially in the core area from Washington to southern Alaska, are full of guttural sounds and have a huge range of phonemes.  They actually sound better than they look on paper.  The off-putting symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet make transcriptions look positively unearthly, but the reality is usually a fair-spoken and pleasant-sounding tongue.  Oratory and rhetoric were, and sometimes still are, developed as truly great arts.  I have been moved to tears by Nuu-chah-nulth speeches even though I could get almost none of the words.

Taking the whole stretch from Alaska to northern California, we have the following:

Eskimo-Aleut:  Unrelated to any other languages, and to each other only about as closely as English and Greek.  Several “Eskimo” languages exist in Alaska, including Inuvialut, Yupik, and Chugach; they are about as close as the Romance languages.  Yupik is spoken on both sides of Bering Strait. 

            Na-Dene (pronounced “nah-daynay”):  A vast, continguous sweep of languages, centering on and originating from south-central Alaska.  The “Na” branch includes only one language, Tlingit; “na” is their word for “people” (presumably cognate with the “ne” of “Dene,” which is in fact pronounced “dena” in several areas).  The Dene branch includes the Athapaskan languages, among which some variant of “Dene” means “people.”  Most of the Athapaskans are interior peoples in the frigid spruce forests of Alaska and western Canada, but small groups split off early and drifted as far as southern Washington, coastal Oregon, and northwestern California.  The Navaho and Apache of the Southwest are also Athapaskan, but they came down from Canada much later, possibly while the Spanish were invading from the other end of the continent.  I have met British Columbia Athapaskans who had encountered Navaho at intertribal meetings and could actually talk with them, more than trivially, in their respective Athapaskan languages. 

Na-Dene is probably distantly related to the Ket language of Siberia (Edward Vajda, mss.)—the only other cross-Bering relationship among American languages.  (The occasionally-alleged link of Athapaskan with Chinese is spurious.)

The Na-Dene have the distinction of being powerfully matrilineal, and indeed are one of the biggest chunks of matrilineal people on earth.  So are all their neighbors in northwest British Columbia; one wonders who influenced whom.

            Haida:  A very old linguistic isolate, apparently on the islands of Haida Gwaii since they were first settled over 10,000 years ago.  Possibly distantly related to Na-Dene, but on bad evidence.  Swanton collected a word list of words similar in Haida and Tlingit, but most are obviously recent loans, and the rest could be due to chance.  Some linguists claim they have better evidence, but if they have adequately published it, I cannot find it.  The languages are very different.  I have some experience with Haida and have examined Swanton’s list; I find the linkage unconvincing. 

            Tsimshian:  Three closely related languages spoken in the lower Skeena and Nass River areas.  Possibly distantly related to the Penutian languages farther south (q.v.).

            Wakashan:  The Heiltsuk, Haisla, and Kwakala languages, which form a tight group (Northern Wakashan), and the slightly more distant Nootkan languages: Nuu-chah-nulth of west Vancouver Island, and the Nitinat-Makah language of southern Vancouver Island and neighboring northwest Washington.  “The Haisla are said to have spoken a Tsimshianic language until some date in the late-precontact period” (Roth 2008:17).

            Salishan:  A vast variety of highly diverse langauges, stretching from central British Columbia inland to western Montana and south to northwest Oregon.  They have the dubious distinction of being the most guttural, glottal-stopped, and consonant-dominated languages in the world, making them difficult for an outsider to learn.  Still, many non-native-speakers have done it.

            Chemakuan:  A tiny language isolate with only two languages:  Chemakum (extinct) and Quileute (dying fast, unfortunately).

            Algonkian:   the great family that dominates the northeastern continent; it extends west to extreme eastern British Columbia (Cree) and to northwestern California.  The relevant languages of the latter area are so distinct it is often separated as a coordinate branch, Ritwan, of a wider grouping (Algonkian-Ritwan).  Kutenai  (spoken at the BC-Idaho-Montana tripoint) may be related; if so, the relationship is distant indeed.

            Penutian:  This family includes the Sahaptin languages of central Washington and neighboring Oregon; and most of the languages of central Oregon and central California, as far south as the Tehachapi.  These languages are far apart.  The most geographically separate are as linguistically different as English is from Armenian or Hittite—so the relationships are tenuous.  The Tsimshian family is even more distant, and its alleged relationship to Penutian requires restudy.  Interestingly, the Mayan language family of Mexico and Guatemala is probably related to Penutian.  Edward Sapir first proposed this; Cecil Brown and I have collected a good deal of supporting evidence, but can’t quite clinch the case, due to lamentable loss of the languages in California, making comparative material wholly inadequate.

            Karok and Shastan:  Northwest Californian outliers of the “Hokan phylum,” so ancient and diverse that many linguists question its existence.  If it is real, these languages have relations all over California and Baja California.

            Yukian:  A tiny family with only three or four languages, all extinct, that once flourished in northwestern California.  It may be distantly related to the isolated languages of south Louisiana (Greenberg 1987) but no one has proved this.

            So we have eleven or more totally distinct groupings, as different from each other as English is from any one of them—or from Bantu or Arabic.  This makes the Northwest Coast and California one of the most diverse areas on earth, linguistically.  Joseph Greenberg (1987) grouped all these except Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene into one great Amerindian phylum, which would also include the other languages of the Americas, but he did not live to prove its reality and no one now accepts it on faith.  Conversely, Joanna Nichols (   ) finds these languages so different that she believes they must represent different migrations from Siberia—there has not been enough time for them to differentiate in the Americas!  With America now thought to have been settled at least 15,000 years ago, there is actually time.  But the languages certainly are different. 

            Experience has taught me to question any link that is not well established.  There are Russian linguists who postulate a vast “Nostratic” superphylum including all the major languages of the northern Old World, and there are even linguists who postulate a single “Proto-World” language.  I find the evidence for Nostratic (the most modest, limited form of it) very slightly convincing, but Proto-World strikes me as well within the realm of fantasy, along with extraterrestrial contacts.  That said, I do not know any Northwest Coast languages, so I cannot speak with authority on issues concerning them.  I have looked extensively through materials—mainly collections of texts—in all the languages, however, so at least I know something of the words and sounds.

            Since the Americas were probably settled from the Northwest, we would expect to find maximal linguistic diversity there, and to find the great language phyla stretching out from there, getting less diverse as they go.  This, indeed, we often do find.  Na-Dene, Algonkian, and Penutian are most diverse in the Northwest and get less so as one moves away from it.  Salishan is most diverse along the coast (Nuxalk being the most distinctive), less so inland.

            In the old days, most adults had enough contact with other languages to learn at least one other, and some people knew several—especially at places like the mouth of the Columbia, where many small groups existed and traded widely.  I have heard at least semi-believable stories of areas where people had no idea of “a native language”—everyone spoke at least two from birth!  One such that I know from some experience was the Port Alberni area of Vancouver Island, where Nuu-chah-nulth were moving in on Salish territory when the white settlers came.  Most people seems to have known both languages.

Appendix 2.  The Old Northern Worldview

The Northwest Coast worldviews are special instantiations of a more general worldview that I refer to as “Old Northern” (Anderson 2014).  This general type of ontology probably had no single place of origin; it developed through constant feedback, over thousands of years, between the many societies that share it.  Thanks to continued contact, migration, and information flow around the circumpolar land masses, it has remained rather uniform (at least in some aspects).  A steady diffusion of beliefs and practices has tended to homogenize beliefs about subsistence and environment.  I am not claiming some sort of deep spiritual identity; I am claiming only a broad similarity, created (at least in part) through cultural transmission, of ontology and of environmental management ideas.

It sees humans and animals, and often plants, mountains, and streams, as spiritual beings, linked by spirit contacts and interactions.  It is an instantiation of the “animistic” type of ontology as defined by Philippe Descola (2013).   This is a hunters’ world (Descola 2013), and humans depend on animals; they must show respect, care for the animals’ souls, hunt carefully, and communicate with animals via rituals and visions. 

The Old Northern worldview, as I see it, was shared across the Old World and New World arctic and subarctic zones, and down throughout the hunting-gathering societies of North America and the hunters and pastoralists of northeast Asia and high central Asia.  It seems to become progressively diluted as it enters agricultural societies.  It slowly erodes with the coming of cities, mass trade, and industrial production.  It eventually disappears as an identifiable worldview, but survives in such things as the nature consciousness of the Celtic peoples, the animistic beliefs about tree spirits in Chinese folk culture, and the survival of beliefs in animal companion spirits (naguales) in modern Mexico.  It thus has no definable boundaries in space or time; it is a fuzzy set.

South America’s indigenous cultures often show Old Northern origin or influence, but they vary greatly (see above; also Balee 1994; Lentz 2000; and Sullivan’s great synthesis of South American native religions, 1989).  Some have something close to the North American sense of interpenetration with the natural (Reed 1995, 1997; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1968, 1971, 1976, 1996; Sullivan 1989; Ventocilla et al. 1995).  One group, for instance, believes that humans are reborn as peccaries and vice versa, leading to an alternation of generations.  The peccary you kill is your relative sacrificing himself, or herself, to feed you (Blaser 2009; Descola 2013).  This clearly resonates with Old Northern reincarnation concepts.

Of major concern to our purposes here is the universal conservation ideology of the Old Northern view, especially in regard to animals.  Major gods or goddesses protect them:  Artemis/Diana in Europe, Cybele in Asia Minor, Prajapati in India, and spirits of each animal species in much of the New World.  Trees, or at least some of them, are sacred everywhere, and one must ask permission for taking bark or wood, and must be respectful of them.  Water is widely regarded as sacred, and rules against polluting it are correspondingly widespread among cultures that have some shortage of it, especially in Siberia and Mongolia (see my posting “Water” on my website,  Mountains are sacred (at least some of them), and often the sacred mountains are taboo for hunting and getting resources, or at least are taboo for all but the lowest-impact uses. 

As we have seen in the main text of this book, this was a hunters’ world, in which human and other-than-human persons are intertwined and can change into one another.  Healers and religious officiants can go into trance, visit the spirit lands, and find out how to deal with human problems ranging from sickness to bad hunting luck.  Typically, the underworld, this world, and the upper world are linked by a sacred tree.  This became the ash Yggdrasil in Scandinavia, the birch in the northern Uralic cultures, and so on, and has gone as far as Yucatan, where the Maya still revere the ceiba as the world-pole tree.  The world tree is known beyond the Old Northern area, and may be almost humanity-wide (Cook 1974).

The spectacular cave art of Europe, which goes back some 35,000 years (Clottes 2008), implies reasonably strongly that this world-view existed at that time.  Beautifully drawn animals, with human-animal hybrid figures, were drawn in remote, dark caves (not in the inhabited, lit caves beloved of cartoonists). 

Some aspects of the Old Northern view may be survivals of the original worldview of humans from our earliest origins.  Joseph Campbell traced many similarities between the most remote and distinctive surviving humans, the San of South Africa, and hunter-gatherers elsewhere.  He inferred a basic worldview, the “way of the animal powers” (Campbell 1983).  Most scholars would probably caution that he overstated the case, but he appears to have had a case, especially as evidence accumulates that most of the world’s languages are related and that all existing humans are genetically close enough to be cousins.  Modern humans originated in northeast Africa a mere 150,000 years or so ago, and probably did not get far from home until less than 100,000 years ago.  They have been in Australia for 50-60,000 years, in Europe 40,000 years, in northeast Siberia a mere 20,000 or less, in the Americas somewhat over 15,000.  In more recent millennia, there has been constant migration, exchange, and mutual learning, leading to such widespread homologies as the animal-soul beliefs of the Old Northern system.

Campbell points not only to animal spirits but to trance-healing, pictograph art showing animals, the ritual power of song and dance, and the belief in a skyworld for spirits and an underworld for the dead, as well as the mythic importance of hunters (cf. Fontenrose 1981) and their association with transformers. 

Campbell based some of his thinking on Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes—symbols that appear over and over in myth, and clearly have some resonance with the human mind.  Animals, the world-tree, waterfalls, snakes, and sacred mountains occur in religious symbolism everywhere (as of course do images of mother, father, and child), and qualify as archetypes.  Unfortunately, Jung’s concept is too vague and general for my purposes here.  These images may be, in part, genetically imprinted on us; all primates are scared of snakes.  They may be derived from a common source (if Campbell’s animal-powers religion has any reality).  They are most certainly subject to independent invention everywhere humans have gone.  Nobody could miss the centrality of parent-child bonds, the salience of mountains, the awesome power of water rushing over a waterfall, or the lifesaving value of water welling up in a spring.  Thus we cannot say much about what “archetypes” really are, or were.

Belief in, and reverence for, the spirits and deities in all things is more or less what E. B. Tylor (1871) caled “animism.”  Tylor viewed it as “primitive,” which led to the term “animism” being shunned for a while, but it is now being rehabilitated by scholars who realize it is not some sort of primitive holdover.  It is as developed and sophisticated a religious view as any other (Descola 2013; Harvey 2006; Hunn 1990).  Animism is based on the tendency to assign spirits or personhood to living things, or sometimes to everything.  Chinese folktales assign wilful, agentive spirits of rags, discarded bits of paper, and old roof tiles. 

Humans in animism are clearly different from animals and other nonhuman beings.  Each can transform into the other, under some conditions, but the very fact that this is a subject for myth shows that it is not expected to be routine.  Similarly, culture is different from nature.  Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962, 1963, 1964-1971) was right: most groups (but perhaps not all) seem to make a distinction between culture and nature.  Every human group known to me has a belief in “natural humans” like Bigfoot—hairy “savages” (Latin homo sylvaticus “forest person”), people in their “natural state,” lacking culture. 

One widespread idea within the Old Northern cluster is a belief in the Master (or Mistress) of Animals.  Others include the universality of animal souls, the full personhood of animals, the need to respect them, the idea that they sacrifice themselves to the hunter, many ideas of “power animals” and plants and places, and other details (Hayden 2013).  Such beliefs are lacking in the southern hemisphere, except where Native Americans have carried them to South America over time.  They are vestigial in the warmer parts of the Old World.  Of course, not everyone shares all these beliefs.  Paul Radin (1927 , 1957) early documented the striking range of difference in belief that existed within one small Native American group. Indeed, Brian Hayden notes that, in traditional hunter societies, typically 10-20% of individuals do not believe in spirits at all (Hayden 2013:495; cf. Hayden 2003).  Every society has its nonbelievers. I thus treat here of widely, but not universally, shared ideas.

The Old Northern complex is associated with shamanism, but many of the relevant groups have ancestor cults and other religious manifestations outside of the shamanistic system.  True shamanism is characterized by rather specific ideas of the cosmos.  The shaman goes into trance and goes through a long dark passage, or climbs the world tree, or otherwise takes a long and arduous “shamanic journey” to reach the lands of spirits above or below.  (The best account I have seen is in Caroline Humphrey’s superb book Shamans and Elders, 1996, written with the Mongol shaman Urgunge Onon.  Eliade’s classic Shamanism, 1965, is seriously dated, though still useful for an overview.)  Aids to trance such as flashing lights, hypnotic drumming, dancing, and hyperventilation are used.  The shaman is an individual performer, but socially recognized, and shamans may share secrets quite widely, so there is something like an organized religion here in spite of the lack of a “church.”  In fact, today, Siberian shamanism is well organized and becoming a major religion.

This sort of shamanism is confined to the Tungus and their neighbors, especially the Mongols, eastern Turkic peoples, and the peoples of central Siberia.  It grades into the “Tengrism” (worship of Heaven, Mongol tengri) in Mongol and Turkic cultures and in early China (where Heaven was tian, a possibly related word).  In these societies Heaven was an abstract, non-humanoid high God. 

Within the Old Northern universe are many religions similar to shamanism.  Very similar views extend widely in east Asia, subarctic Eurasia and Native North America, but they are different from true shamanism.  Particularly in northern Siberia and interior North America, they are more ad hoc, less formalized, less detailed, and thus appear to represent a broader and probably older spectrum of belief.  (I say “probably older” not because of long-discredited ideas of “cultural evolution,” but because classic Mongol-Tungus shamanism seems to me to have been influenced by high civilizations; these shamans use mirrors and metal swords.)   Alternatively, many Native American religions are as complex, elaborated, and self-conscious as the Asian ones, but involve a more complex vision questing in which all individuals seek spirit power and are expected to get it, but only some go on to higher or more specialized powers that are comparable to the shamanic ones of Asia (Benedict 1923 and many subsequent works). 

The tendency to use “shamanism” for all Native American (let alone all “noncivilized”!) spiritual beliefs seems to me too sloppy and vague to be desirable.  There is a huge debate on this issue in the literature (Humphrey [1996]; Kenin-Lopsan [1997]; Nowak and Durrant [1977]; for critiques, see summaries of critical opinions in Harvey 2006 and Willerslev 2007).  Even Northwest Coast healers are shamans only by wide extension of the term.

Shamanism is clearly one modern derivative of the Old Northern view.  The latter has evolved into, or contributed at some level to, many other local forms.  These include East Asian nature mysticism (as in Daoism, Zen, and Shinto), Native North American religions, and early Celtic visionary traditions.  Some or all of these (especially Zen) obviously have other roots as well.  Shamanism (in the narrow sense) has also graded into or blended with quite different worldviews in Korea and China, as historical studies show.  There is every reason to believe that spirit mediumship developed from shamanic religion in China, Japan (Blacker 1986), and Korea (Kendall 1985, 1988).  Similarly, ancient Greek religion is clearly a solidly Old Northern religion, influenced—more and more heavily over time—by Mesopotamian, Levantine, and Egyptian religions (cf. Dodds 1951; Fontenrose 1959, 1981).

            As so often, insightful comparisons with medieval Ireland can be made.  The unique, fascinating, and complex story of “mad Sweeney” (Heaney 1984) gets into realms of shamanic soul-travel.  It is a Christian epic; Sweeney offends an early missionary, who curses him by making him go “mad” and flee from a battle—an unbearable shame for an Irish chief.  Sweeney wanders through Ireland, finally finding peace in his last days in a Christian community.  It is quite obvious that Sweeney is not so much “mad” as engaging in ancient shaman-like practices, though the anonymous author also describes strikingly well the effects of war-induced terror.  Sweeney was evidently a practitioner of a shamanic spiritual discipline that is downvalued by Christianity.  He flies, takes great leaps, shifts shape, foretells the future, talks with wolves, diagnoses mental states, and otherwise acts like a classic northeast Asian shaman.  The anonymous author the work, though Christian, has an obvious sympathy with Sweeney and his “madness.”  The result is one of the most amazing “inside” accounts of soul travels in all world literature, and it is very well worth comparing with Jay Miller’s and others’ Northwest Coast “shamanic odysseys.”  We have this work in a rather late and somewhat corrupt version, but the language is medieval Irish Gaelic, and includes a great deal of extremely beautiful poetry; readers of Irish can consult J. G. O’Keeffe’s excellent bilingual edition (1913).

            Another Irish mythic figure, King Conare, was part bird in origin and was protected by birds who could shed their feather mantles and appear as humans.  From them he got power but had to observe certain rules (geasas) to keep it.  He was constantly being put in positions of having to break these rules, and thus eventually died (Gantz 1981:60-106).  The shape-shifter spirits granting power, the rules attending that, and the myth turning on loss of power through having to break the rules are exactly the same in Northwest Coast mythology.  The similarity seems too close for independent invention.

Throughout the Old North, souls are highly mobile—they can and often do leave the body.  They can inhabit other venues in the process.  This implies that soul travel, soul exchange, dream journeys, and ghosts are all regular features of life.  A given soul can inhabit animal or human bodies, and shape-shifting is common.

Trees and mountains are people and have their own spirits.  High regard for trees and their spirits is one of the main beliefs binding the Old Northern world into a single worldview.  Shutova (2006) reports for the Siberian Udmurt, and Wiget and Balalaeva (2011) for the Khanty, rather similar regard for trees to that reported for Northwest Coast peoples (Turner 2005).  Rivers are important, and dramatic water features such as waterfalls and sinkholes are revered—again all the way from the Khanty (Wiget and Balalaeva 2011:114) to the Maya.  Dramatic rocks and prominences are too, but this is so universally true of humanity that it hardly marks an Old Northern trait.  Trees, waters, and mountains are sacred or highly revered.  Tibet’s Pure Crystal Mountain, for one, maintains its forests (Huber 1999).

When animals are not interacting with people, they often live in villages, look like humans, and see their world in humanlike terms.  This view is universally attested in the literature from ancient Scandinavian and Celtic culture right across Siberia and throughout Native North America.  It is also very widespread in South America (see e.g. Descola 2013; Lloyd 2007:145).  American Native views probably developed from Old Northern views brought across the Bering Strait as long ago as 15,000 years.

But animal people are not quite the same as human people, even when in their humanoid forms.  They still act like themselves.  Thus Descola (2013) sees “animism” as postulating similarity in material form but not in essence.  Yukaghir reindeer people in their humanoid form grunt instead of talking and eat lichen instead of meat (Willerslev 2007:89-90; at least one Siberian Yukaghir hunter told Rane Willerslav of an actual visit to a village of wild reindeer in their human form [Willerslev 2007:89-90].  The hunter admitted he might have dreamed it all, but was fairly convinced it had been real).

In many societies, stretching across the whole Old Northern world, the Masters of the Game are exceedingly important.  These are gods, spirits, or sometimes giant or superior animals, that are the leaders or divine protectors of their species.  This belief system stretches from the Khanty of far northwest Siberia (Wiget and Balalaeva  2011:106-107) to the Maya of Mexico (Llanes Pasos 1993) and on into South America.  It is thus one of the most strikingly uniform and specific traits of the Old Northern worldview.

In Georgia (Caucasus), the worship of pre-Christian deities who served as Masters of the Game persisted into the twentieth century.  The Georgians proper revere Ochopintra in this role (Tuite 1994:73, 134).  The closely related Svan people worshiped the goddess Dael or Dali (Tuite 1994:18, 45-47, 126, 141-3), equivalent to the Roman Diana.  She protected game, and punished those who hunted improperly, wastefully, and destructively. Significantly, these deities, and many related beliefs associated with plants and animals, survived 1700 years of Christianity.  On the other hand, the European separation of nature from culture is present—though not extreme—in Georgia, and very possibly goes back to ancient times (as it does among the Greeks).

The associated reverence for animal persons is perhaps most famously shown in an old ballad about a woman whose son died killing a leopard (or tiger; Tuite 1994:37-41).  The woman sings to the leopard’s mother: 

“I will go, yes I will see her,

And bring her words of compassion.

She will tell her son’s story

And I will tell her of mine.

For he too is to be mourned

Cut down by a merciless sword.”

The werewolf is a common type, but the “bear doctor” is far commoner.  “Bear doctor” is a Californian term, used by Native Californians speaking English (see Blackburn 1975).  But the idea stretches from America to Scandinavia, where the berserkers are the same type of were-being; berserk means “bear shirt.”  In historic times, berserkers were ordinary humans who fell into a battle-frenzy, but they had been bear transformers in the mythic past.  The Celtic battle-frenzy (made famous by Caesar’s accounts of the Gauls) must have been originally the same or related, though no bear stories survive about it.

Common, if not universal, are myths in which a trickster-transformer god or chief spirit makes things what they are today.  The head transformer is Coyote in most of western North America, Raven in the northwest and in northeast Siberia, and various humanoid or composite beings in most of the rest of the western hemisphere.  The cognate European and Chinese figure is the fox, but he has degraded to a mere folklore character.  So has the Japanese trickster, the raccoon-dog or tanuki (generally mistranslated “badger” in English, thanks to some early translator now remembered only for his zoological incompetence).

Tricksters are sometimes female, but the dominant Trickster-Transformer deity is always male.  He is powerful and well-meaning, but often foolish, and easily seduced by women or by greed.  From the Finnish Väinamöinen to the Japanese raccoon dog to the  Raven and Coyote, he does the same general sorts of things:  changing his own shape, changing supernaturals into harmless forms, turning animals from humanoid to animal form, providing light and water and song, and meanwhile having a wonderful run of salacious adventures.  Even the long-Christianized Irish retain many Transformer stories, often—ironically—told of St. Patrick (see e.g. Dooley and Roe 1999).  He did not transform himself, but he transformed the giants of old into ordinary men, drove the snakes out of Ireland, and so on.

Widespread or universal Old Northern stories draw on this belief system.  Naturally, given the hunting-dominated lifestyle of most ancient Old Northern societies, the hero and/or heroine are very often hunters.  This is one of the proofs that ancient Greece was solidly Old Northern.

These stories extend all the way from Ireland and Greece to North America.  One is the swan maiden story (Snyder 1979).  Another is the Orpheus myth (widespread in North America, e.g. Seaburg 2007:221-227; often with Coyote as the Orpheus figure; see Archie Phinney in Ramsey 1981; also Blackburn 1975:172-175, and indeed almost any collection of American myths).  The Orpheus myth, in the ancient world as in Native America and in the beautiful ballad version from the Shetland Islands, often had a successful ending.  The tragic ending we know today was set firmly in place by Virgil in the Georgics (Fantham 2006:xxx).  But some Native American versions, including Archie Phinney’s text collected from his Nez Perce grandmother, are as tragic as Virgil’s.  One proof that Northern minds run in the same channels is the astonishing similarity not only in plot but in emotional portrayals and character development between Phinney’s shattering and heartbreaking text and Rainer Maria Rilke’s incomparable retelling of Virgil’s story (Rilke 1964:142-151). 

Another is the transformation of animals into stars.  The Great Bear was a literal bear in stories told throughout the region (Schaefer 2006).  The resemblance of the constellation to a bear is far from obvious; this implies that the story actually spread from one source, rather than being independently invented.  Also widespread are a tale of two sisters who married stars (Thompson 1955-1958), tales of persons transformed into animals by witchcraft (as in the story of the princess kissing the frog), and countless stories of animal creators.  The earth-diver myth, in which the land is created from a bit of mud retrieved by a diving animal from the bottom of the cosmic waters is closely linked with this northern worldview, but is found far outside its borders and may be human-wide.

In this worldview, people are not subsumed into nature or mere pawns of the environment.  Quite the reverse; rugged, dramatic individualism is characteristic.  It is especially visible in Celtic epics and ballads, but also in Northwest Coast hero tales, Korean and Finnish epics, and other traditional vocal forms.  There is an emphasis on the value of individuals, even ordinary ones, as in the Scottish ballads with their everyday heroes and heroines.  This theme also appears in the many tales of the lone shaman battling dark forces in an alien world (e.g. Nowak and Durrant 1977).  I believe the Old Northern view, with its tales of heroic ordinary people, is a major source of Greek individualism.  The writings of Homer and the myths retold by Aeschylus show that it comes from the earliest stratum of Greek thought.  The ancient Greeks invented the “individual” as we now use that word, and also invented tragedy, through the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles; they made heroes of ordinary men and women standing tall in the face of terrible fates and disasters.  The idea of the ordinary person dauntlessly facing fate, though alone and beset on every side, appears here for the first time in history; earlier heroes like Gilgamesh had been semi-divine.  It appears that the Old Northern worldview lies behind all this.

Many of the beliefs make most sense in relation to hunting.  Hunters have to stay pure and avoid smelling like humans, since game animals are acutely aware of such things.  Apparently universal in the Old Northern world is a prohibition against sex before hunting, especially with a menstruating woman; the smell is too human (see e.g. Willerslev 2007:84).  This may be purely psychological, but it may have roots in actual game-animal alertness.  Hunting is often sexualized (Willerslev 2007:110, who notes worldwide comparisons).

A minor but interestingly widespread aspect of this is the avoidance of talking about one’s hunting, or naming animals hunted; they might hear and be offended.  This is bad enough if one might lose game, but worse if one calls up a predator such as a bear.  Bears are thus referred to by various euphemisms; in fact the English word “bear” goes back to a Germanic root cognate with “brown,” apparently used because the Indo-European root was to be avoided.  (And cf. “bruin.”  Incidentally, the Indo-European root is itself interesting.  A philologist working from such forms as Latin ursus and Greek arctos reconstructed it as, approximately, *ughrtko—close enough to grrhaahr! to suggest where that root came from!)  Rane Willerslev (2007:100) reports a Yukaghir hunter talking about having seen the tracks of a Russian in felt boots.  Another commented, “We’ll pay him a visit tomorrow.”  Of course the felt boots—no doubt mentioned in a significant tone of voice—were the giveaway here.  At other ends of the Northern world, the Maya often refer to a jaguar as “red paw” (chak mool) instead of by its right name (balam), and tigers are referred to by a whole flock of euphemisms all over east and south Asia.

All the participants in this worldview have strong indigenous traditions of conservation, or at least of sustainable resource management.  A particularly noteworthy account of a Siberian shamanistic society and its conservation practices is provided by the Tuvan writer Mongush Kenin-Lopsan (1997).  Hundreds of sources deal with indigenous management in northwestern and western North America (Anderson 1996). 

Native American cosmologies demand a much wider respect—nothing less than kinship, sociability, responsibility, and care toward all beings.  Raymond Pierotti has written:  “A common general philosphy and concept of community appears to be shared by all of the Indigenous peoples of North America, which includes:  1) respect for nonhuman entities as persons, 2) the existence of bonds between humans and nonhumans, including incorporation of nonhumans into ethical codes of behvior, and 3) the recognition of humans as part of the ecological system” (Pierotti 2011:198-199).  These indeed fully apply on the Northwest Coast, where they are considerably elaborated.

It should not surprise us if reality is often short of this.  Traditional people, like all people, frequently fail to live by their ecological morals.  (For Native American society, see Kay and Simmons 2002; for other areas of the world, Kirch 1994, 1997, 2007; cf. comparable problems in the Mediterranean world described by McNeill 1992 and Ponting 1991).  Plains Indians, when they got horses and guns and moved from older homelands to the high plains, lost a good deal of their resource management practice.  (See Krech 1999, but he exaggerates, and there are useful correctives in Native accounts, e.g. Black Elk [DeMaillie 1984] and Lame Deer and Erdoes 1972). 

However, throughout North America, the strong conservation ethic had its effect.  It was based on the idea that the spirits will punish anyone who takes more than he or she needs for immediate use by self and personal social group. Native American views, at least in North America, stem from this worldview and carry forward its close relations with nature.  (See e.g. Bernard and Salinas Pedraza 1989; Davis 2000; Haly 1992; Jenness 1951; Menzies 2006; Neihardt 1934; Nelson 1983; D. Smith 1999; Tanner 1979.  Further documentation includes Alberta Society of Professional Biologists 1986; Callicott 1989, 1996; Lopez 1992; Nelson 1973; Scott 1996.)

The locus classicus may be the American Northwest. Less dense populations generally did much less managing, because they had much less need for it.  Thus, many North American groups were decidedly weak on conservation (Hames 2007; Kay and Simmons 2002), though others were exemplary.  The North American system is so universally supported by tales of overuse leading to disaster that there is really no question that people learned the hard way.  The reputed share that Native Americans had in exterminating the Pleistocene megafauna would have taught them common sense, in so far as they were responsible (there is no real evidence that they were).  Siberia and neighboring areas were comparable, often having superb conservation ideology.

In some areas they persist with enthusiastic support, and contribute to modern political debate (see e.g. Kendall 1985 for Korea; Metzo 2005 for Mongolia).  In others, including Japan and most of Europe, they are largely displaced by later-coming belief systems, but they are still there (for Japan, see esp. Blacker 1986; for Scotland, Carmichael 1992). 

Working people close to the land in modern societies may often be closer to Native Americans than to academics.  Kimberly Hedrick’s brilliant study of ranching in California (Hedrick 2007) showed that some individuals combine both.  Her ranchers were often college-educated, and could talk learnedly of range ecology, global marketing, and amino acid constituents of feeds, but when they were out riding the range, they slipped into a totally different worldview.  The concern with abstractions shifted to a very much more pressing and specific concern with caring for cattle and rangeland. They shifted from abstract concepts to personal stories; every creek, hill, and cabin had its story, just as in Native American society.  They also shifted—consciously or unconsciously—from elite American English to cowboy dialect. 

In the Old Northern worldview and its descendents and relatives, we are people-in-nature, not people separate from nature, and certainly not people opposed to nature or (as Marxian communism puts it) “struggling against nature.”  This has ethical implications, many of which are stressed in recent scholarship.

For the Great Lakes area, we have a considerable literature; notable is American Indian Environmental Ethics by Baird Callicott and Michael Nelson (2004), because it is a rigorous and excellent study by two ethical philosophers and also because it is based on actual Native American texts recorded by a traditional Native American ethnographer, William Jones of the Sauk and Fox.  There are also many short accounts; particularly good collections include Snodgrass and Tiedje (2008) and Tucker and Grim (1994). One could point to many other works (e.g. Davis 2000; Medin et al 2006).

Native California has been less well served, probably because the cultures were severely impacted by foreign settlers before anthropologists went among them, but there are several important texts available (Anderson 2011).  I am less familiar with other parts of the continent, but to the classics of Black Elk (de Maillie 1984; Neihard 1932) and Lame Deer (1972) we can now add Ray Pierotti’s wonderful review (2011).

One problem common to most sources is a lack of grounding in thorough study of the ethical systems of the traditional and local cultures under study.  There are, in fact, only two thorough and detailed studies of traditional Native American ethical systems.  Unfortunately, they do not deal with classic Old Northern societies, but with societies influenced by town and city traditions from pre-Columbian Mexico.  Richard Brandt’s Hopi Ethics (1954) and John Ladd’s The Structure of a Moral Code (1957).  Both are by ethical philosophers rather than anthropologists.  Both were stimulated by anthropological work, at Chicago and Harvard respectively.

Richard Brandt, a young man starting his career at that time, went on to become the leading utilitarian ethicist in the United States (see Brandt 1979, 1992, 1996).  It is fairly clear that his Hopi experiences influenced him (compare pp. 319-336 of Brandt 1954 with his later three books).  His work is noteworthy for following the grand utilitarian tradition of Mill and Sidgwick in using clear, readable English, as opposed to the incomprehensible philosophy-jargon found in many philosophic writings.

Brandt’s account of the Hopi begins with the moral terms (Brandt 1954:91).  He stresses the basic importance of hopi—properly human, “the Hopi way”—versus kahopi (we would now spell it qahopi), “not Hopi.”  However, Brandt notes that the moral implications of this term are not simply that custom or tradition is ideal (Brandt 1954:94).  Most social customs are mere conventions, not especially moral.  Conversely, individualist behavior can be very moral.  (Ladd notes the same for the Navaho and for morals in general.)  Commoner but less revealing are oppositions of anta “good, morally right” and ka-anta “bad,and loloma “good, good-looking, nice” and kaloloma.  The equation of the good and the beautiful in that last word is also found in Navaho, and, of course, it was much discussed and debated in ancient Greece too.

The problems of studying traditional ethics were beautifully summed up by Clyde Kluckhohn in his foreword to Ladd’s book (Kluckhohn 1957:xiv).  As he reports it, he asked their mutual friend and frequent consultant Bidaga (a.k.a. Son of Many Beads) why he—Kluckhohn—had never gotten such ethical details.  Bidaga gave him “a long lecture which culminated with the sentence:  ‘I have been trying to explain these things to you for thirty years, but you never asked me the right questions.’” 

In Ladd’s work, the famous Navaho word hozhon (we would now spell it hozhǫǫ) “good, beautiful, harmonious, proper” and its opposite hochoon (hochǫǫ)“bad” are discussed; subsequent discussions by writers like John Farella (1984) and Gary Witherspoon (1977) are better.  From these later accounts we realize that the Navaho are much more self-consciously and socially moral than Ladd thought, and that their concepts of hozhon and hochon refer to the whole universe—divinities, humans, nature.  The universe is a fundamentally moral place; the Navaho would reject, at least in detail, Hume’s claim that one cannot deduce an ought from an is.  This also goes a long way toward adding a more Kantian side to the utilitarian and Aristotelian threads that Ladd notes. 

Hozhon is a concept that environmentalists should adopt.  The idea is that beauty, goodness, harmony, health, peace, and smooth function are aspects of one general reality.  The Navaho, significantly, also realize that ugliness, disharmony, death, and other bad things have a necessary place in the world.  As Ladd notes, the monster-slaying hero-twins were persuaded to leave four monsters—hunger, violence, old age, and death—so that the world would not become static and overpopulated.  If there were always harmony, there would be no change, progress, innovation, or valuable conflict (Farella 1984; Witherspoon 1977).  The world must maintain a dynamic tension between peaceful harmony and dynamic destruction.  Coyote, the source of evil in Navaho cosmology, is a necessary and even a revered animal.

Related is a high order of social and personal morality, enforced by spiritual agents in the natural world.  A Navaho ritual singer told the great pioneer ethnographer Washington Matthews:  “Why should I lie to you? I am ashamed before the earth; I am ashamed before the heavens; I am ashamed before the blue sky; I am ashamed before the darkness; I am ashamed before the sun; I am ashamed before that standing within me which speaks with me.  Some of these things are always looking at me, I am never out of sight.  Therefore I must tell the truth.  That is why I always tell the truth.  I hold my word tight to my breast.”  The Navaho are rather Aristotelian in their morality based on cultivating individual virtues to avoid troubles as well as social sanctions and shame or guilt before the world (Ladd 1957).

      Traditional Native American worldviews typically go with a particular educational strategy (see e.g. Cajete 1994; Gardner 2003; Goulet 1998; Sharp 2001).  Children learn by doing, with almost no verbal instruction.  They copy what their elders do, without much correction, and learn by their mistakes as they try to imitate.  Verbal teaching, if any, is done by personal stories.  What little correcting of the young is done verbally is done by telling stories on oneself:  “When I was young, I…” is a typical formula starting off a story of obvious—but completely tacit—application to the younger hearers present.  (See also Greenfield 2004 on such learning among the Tzotzil Maya and Hunn 2008 on early learning among the Zapotec.)  Once again, rural Anglo-Americans, including Hedrick’s ranchers, converge on Native Americans in these matters.  They teach by the book in schoolhouses and churches, but in the field or on the job they teach by example and personal story, as I know from my own rural-American background as well as from Hedrick’s research.

Appendix 3.  The “Wasteful” Native Debunked

            At some point it is necessary to deal with two old chestnuts that are always raised when anyone speaks of Native American conservation practices.

            First, buffalo jumps.  Native Americans on the plains stampeded bison over cliffs, thus killing a number at a time.  This has been condemned as “wasteful” by generations of white writers (the same people that shot tens of millions of bison for the hides and tongues or solely to starve the Indians out).  The idea seems to be that the Indians drove a million buffalo over a cliff every time they wanted a light lunch (Krech 1999, who should know better, still spins this story). 

            In fact, the vast majority of buffalo jumps were used only once, and the rest rather rarely; there were not very many sites in all, considering the enormous amount of space and time involved (Bamforth 2011).  The busiest, the Head-Smashed-In Jump in Alberta, was used only once a generation during its peak years (according to displays at the site, now a World Heritage Site).  The total number of bison killed in all the jumps in the plains, through the 12,000 or so years of human occupancy, was probably in the low millions.

There was, however, undeniably some waste—too many buffalo killed for the population to use.  The problem is that bison, unlike cattle, are not domesticated to the point of stupid obedience.  You can’t pick out one.  If you start a herd, you can’t stop them, and they may—but, in fact, rarely did—all go over the edge.  Moreover, the extremely high numbers killed at places like Head-Smashed-In were apparently not killed just for the local population.  Grease and dried meat were prepared in quantity, apparently for extensive trade (Bamforth 2011).

Getting them to go at all is the hard part.  Bison do not herd easily, and they are too intelligent to go stampeding over a cliff.  Arranging a jump involved months of planning—watching the bison routes, building cairns that looked like warriors posted along the path to the cliff, organizing the work force, and so on.  Then when the time came, the bison had to be stampeded such that the ones in back forced the ones in front over the cliff; otherwise the ones in front would simply stop and not go over.  This all involved serious danger, since the bison would naturally tend to turn when they got to the cliff, and run back the other way—right over the waiting Indians.  This had to be discouraged by such measures as lighting smoky fires.  If the bison did fall over the cliff, they could fall on other people waiting to dispatch them.  According to one story, that is how Head-Smashed-In got its name; one foolhardy soul got too close to the jumpoff place.

The other chestnut is the reputed Native American extermination of the Pleistocene megafauna.  This was originally claimed by Paul S. Martin in the 1960s (Martin 1967, 1984, 2002, 2005; Martin and Klein 1984).  His only evidence was that the Native Americans appeared in North America about the same time that several large species—including all the largest ones—became extinct. 

At least the buffalo jumps were real, and a lot of buffalo died that way.  But the extinction of the megafauna has not been connected with Native Americans by much direct evidence.  There are a few mammoth and mastodon kill sites from early millennia, but only very few.  Reputed kill sites for horses and other extinct creatures do not hold up well on analysis.

Martin’s original position was that humans entered North America about 12,000 years ago, moved very fast and increased their numbers very fast (3% per annum), and wiped out the megafauna in a sudden “blitzkrieg.”  This is not credible—such increases would have been impossible in a difficult environment filled with predators, new diseases, and such.  But it now appears that people were in the Americas much earlier (probably from 15,000-17,000 years ago).  Also, at least the mastodons lasted longer than was once thought.  All this makes a slower and more believable process possible.  (John Alroy [2001a, 2001b] has created a simulation showing that people could indeed cause the extinction under such circumstances.  Fair enough, but one might add that it would be even easier to construct a simulation showing that little green men from Mars did it, or, for that matter, that it never happened and there are mammoths around us now.  Simulations are wonderful things.  See Brook and Bowman 2002.)  

On the other hand, the deadly Clovis points that are actually found in mammoth and bison carcasses did not develop till many of the megafaunal species were already extinct (or at least are no longer found in the paleontological record; Wolverton et al. 2009).  Clovis flourished around 11,000 years ago (Waters and Stafford 2007), while most of the megafauna disappear around 12,000-14,000 years back.  The main collapse of the megafauna in what is now Indiana was between 14,800 and 13,700 years ago, long before Clovis (Gill et al. 2009).  Indeed, there is no evidence for humans in Indiana at that time.  If there were any, they were exceedingly few.  Extinction in California came later, mainly around 12,000 years ago, when more people were present but when climate was also dramatically changing.

The only real evidence for Martin’s position is that not only in North America, but also in Australia, New Zealand (Worthy and Holdaway 2002), and countless smaller islands, the coming of modern humans coincided with the extinction of the larger and slower species of wildlife, and usually with most of the ground-nesting birds.  This is indeed very good circumstantial evidence.  It also suggest some other possibilities beyond hunting.  All scholars now seem to agree that the very widespread use of fire to manage the landscape is the main thing driving extinctions in Australia.  Rats eating eggs apparently drove most of the extinctions of birds.  People hunted moas in New Zealand, but otherwise most of the species are tiny, obscure, and rare, not the sort of thing people would hunt.  Disease has certainly wiped out much island life.  Fire, other newcoming animal species, and diseases could all have had a hand in the American extinctions; I personally would be very surprised if fire was not involved, given both the Australian case and our current knowledge of the universality of fire in Native American management.

One may also note that the phenomenon of pioneering peoples sweeping through a continuent without thought for the morrow is apparently universal among humans.  We have seen it in the colonial histories of the Americas, Australia, and other areas.  Indeed, nonhuman species can explode when they enter a new area, only to stabilize later as they eat themselves out of a home and as diseases and parasites build up.  The earliest Native Americans thus may be expected to have hunted with no thought of the morrow until game grew scarce enough to force them to change.

On the other hand, island life forms generally have few or no predators of any kind, and are thus not adapted to predation.  America’s megafauna included lions, wolves, sabertooths, giant bears, and other carnivores.  Martin argued that humans are somehow different, but any experience with game animals shows that this is not the case.  Animals exposed to other predators quickly learn to be wary of humans too. 

Similar areas in the Old World—Europe, China, southeast Asia, and so on—did not see their megafauna disappear when modern humans came.  In fact, China still has a few elephants, rhinos, tigers, pandas, and so on, and maintained a quite rich megafauna until the rise of the Chinese empire. 

The other main candidate for causing the megafaunal extinctions is climate change.  We know that much earlier glaciations ended with comparably huge extinction events, although no humans were around to affect this (Finnegan et al. 2011).  The cold peak 18,000 years ago was extreme—more severe than any other well-known ice age in the last several million years—and the warm-up after that was rapid.  By 14,800 years ago, when Indiana began to lose megafauna, the climate was still very cold; changes in vegetation, and the coming of frequent fire, were far in the future (Gill et al. 2009).  However, by 12,000 years ago, times were warm and dry.  Then a sudden, dramatic reversal (the Younger Dryas event) froze the continent again around 11,000 years ago.  Cooling took perhaps only a few centuries.  It was followed by an extremely rapid shift to hot, dry conditions.  It is difficult to imagine large, slow-breeding animals tracking all this, and indeed much less dramatic swings in earlier millennia all led to massive extinction events (late Eocene, late Miocene, early Pleistocene, etc.). 

The rapid drying and heating, especially, is significant.  In 2001-2 and 2005-6, essentially no rain fell throughout the entire southwestern quarter of North America.  A two- or three-year period like that would have exterminated the megafauna.  Such a period is quite likely for the Altithermal, the hot dry period that peaked around 7000-8000 years ago.  The lack of major change in Indiana at the early dates of decline makes human hunting more imaginable as an explanation (Johnson 2009), but there were few (if any) humans there to hunt, and no evidence of a deadly hunting technology till much later.  So a major mystery remains.

            Further proof is the extinction of several large waterbirds, such as the La Brea stork (Grayson 1977).  This is clearly climate; these birds did not depend on the megafauna, but rather on wet Pleistocene conditions. 

            In summary, it seems not only possible but probable that humans contributed to the extinction of the mammoths and mastodons, and perhaps also did in the giant ground sloths.  These were sluggish, and unable to defend themselves against missiles.  The other extinct megafauna includes a number of horse species, a huge camel, a llama, southerly species of ox and mountain-goat, and several smaller forms.  These seem to have disappeared before the rise of human hunters, or at least there is no credible association of them with humans.  They are the sort that would not make it through rapid climate change.  Relatives of two of them—the llama and a flat-headed peccary—not only survived in South America but survive there yet, in spite of extremely heavy hunting pressure. 

            Many carnivorous mammals and birds died off, including all the largest, but almost everyone agrees these went because their large-herbivore prey disappeared.

            Humans might well have finished off the last few of these, especially if they were concentrated around water holes by a drought like that of 2005-6.  I thus find myself with Barnofsky et al. (2004), arguing that the situation is unclear, but it seems hard to question “the intersection of human impacts with pronounced climatic change” (2004:70.  For more pro-Martin, but still reasonable, positions, see several articles in Kay and Simmons 2002).

            In spite of this common-sense middle ground. the argument has remained polarized, with True Believers and total skeptics.  The True Believers are often biologists who have no faith in or sympathy with humans or with human hunting (e.g. Ward 1997).  Many are mere popularizers who have no scholarly competence in this regard, and at least a few are outright racists who simply hate Native Americans.  On the other hand, Raymond Hames (2007) has recently provided a well-argued, well-reasoned defense of the overkill hypothesis.  Martin maintains his extreme position, which has become increasingly indefensible, and has resorted some very bizarre arguments.  He dismisses Grayson’s birds as “cowbirds” that depended on the megafauna, in spite of the fact that close relatives elsewhere are the antithesis of that.  He also argues, repeatedly (see all cited sources), that the lack of evidence proves his point, since the wipeout happened so fast!  This brings us close to the conspiracy theorists of the popular press, who prove their theories by arguing that the absence of evidence shows how successful “the government” or “the Trilateral Commission” has been in hiding it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this is a point made by Deloria:  any overhunting by people 12,000 years ago has very little to do with anything Native Americans may be doing now.  Pioneers everywhere are notorious for overrunning their newly settled lands and wasting resources lavishly; they learn better soon.  The Anglo-American settlement of North America, with its wave of deforestation followed by a wave of reforestation, shows this clearly enough.  In any case, 12,000 years is a long time!  Cultures do change, and archaeology shows that the old story of the changeless, timeless Indian was preposterous (see e.g. Pryce 1999).  A mere 2,000 years ago, my Celtic ancestors were fighting dressed only in blue paint, and taking the heads of conquered enemies.   

The sociology of the controversy is possibly more interesting than the fate of the megafauna.  All the believers appear to be biologists, many of whom clearly have a very sour view of humans in general, at least as managers of nature, and some of whom (as I know from experience) are frankly racist toward Native Americans.

Skeptics include Vine Deloria Jr. (1988); Donald Grayson (1977, 1991, 2001; Grayson and Meltzer 2003); Shepard Krech (1999), in spite of his exaggeration of the buffalo jumps; and many others (Wolverton et al. 2009 provides the latest and most sophisticated review of the skeptical position).  Skeptics seem usually to be either Native Americans or anthropologists. 

The present chapter should be enough to point out that (1) Native Americans have a very lively sense of conservation, and observe it in practice, but (2) they teach it through highly circumstantial stories of overhunting that led to starvation.  This should more or less settle the case.  Yes, Native American conservation is real, but, no, Native Americans are no different from anyone else; they learn through experience, and some of the experience is hard-won.  They probably did contribute somewhat (we will never know how much) to the extinctions, and they surely learned from that.   


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—  “Hunting on Heaven and Earth.”  Current Anthropology 54:495-496.

Here, and citing to book above:

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—  1986.  Art of the Northern Tlingit.  Seattle:  University of Washington Press.

—  1988.  From the Land of the Totem Poles.  New York:  American Museum of Natural History.

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—  1999.  The Yuquot Whalers’ Shrine.  Seattle:  University of Washington Press.

—  2008.  “A Generation of Innovators in Southeast Alaska.”  American Indian Art, autumn, 56-67. 

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—  1988.  The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman.  Honolulu:  University of Hawaii Press.

Kenin-Lopsan, Mongush B.  1997.  Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva.  Ed./tr. Mihály Hoppál.  Budapest:  Akadémiai Kiadó.

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— —  1998b.  “Northern Okanagan, Lakes, and Colville.”  In Plateau (Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 12), Deward Walker, ed.  Washington:  Smithsonian Institution.  Pp. 238-252.

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— 1997.  Microcosmic Histories.  American Anthropologist 99:31-42.

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2 Responses to “Northwest Coast: Traditional Indigenous Relationships with Plants and Animals”

  1. Hi, very enjoyed your writing. I am writing a book about the bear religion, sauna, sweats and Northern Indigenous people plus the Finns. How may I quote you? You have many interesting points, Kaarina Kailo

  2. Thanks for writing. I never check my website–sorry to miss this for so long. Sure, quote anything, but this will come out in book form in a year or so, and what’s on the website will be superseded, so maybe wait. best wishes, Gene Anderson

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