Ceremonies and Celebrations
The Coast Salish people are people from Nations and Tribes whose traditional roots are found along the west coast of British Columbia and Washington State. Actually, the Coast Salish region expands from the northern Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland regions to western part of the Washington State. Most of the Coast Salish First Nations Groups are found in British Columbia and Washington State (“Coast Salish Fast Facts,” p.1). The Coast Salish people seemingly have some similarities with other cultures in the Pacific Northwest Coast. An analysis of their traditions and customs and ceremonies and celebrations demonstrates that they are different from the other cultures, which make them distinct people. The process of proving this thesis will entail examining a brief history of Coast Salish people and thorough evaluation of their traditions and customs as well as ceremonies and celebrations.
The Coast Salish People of British Columbia
As previously mentioned, Coast Salish is a term that refers to several distinct languages from one branch of the huge Salishan language family. The Coast Salish people are a group of linguistically and ethnically related Indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast who currently live in British Columbia and Washington State. This people group is made of several tribes with varying distinct cultures and languages (“Coast Salish Fast Facts,” p.1). The cultures of Coast Salish people vary significantly from those of their northern neighbors to an extent that they are one of the few indigenous cultures along the coast of British Columbia. Based on recent statistics, it is estimated that there are more than 56,000 Coast Salish people in British Columbia and more than 28,000 in Washington State.
Notably, the Coast Salish people and tribe comprise three geographically divided areas i.e. The Central Coast, Northern Coast, and Southern Coast. Even though there is no one language that is known as Coast Salish, these people are a cultural and ethnographic designation. According to archaeological evidence, Coast Salish people have inhabited parts of the coastal region of British Columbia and Washington State since 9000 B.C.E. The Coast Salish people are currently attempting to regain their language and culture that was nearly lost following the loss of their lands and lifestyles.
The History of Coast Salish People
The Coast Salish people are located on the coastline of Northwest United States and British Columbia in Canada. The first encounter of Coast Salish people with European Explorers took place in 1592 with Juan de Fuca. Despite having a complex society, the Coast Salish people settled in permanent homes that were built of timber and grew significantly in the region. The other features of the early settlement of these people included a stable diet of salmon and abundance of seafood, plants, and wildlife. In the initial years of their settlement along the coastline of Northwest United States and Canada, the Coast Salish people spiritual traditions and customs entailed deep relationships with the spirit world. The spirit world included guiding spirits, ancestors, and animal spirits though most of them became Roman Catholics following the arrival of missionaries in the 1800s.
According to ethnographic and archaeological records, Coast Salish communities were characterized by a mixture of socio-economic and religious networks (Lepofsky, Trost & Morin 2007:190). This implies that the social interactions among various groups in Coast Salish communities were based on these networks, though knowledge regarding the social interactions among certain groups in these communities is relatively uneven. There were also smaller networks or spheres of interaction within the wider and complex social and economic relations among Coast Salish communities.
Coast Salish communities divided themselves into local units that were integrated through a regional network that acted as the basis of redistributing people, information, and food across the wider area (Kennedy 2007:3). Marriage relations among these people established economic links and contributed to social and political alliances. This in turn facilitated a person’s involvement in activities that extended beyond his/her own village and lessening risk in a randomly varying natural environment. In addition to marriage ties, kinship in these communities developed from practical and complex strategies and act as important factors for the development of networks for social interactions. Moreover, kinship and marriage act as crucial parts of biological, social, and cultural reproduction. Coast Salish people utilized marriage and kinship to promote exchanges and distinguish social groups.
Traditions and Cultures of Coast Salish People
As previously indicated, Coast Salish people are currently regaining their culture and language that was nearly lost following the loss of their lifestyle and lands.
While Coast Salish people in British Columbia belong to First Nations, their counterparts in Washington State belong to Tribes. This is one of the various factors that make it difficult for these communities to maintain their common culture (Webber & Neumeyer par, 1). However, throughout their existence, these people have had various traditions and cultures that distinguish them from other cultures in British Columbia. Some of the major components of the cultural beliefs and traditions of Coast Salish people include
Maintenance of Natural Resources
One of the major issues among Coast Salish communities that transcend political boundaries is focus on the maintenance of natural resources. These people focus on the preservation and restoration of the Salish Sea natural resources, which is the foundation of their culture. Coast Salish people have an overwhelming desire and commitment to preserve, safeguard, and manage natural resources of the Salish Sea. Actually, the desire to manage natural resources of the Salish Sea resulted in the union between the different Coast Salish people from Washington Tribes and British Columbia’s First Nations. These attempts contributed to the formation of the Coast Salish Gathering whose main objective is to engage in co-management of resources of the Salish Sea. The increased focus on maintenance of natural resources by Coast Salish people is based on the belief that the earth is the ultimate source of knowledge and nourishment. This is primarily because the earth acts as a source of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine.
Dependence on Fishing
From the beginning of their existence, Coast Salish people have relied on fishing as the foundation of their culture and survival. The mainstay of these people’s diet was fish, particularly the wide range of salmon (“The Coast Salish,” p.7). Consequently, these people developed the commonly utilized methods of fishing i.e. The purse seine, the weir, and the reef net. Throughout all generations, the Coast Salish people observe ceremonies and recognize legends associated with salmon and salmon fishing, which offer proof of the holy relationship between their culture and history and salmon. Some of the most common ceremonies related to dependence on fishing include The Tale of the Salmon Woman and The First Salmon Ceremony. The abundance of salmon in Puget Sound each spring and fall forced the Coast Salish people to create indigenous fishing tools and techniques to capitalize on the great gift of salmon (“Coast Salish Peoples,” p.7).
The other important aspect of the culture and tradition of the Coast Salish people in British Columbia is religion since the Central Coast, North Coast, and South Coast of Salish shared largely similar religious beliefs, ceremonies, and myths (Suttles & Lane 1990:486). The foundation of the Salish society and communities was the class system of rich families that act as the basis for religious beliefs and practices. Despite differences in forms, Coast Salish people believe in guardian spirits and transformation between human and animal. As an important part of the Northwest Coast Culture, religious customs and beliefs were passed down orally through the use of songs, stories, and dances (“The Northwest Coastal People,” par 1). Similar to other people and groups in the Northwest Coast, Coast Salish people believed that they were surrounded by supernatural beings all the time that interfered with the natural world. Moreover, their culture emphasized that there was a link between spirits and all living things. Coast Salish people also have complex and mutable relations of the living and the dead and soul or souls.
The arrival of missionaries in mid 1800s had a significant impact on the religious beliefs, customs, and practices of Coast Salish people. Missionaries introduced Christianity and Catholic faiths that resulted in the neglect of most of the old religious traditions and customs. In essence, most of the existing stories about old religious customs and practices were derived from the memory of elders and few individuals who recorded oral stories. While the Catholic faith has become a major facet of the religious beliefs and practices of Coast Salish people, there are attempts to reconcile Christian beliefs and respect for traditional religious beliefs and practices.
Artwork, which is found in various forms, is another major component of the traditions and cultures of Coast Salish people. The significance of artwork in these traditions and cultures was fueled by the fact that Coast Salish people were experts of painting and carving in a distinctive style that portrayed various things like mythical figures, animals, spirit beings, and human beings. The Coast Salish people’s artwork has a very unique quality because of the use of certain colors like red and black that portrays positive and negative dimensions. As a result of the distinctive quality, Coast Salish art design is increasingly attracting global attention that is characterized by increased demands of these works. Some of the most common themes in Coast Salish artwork include spirituality, mythology, and environment that help in generating universal themes that attract international attention.
One of the most important aspects of Coast Salish artwork is weaving, which is a crucial aspect of the culture of these people. Coast Salish weaving involved the development of woven techniques that comprise plaited and wrapped structures, plain twinning and diagonal twinning, checker and twilled weaving, and woven decorative bands (Tepper 2008:189). Moreover, the textile techniques of Coast Salish people conventionally incorporated weaving, plaiting, and sewing (Tepper 2008:190). In the Coast Salish culture, woven blankets were regarded as a sign of prosperity and always gifted as potlatches (“Coast Salish Spinning and Weaving,” p.1). As spinning and weaving in this culture created blankets that were managed by women, the ceremonial blankets were largely woven from mountain goat hair.
Coast Salish Ceremonies and Celebrations
While there are some surface similarities and traits between Coast Salish and Non-Salish people, Coast Salish people are relatively distinct or unique. The uniqueness of these people is not only evident in the traditions and cultures of these people but also demonstrated in their ceremonies and celebrations. Coast Salish people pass their customs, traditions, and practices from one generation to another through stories, songs, and dance. This process entails passing ceremonies and celebrations that act as distinctive features of these people in relation to their traditions, customs, and practices. Some of the distinctive celebrations and ceremonies of Coast Salish people include
First Foods Ceremony
One of the distinctive celebrations by Coast Salish people is the First Foods Ceremony, which is mainly conducted in recognition of the gifts of the earth (“Pacific Northwest Salmon,” par, 4). Generally, Coast Salish people have a strong or deep relationship with land and water and continue to fight for rights to homelands and natural resources like cedar trees, shellfish, and salmon (“S’abadeb – The Gifts,” p.1). The celebration and relationship with land and water is based on the belief that these are gifts of the earth, which is the definitive source of nourishment and knowledge. Similar to many cultures across the globe, the earth provide these people with gifts of food, medicine, shelter, and clothing. Coast Salish people can be considered as the fist environmentalists since they advocate for proper use of natural resources rather than abuse.
With regards to celebrations of gifts of the earth, ceremonies of Coast Salish people differ based on the time of the year. While summer ceremonies are conducted to honor native foods, winter ceremonies involve spirits (“Salish Resource Guide,” p.18). First Foods Ceremonies is one of the ways that the Coast Salish people celebrate their respect for the earth. These ceremonies are geared towards recognition of conventional foods like salmon, clams, berries, elk, water, duck, and sprouts. The ceremonies are also geared towards celebrating the appearance of these foods at specific periods of the year. Since First Foods Ceremonies involve the whole community, many people assemble together to have and prepare certain foods for these ceremonies. The celebrations also entail singing songs to appreciate the earth for providing these important foods every year.
One of the most significant examples of First Foods Ceremonies is the First Salmon Ceremony, which consists of a sequence of events. First Foods Ceremonies, particularly the First Salmon Ceremony comprise a certain sequence of events beginning with singing to welcome the first salmon of the season. This is followed by carrying the salmon on top of branches of cedar tree into the venue of the ceremony. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the salmon’s bones are returned to the water. The sequence of events basically shows that the salmon has been treated well and will be properly received again when it returns the following year. The main objective of the First Foods Ceremonies is to teach Coast Salish people regarding dependence on nature and show responsibility to safeguard the earth and its gifts.
The second distinctive ceremony or celebration of Coast Salish people is Longhouse ceremonies, which are basically carried out when obtaining a conventional family name or privilege. Generally, Coast Salish people have at once been interconnected through traditional marriages, transfer from one tribe to another, and extensive family adoptions (Jack par, 25). As a result, these people have traditionally utilized oral account to trace their interconnections from one community or tribe to another. The oral account of tracing these interconnections is usually carried out through celebrations i.e. The Longhouse ceremonies. As previously mentioned, these ceremonies are mostly conducted when obtaining a conventional family name or privilege. Longhouse ceremonies are also help when celebrating intermarriage, trading, and the sharing of natural resources.
The Coast Salish people hold religious ceremonies from time to time because of the significance of religion in their traditions and cultures. Religious ceremonies entail conducting celebration when telling stories regarding the core value of belonging and relationship. These ceremonies and celebrations involve creating a link in a chain that is developed from intense feelings depending on individuals, song, food, dance, objects, and supernatural beings. Most of the religious ceremonies in these communities are conducted by the class system of wealthy families that hold the keys to the community’s religious beliefs and practices.
Distinctiveness of the Coast Salish People
The Coast Salish people are part of the larger complex Northwest Coast generalized culture region. From an external perspective, it is relatively difficult to differentiate the Coast Salish culture because of surface similarities with the natural and physical environment with the other groups in the Northwest Coast area (Siddiqui 2012:110). Moreover, these people share some similar traits with Non-Salish groups just like many people groups across the globe have similar traits with groups with reasonable geographic proximity. However, the traditions and customs of the Coast Salish people demonstrate that they are distinct people as compared to other people groups in the Northwest Coast and in British Columbia. Apart from their traditions and cultures, the Coast Salish people also differ from the rest of groups and communities in this region through their ceremonies and celebrations.
The conventional Coast Salish people and tribes have interesting social structures that vary from other Pacific Northwest First Nations (“The Coast Salish,” par, 5). The other cultures in this region were mainly hunter-gatherer societies and matrilineal i.e. husband moves to the home of his wife, the Coast Salish culture and communities were patrilineal i.e. wife moves to her husband’s home. Unlike other cultures, the Coast Salish people were specifically hierarchical and power was associated with kinship, understanding of nature and spirits, ancestry, and resource management. The organization of Coast Salish communities and society is an important factor that differentiates this culture from others (Thom, p.5). In the Coast Salish society, the most significant political and social group is the extended family. Consequently, the political and economic realities of these people are centered on extended family networks.
Secondly, while most of the cultures in the Pacific Northwest First Nations passed traditions and customs across generations through stories, the Coast Salish people differed from the rest with regards to myths and stories. Their culture had different languages, stories, and myths that were passed from one generation to another. In addition to consideration of the salmon as the most sacred animal, the Coast Salish people differed from the rest of neighboring cultures by considering the Western Red Cedar as sacred.
Third, the Coast Salish people differ from other cultures with regards to the origin of sacred trust across generations. As previously mentioned, the conventional teachings of songs, spiritual ceremonies, and dances have been passed down by ancestors to portray the identity and strengths of the Coast Salish people (“Coast Salish,” par, 3). Unlike other cultures, the sacred trust of these people has originated from ancestors and act as the basis for their role in safeguarding the earth. The Coast Salish people believe that their ancestors have entrusted them the responsibility of protecting and ensuring the sustainability of natural and environmental resources of the ancestral lands and waters of the Salish Sea. This belief has formed the basis of their increased focus on safeguarding natural resources and the Salish Sea or the earth in general.
Throughout their existence, the Coast Salish people have differentiated themselves from the rest through an increased focus on retaining their culture, traditions, and practices. However, determining the culture uniqueness of these people has been relatively difficult since they have some surface similarities with other cultures in the Pacific Northwest. An evaluation of their traditions and customs as well as ceremonies and celebrations demonstrate that they are different from the other cultures in this area, which makes them distinct people.
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