Northwest Coast Indian Tools

by Andrea Hamilton, studioD

The American Indians of the Pacific Northwest relied heavily on the resources of the land and were particularly tied to the ocean. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that most of their tools were related to the ocean in some way. Many implements, such as fishing hooks and sewing needles, were made out of bone, while spearheads, jewelry and money were often fashioned out of shells.

Fishing Tools

Whalers needed to be expert mariners to navigate the Pacific ocean.

Because the Indians of the Northwest coast ate fish as a staple food source, many of their tools revolved around the practice of fishing. In particular, whaling peoples, such as the Makah Indians, used harpoons tipped with mussel shells, although similar harpoons were used by nonwhaling peoples as well. In addition, a common practice was to use fishing hooks made of bone, while fishing traps made of wood were also used.

Hunting Tools

Stone artifacts, such as this arrowhead, display the precision of tribal stonemasonry.

The hunters in most Northwestern tribes used wooden bows and arrows tipped with sharpened stone for long-distance capture. In addition, knives were fashioned out of stone for skinning animals or hunting small game. Trapping culture also was very prominent, and so wooden snares were commonly used. Tribal hunting tools were traditionally made from bone, stone or wood, but European influence introduced metal to later generations.

Tools of Transportation

Canoes were often adorned with carvings and paintings.

Due to the huge presence of water in Northwestern America, a shared mode of transportation among the regional Indians was the canoe. However, each tribe had a different method of constructing canoes depending on the type of travel they used most. For instance, the Chinook Indians, who hunted sea lions in the Pacific Ocean, carved large, stable dugout canoes to allow them to carry their catch home, but they also created smaller "sweetwater" canoes, suitable for maneuvering through winding rivers. However, the Haida people were widely recognized as the most impressive canoe builders. Their dugout canoes were made from redwood trees and could measure up to 60 feet long, making them ideal vessels to navigate the rocky Pacific coastline. However, the frigid conditions of the North made many waterways impassable in the winter, and so the Beothuk people fashioned snowshoes.

About the Author

Andrea Hamilton has enjoyed being a writer since 1996. She has been published as a poet in "Fine Lines Magazine." Hamilton holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Iowa State University and is pursuing a Master of Arts in creative writing from London South Bank University.

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