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Nootka - Food - Fishing & Gathering - Historical Cultural Studies

Guinness Cultural Studies Series - Concept: Food - Fishing & Gathering

Address: PO Box 1088
Tiburon/Belvedere, CA 94920
Phone: 415-435-1280


Concept: Food — Fishing and Gathering

by Judith M. Wilson
Illustrations by Bernie Lyon

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A big island lies in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of North America. It is called Vancouver Island.

It is a rugged land. High mountains, some with rough jagged peaks, cover most of the island. Below the peaks of the mountains, on their slopes, lies the forest. Tall trees stretch toward the sky, reaching for the light. Beneath the treetops, the forest is dark and gloomy. It is a forbidding place, always covered with wet, slippery moss.

The ragged coastline with its many narrow inlets lies below the forest. The inlets cut deep into the island between the sides of the mountains.

To the west, the waters of the inlet join the sea.


Did you know that an island is really the top of a mountain? Vancouver Island is the top of part of a mountain range called the North American Cordillera.

Imagine you are standing on top of a mountain on Vancouver Island. Pretend you are looking down at the ocean below. If all the water suddenly disappeared, you would be looking all the way down to the ocean floor. You would see that the foot of the mountain is part of the ocean floor and the ocean floor is a valley between two mountains.

The west coast of Vancouver Island is very rainy, especially in the winter. It receives so much rainfall because it lies between the ocean and the mountains.

Explain why it is so much drier on one side of the mountains than the other.


Tides are the rising and falling of ocean water. The movement of the ocean also makes the waters of the inlets rise and fall. It affects the waters at the mouths of rivers flowing into the ocean the same way.

High tide occurs when the water rises to its highest point. When the tide is high, we often say that the tide is in.

Low tide occurs when the water falls to its lowest point. When the tide is low, we often say the tide is out.


Many creatures move around the globe according to the seasons. This annual movement from one place to another is called migration.

Some, like fish, migrate when it is time for them to spawn, or lay eggs. Others migrate to find food or a different climate when the seasons change.

Birds migrate south in the fall because they cannot find enough food in the cold climates of the north. When spring comes, they return, or migrate, to their summer homes in the north.


I am Nuu-chah-nulth. When winter comes, I move with my people away from the shore to our sheltered villages. We have preserved and stored lots of salmon, so we have a good supply of food for winter. We have no real need to go outside in search of food. The weather is often rainy and cold, so my people prefer to stay inside.

I live in a large house near a beach with my family and the families of my two uncles. My older uncle is the first chief of the house, and my father and his brother are lower chiefs. This is our winter home. Also living in the house are my friend who is my uncle's new wife, common people, and slaves. Each family has its own space. Boxes and baskets are piled everywhere.

One day when I wake up my mother comes to my sleeping platform and tells me that it is a crisp, sunny day so we are going to pick some winter huckleberries. I dress quickly and put on my cedar bark cape.

My mother, my sister, and I make our way with the other women and girls to the berry patches at the edge of the forest. Everyone starts to strip the berries from their branches. When my own little basket is full, I help my mother fill hers. We walk back to the village slowly, carrying many baskets of berries. My sister and I trail behind, laughing and tasting the berries.

When we arrive at the house, we give the full baskets to my older uncle, the first chief of our house. He is pleased that we have picked so many berries. Now he will be able to give a feast for all the people in the house.

As first chief of our house, my uncle must look after the people who live here. In turn, they work for him. Usually, whenever anyone gets a lot of food, that person gives it to my uncle to use for a feast. The first chiefs of the other houses do the same thing for their people.

This is the time for festivities. Feasts, potlatches, and Shaman's dances take place during the first three moons. The Elder (Sibling) Moon is the first moon of this ceremonial season.

Sometimes, when it isn't raining, I walk with the women down to the shore during low tide and collect clams. The men fish for cod.


Winter wears on. As the days go by, we find less and less fresh food. My people do not go outside in search of food. Instead, we use the supply of smoked and dried fish we put away for the rainy winter months. We spend most of our time visiting with their neighbors and feasting on dried fish.


One day, just before dark, the chiefs call the people from their houses onto the beach. My uncle, the first chief, is holding his supernatural quartz crystal high over his head for everyone to see.

As the people watch and listen, my uncle tells the history of his crystal. Long ago, supernatural wolves gave it to one of his ancestors. It is a special stone with magical powers. His people form a circle around him as he dances and tells the story.

When the dance ends, he stops, facing north. The circle of people breaks apart in front of him. He raises the supernatural quartz crystal high above his head, then throws it toward the north in the direction of another village. The quartz crystal will carry the message to the people of that village and tell them they are going to receive an invitation to a Shaman's Dance and Potlatch.


This is the time when the herring return from the open ocean to the inlet. Some people move down the inlet so they can be closer to their herring fishing grounds. Each chief owns his own herring grounds, and his people catch the fish there.

It is our first chance to catch fresh fish since the salmon fishing of last fall. The people are glad to be busy after the quiet moons of winter.

The men load their canoes in preparation for fishing. Some take nets. Others have loosely woven baskets.

The water is thick with herring at this time of year. It is easy to scoop up these fish with nets and baskets.

My father puts a herring rake in his canoe. This tool has a long thin rod of yew wood. Along one edge, near the bottom, is a row of very sharp teeth. When my father sweeps the rake through the water, he spears many fish on the teeth.

I jump down from the rock where I am watching the men fish and go to help my mother and the other women. They are working on the beach, preparing to cook the herring the men will bring back.

Herring is an important food because there is so much of it. Most of the fish will be boiled and dried, then stored. My people will use these supplies in moons yet to come.

My sister and I help fill a huge cedar box with water. Nearby my mother has built a fire and placed large rocks in the flames. When the rocks are very hot, she will put them in the box filled with water. The hot rocks will heat the water and make it boil. I know that many rocks will be needed to keep the water boiling, so I go to fetch more rocks.

When the men return with their catch, I see that the canoes are filled to the top with herring of all sizes. Soon the beach is covered with mounds of fish. We begin sorting them into three different sizes: small, medium and large, and we put each different size in a separate box.

I help my sister put the medium-sized herring into the box we are tending.

While the herring are cooking, my mother adds more hot stones to our box to keep the water boiling.

When the fish are done, the women take them out of the boiling water, split them, remove the bones, and hang them out to dry. After everything is done, I look at all the racks lining the beach and see more than 1,000 fish waiting to dry. I know our chief will be pleased with the work we have done.

That evening, the first chief gives a feast for his people. We all take our places in his house and wait for the young men to serve the feast of freshly cook herring. It is a happy and festive time for everyone.

At the feast, I sit between my older sister and my friend. It is good to be with family and friends in this land of plenty.



Later, when the herring is dry, we will tie the tails and hang the fish from the rafters in our house.


Sometimes the signs that the herring have begun to spawn are false. The men put out branches to collect the herring spawn, but it proves to be too early.

During this moon, some Nuu-chah-nulth men go trolling for spring salmon. They paddle their canoes in the salt water just outside the bays and inlets.

A fisherman holds a kelp fishing line in his hand as he paddles and uses a small fish on a hook for bait. The line, with the hook and bait attached, trails in the water, speeding up and slowing down with the movement of the fisherman's arm as he paddles. The movement of the line and bait attract the salmon. When one tries to take the bait, it is caught.

From the shore I see the fishermen coming. My mother tells the people in the house to get their cooking boxes ready to boil the salmon. It is taboo to leave any of these fish uncooked overnight.


Every year at this time, the herring spawn, or lay their eggs, in the quiet waters of the coves of the inlets. After the female herring lay their eggs, the people collect some of them. This is a busy time for my people.

The men of the village prepare for the Herring Spawn Moon for some time. They cut logs and float them into the inlets and then tie them together to create large floating fences. These fences are used to harvest the herring eggs.

They also cut many spruce and fir branches and heap them into a huge pile on the beach. Then they load these branches into their canoes and take them to the spawning grounds. They put these branches into the water and tie them to the spawning fences.

Some of the branches are tied at the bottom to a rock and placed in the more shallow water of the spawning grounds.

When the herring spawn, the fish eggs stick to the branches. The branches make it easy for the men to collect the tiny fish eggs.

After putting the branches in place, the men go home. While they wait, they spend time building racks on the slope between the houses on the beach. These racks will be used for drying the spawn after it has been collected.

The chief sends men out to the spawning grounds every so often to keep watch on the spawning grounds.

One day, I hear shouting from across the water. Everyone run down to the beach to find out what is happening. I recognize the men in the canoe as people from my house. They are bringing the news that the herring have spawned.

Once again the men of the village go out to the spawning ground in their canoes. This time they will bring back branches covered with thick masses of herring spawn.

I run to join the women who are near the racks the men have built. I watch as the men pull their canoes onto the shore. They unload the branches, carry them to the racks on the beach, and hand them to the women.

The women take the branches and climb onto the racks. I get onto one of the racks to help. We hang the large branches over the racks and spread them out carefully so the spawn can dry in the sun and the wind. We work quickly, and soon all the racks lining the beach are covered with the bushy branches.

Some of the egg-covered branches have not been placed on the racks. Since herring spawn is one of our favorite foods, a fresh harvest means we will have a feast. The women begin to free the spawn from the needles and twigs of these branches. This spawn will not be dried. It will be eaten fresh at the feast instead.

It is important for the spawn on the racks to be completely dry before it is stored. Every day, I help the women to turn the branches on the racks. In this way, all the spawn will dry evenly.

We also have to watch for rain. I remember some years when it had started to rain while the spawn was drying. I rushed outside with the other women to cover the branches with mats.

When the spawn is dry, I watch my mother free the spawn from the needles of the branches. I take a small branch myself and gently free a thick layer of spawn. I work very slowly, but the other women are patient with me. They know I am learning. Someday, I will be able to free the spawn as quickly as my mother.

At last the work is done. All the crisp, dried fish eggs have been freed from the branches and cleaned. We place the dry eggs in baskets and store them so we can used them later.


The first day of the Geese Moon, I wake up early. Today, we are moving to our village on the coast! I leap from my sleeping platform and rush outside.

The men have lined up the biggest canoes in pairs along the shore. Some are taking the boards off the house frames and placing them across the pair of canoes, making them into huge rafts. I begin helping the women carry our boxes and baskets from our house to the canoes. My older brother is standing on one of the rafts. He takes my basket and puts it with the rest of our things. Soon, all the rafts are piled high with everything from our houses. So many things are piled on top of the boards that I wonder how the canoes can still float!

The last thing to do is put out the fires. First, the men light slow-burning candles of tightly twisted cedar bark to take with us. These candles will last until it is time to start new fires at the coastal village. Once the candles are lit, we put out the old fires. Now everyone is ready to go.

The canoes, loaded with people, boxes, baskets, and boards, leave the shore. Slowly, we move away from the empty village and down the inlet to the sea. The shouts and songs of the villagers echo across the water between the steep sides of the inlet.

Suddenly, I can feel the sea breeze and smell the ocean air. My people have travelled a long way. Now we are at the mouth of the inlet where it widens to meet the ocean.

On one side of the inlet is a small, sheltered cove. Our canoes head for this spot. As we move closer, I can see four empty house frames standing on shore. This is my people's coastal village. It will be our home until fall.

As soon as the canoes land on the shore, I help my people unload the canoes. Then the men fasten the boards we brought with us to the house frames, and we carry our belongings inside. We settled in to our second home quickly. In fact, as I look around the village, it almost seems that we have never moved.

I hear a honking noise and look up to see geese flying overhead. The birds are on their way north to their summer homes. Sometimes, they stop to rest in the coves and inlets along the coast. When they do, the men in my village go out to catch some of them.

One very dark night, my two uncles go out to trap some birds. We watch from the beach as the men prepare to leave. They place a board across the sides of the canoe. Then they cover the board with sand from the beach. Next, one of my uncles builds a fire on top of the sand.

My older brother explains that one of the men will sit in front of the board with the fire behind him. It is his job to steer the canoe, and at the same time, he holds a special rod in his teeth. Hanging from the rod is a big piece of cedar board that will block the light and cast a shadow, making the water dark in front of the canoe. My other uncle will be sitting in the darkened bow of the canoe with a net.

They will paddle to a place in the cove where lots of birds are resting on the water. The birds will not like the light from the fire that shines on the water at the sides of the canoe. To get away from it, they will move into the shadow in front of the canoe. When the birds swam close enough, my uncle will toss the net over them and scoop them up into the canoe.

This is a good way to catch water fowl like ducks and geese. I am not surprised when my uncles return with a canoe full of birds.


Toward the end of the Geese Moon, something important happens. My people see the first whales of the season swimming in the waters off the coast. Now, it is the Stringing Berries Moon — time to hunt whales!

It is quiet in my village during the first days of the Stringing Berries Moon. The men who will make up the whaling crews have gone to spend some time in the woods, away from the village. It is time for them to prepare themselves for the hunt.

The men act in special ways to prepare themselves. They do not eat. They sing special songs. They pray. They bathe in the cold waters of the mountain streams, and they scrub their bodies all over with hemlock twigs tied together in bundles. My people believe that all these things will help to bring success in the whale hunt.

While the men are away in the woods, I join my mother, my sister and the other women and girls to gather some fresh, green sprouts. We take our canoes a short distance up the inlet to a place where lots of salmonberry bushes grow. There we gather young sprouts of salmonberry bushes and other plants.

When the whaling crews return to the village, they get their equipment ready for the hunt. They outfit two large whaling canoes and one small sealing canoe. A small crew will use the swift little sealing canoe to carry news back to the village.

I looked at my uncle's whaling canoe. It seems very big, lying there on the beach. It takes him 10 long paces to get from one end to the other. That is as long as some of the houses in our village!

All kinds of things are in the canoe, such as ropes, harpoon shafts with sharp heads, and sealskin bags. The men will fill the bags with air later. Everything is lying in its place in the canoe, waiting to be used at the whale hunting grounds.

When the canoes are ready, the men cover them with mats. Now, they have to wait for fine weather with calm seas and no wind. As first chief, my older uncle is the chief harpooner and leader of the hunt, and he will decide when the weather is just right.

Finally a day arrives wtih perfect weather. My uncle announces that the whalers will leave at sunset. They will arrive at the whale hunting grounds and start hunting early the next morning. The village is filled with excitement as the men carry the canoes to the water. I stand quietly with the other villagers on the shore as the whalers paddle away.

For the next few days, the wives of the whalers have to be very careful. They stay quiet and spend most of the time lying still on their sleeping platforms. They have to make sure they don't do anything that might upset or offend the whales. If they do, the whales will refuse to be caught, and the hunt will be unsuccessful.

The days pass very slowly for the waiting villagers. I hope that the hunt will be successful and safe. My people know that whaling can be very dangerous. Whales are huge animals-much bigger and stronger than a whaling canoe with its crew of eight men. The whalers have to be very skillful and brave. In some hunts, men have been killed far out on the ocean.

A few days later, I am sitting on a log on the beach when I see a canoe on the open water paddling toward us. It is the sealing canoe! It will be bringing news of the whale hunt. I jump up and run to tell everyone.

When the paddlers reach the shore they announce that my uncle has killed a whale. All the villagers gather around, and the paddlers sit on the beach and start to tell the story.

The whalers had been at sea for two days before they saw a whale. Suddenly, far in the distance, they spotted one, spouting water from its blow hole. It was swimming away from them, but they paddled swiftly, and the chase began.

Finally my uncle's canoe came up behind it. When the whale saw the canoe churning after it, it sounded, diving under the water.

They followed the whale for some time before it came to the surface again. My uncle hurled his harpoon. Blood spurted out as the sharp head of the harpoon sank into the whale's back.

The whale started to sound again. Water was flying everywhere. The canoes instantly swung to the left out of the whale's way. If the flukes of the whale's big tail had struck the canoe, it would have wrecked it and thrown my uncle and his crew into the icy cold ocean.

The hunters quickly attached one end of a cedar bark rope to the head of the harpoon stuck in the whale. When the whale dove under the water, they threw the rest of the rope and the inflated sealskin balloons attached to it overboard. The sealskin balloons dragged through the water, slowing the wounded whale and making it difficult for it to dive.

The sealskin balloons bobbed along the surface of the water, making the whale easy to track as it tried to swim away. The men paddled hard and fast. They followed the whale for many long hours. When they finally caught up to it, the whale was becoming tired. It had come to the surface and was swimming slowly. The men in the second canoe jumped up and threw their harpoons. They hit the whale again. With a huge splash, it tried to sound and was gone.

Everything became very still. The canoes sat silently on the surface of the ocean in the dusk. The paddlers were ready. All eyes carefully watched the surface of the choppy water.

Just before darkness fell, the sealskin floats bounced up in the distance. Paddles hit the water. The large canoes jumped forward, and the chase was on again.

All through the night, the men strained on their paddles. Their eyes followed the sealskin balloons in the moonlight. Little by little, the hunters gained on the wounded whale.

It was daylight before the whalers caught up to the whale. At last, the canoes were close enough for the men to throw more harpoons at it. One by one, the sharp harpoon heads dug into the whale's flesh. Finally, after several strikes, the whale was dead.

The men ignored the pain of aching muscles and immediately prepared to tow the whale home. First, they tied its mouth shut so its body wouldn't fill up with water, making it difficult to tow. Next, they tied some of the sealskin balloons to the whale so it would float better. Then, with the heavy whale in tow, they headed home.

Two days pass before the hunters reach home. We're so excited when we sight the whaling canoes. The men who stayed home went down to the beach singing songs to welcome the whale and the whalers. When the hunters are close to the village, they sing a song of triumph, paddling in time to the song's rhythm. When the whalers are close to shore, all the people in the village climb onto the roofs of their houses and begin beating on planks. It is a joyful scene as we welcome the whale.

The hunters wait until high tide to bring in the whale. Then, when the tide goes out, the whale stays, stranded on the beach.

The people gather around and thank the whale for coming to feed them. Then they begin to cut it up. First, they take a piece from the back of the whale between the head and the fin. This is considered the most honorable piece. It is decorated with feathers and put on a frame outside our house while the men sing a special song.

The first paddlers from my uncle's crew butcher the whale. My older uncle, as first chief, directs them on how to do it. He wants everyone in the village to have a share of the whale. All the men who went whaling get their shares first. Next, each of the men who helped pull the whale onto the beach get a piece. Finally, everyone else in the village, in order and rank, receives something. When this is done, little is left but the bones.

Nearly all parts of the whale are used. We eat the meat and the skin. The sinews are used for cords and ropes. The intestines are dried and used as containers for oil and water. Some of the bones are used to make tools. Most important of all, the blubber is made into oil. My people use lots of oil. We eat it with almost every kind of food. We also throw it on fires to make the flames burn higher and brighter at special events.

My uncle puts aside the best parts of the meat for a feast for the whole village. The people begin to prepare the biggest containers they can find to use as cooking boxes. My uncle even has several of them cook some of the meat in one of his canoes. The village fires blaze in the night as the people celebrate our chief's success.

It is near the end of this moon when the salmonberries began to ripen. My mother takes a party of women to pick the first berries for my father. He owns a salmonberry patch, so only he has the right to the first and second pickings. After that, anyone can pick the rest of the berries when they are ripe.

My sister and I go with the women and help pick berries. As fast as we can fill the baskets, a slave who has come to help takes them away and empties them into some big boxes in the canoes.

When we have picked all the ripe berries, we take our harvest home. My father will treat everyone in our house to a feast of the sweet red berries tonight.

I sit by the fire eating berries and looking at my juice-stained fingers. The salmonberries are small and took a long time to pick. However, I enjoy my share and decide that they were well worth the picking. Salmonberries are the first berries of the summer, and everyone always looks forward to the salmonberry feast.


The days of the Wasp Moon are sunny and hot. The forest near the village is very dry. During the other moons, it is usually damp from the wet weather.

Near the end of the Wasp Moon, I go on an outing with my mother and a large party of women. We are going to gather salal berries, a deep blue berry that grows on the side of a mountain.

Bears and lynxes live in the mountains and are sometimes dangerous. Some men armed with bows and arrows go with us. It is their job to keep watch and protect us from any wild animals that might come along.

We stay away from the village for several days. During the day, I help the women pick the salal berries. At night, we build fires and sleep in lean-to shelters. Finally, on the fourth day, we have picked all the berries. It is time to pack and head home.

Back at the village, the women cook the salal berries a little. I help my mother spread a thick layer of cooked berries on a board. Then we put another board on top of them and press the berries into cakes. When the salal cakes are dry and ready to be stored, we lay them flat in baskets. Later, we will eat the cakes with whale oil.

I wonder why we have gathered so many salal berries. We have made many more cakes than my people need. My mother tells me that the extra cakes are for the chief. He will give them away at the potlatch in the fall.


One sunny morning, my sister and I leave the village with our baskets, cedar-bark mats, and digging sticks. We are going to dig clover roots. We walk a short distance through the forest until we came to a clearing. It is here that my father owns a patch of clover.

I kneel on my cedar-bark mat and start to dig up the roots with my stick. After digging up each one, I shake off the earth and put the root in my basket.

Here, away from the water and the sea breeze, it is very hot. I know I will enjoy eating the fresh, tasty roots later. However, I'm not sure they are worth digging up in the hot sun. I look forward to returning to the village and swimming with my friends to cool off.

During the rest of the Spring Salmon (Run) Moon, the women in my house spend most of their time working with the cedar bark they collected in the Wasp Moon. Some of the women weave baskets. Several make blankets and mats. Others make clothes for their families.

My mother is making capes for our family to use in the rainy weather. During the Wasp Moon, she took some cedar-bark strips and put them in water to soak. They stayed there for some time, until they were soft enough for my mother to work with them. Then she took the bark strips out of the water and put them on a board. My mother is a gentle woman, so I was surprised to see her beating the strips of bark with such force.

Next, she twisted the cedar strips into a thick kind of yarn and laid it out to bleach in the sun. The yarn was a yellow color after it was bleached. She dyed some yarn black and the rest of it red. Now she is beginning to weave the dyed yarn into capes. I am pleased that I am going to get a new cape. I have outgrown my old cape and needed a new, bigger one.

I have decided to make some cedar-bark mats too. I want to dye the strips of cedar bark different colors. I take my friend, and we go to the edge of the forest in search of materials to use as dyes. I get some mud from a stream for black dye. My friend collects some alder bark to make an orange dye. Then we gather some berries to use as a purple dye.

We are going to give the new mats to our chief. Many of the other things the women are making are for the chief too. He will need a lot of things to give away as gifts at the potlatch.

The men from the house also are preparing for the potlatch. They are hunting sea otters so the chief can have the skins. They spend many days out in their sealing canoes, hunting with their bows and arrows.

Back at the village, the sea otters the men caught are skinned. The skin of the otter my father caught is a fine one. With pride, he thinks how pleased the chief will be to give it away at the potlatch.

The skins are hung up outside the houses to dry. Stones are tied to the bottom of each hide to stretch the skin. My friend and I admire them all, but I think my father's skin is the most beautiful.

To celebrate the success of the hunt, we cook and eat the meat of the sea otters and have a feast. My father has carved a new feast bowl from a big block of alder in the shape of a whale. It will be exciting to use it for the first time.


The Dog Salmon Moon is an important moon because the dog salmon are returning to the fresh waters of the rivers to spawn. This is the best time for us to catch and preserve enough salmon to last through the winter moons.

The men who own salmon fishing grounds begin setting their traps. The first chief owns the first salmon trap to be set in place. It is a tidewater trap and is placed at the tide flats where the salty ocean water meets the fresh water of the river.


When the tide is high, the trap and weir, or dam, are covered with water, so the salmon can swim around or over the trap.


When the tide goes out, and the water is low, the fish are caught in the weir and have to swim into the trap. It is easy for the men to wade into the water and take the fish out of the trap at low tide.

I watch with excitement as the first salmon are taken out of the trap. A very special ceremony is about to take place. Salmon is an important fish and has to be treated with honor and respect. Thus, when the first salmon are caught, the First Salmon Ceremony is held.

The salmon are carried to the house of the first chief and gently laid on a new mat of woven bark. Everyone watches as the chief sprinkles the fish with eagle down as a symbol of peace and friendship. My people listen quietly as he thanks the fish for coming to our waters and allowing themselves to be caught.

Because the salmon are very important, the first one has to be cooked in a certain way. The head, backbone, and tail are left in one piece and broiled between two sticks. The slabs of the meat that are cut from the sides are boiled in cooking boxes. Then we all feast on the fresh salmon and celebrate this time of thanksgiving.

Lots of fish are caught in the tidewater trap, but not enough for everyone for the whole winter. The men set more traps of different kinds. My father owns a place farther upstream and sets his trap there.

While the men tend their traps and catch more salmon, the women and female slaves prepare the fish for their winter stock. First, they cook or cure the salmon. Next, they cut the head and tail off each fish, split the fish, and take out the backbone. Then we hang the pieces of fish to dry in our houses.


It is fall now. The sun is low in the sky, and it shines less. It is almost time for us to return to our village up the inlet. There, we will be sheltered from the winter storms.

Before leaving the coast for the winter, our first chief plans to visit a village in the north. He wants to invite the people there to the Shaman's Dance. They will be expecting his visit because he threw his supernatural quartz crystal to them many moons before.

When the men arrive at the northern village, a speaker will talk for the chief. He will use two bundles of sticks and call out each person's name in order of rank. Then, after calling out each name, he will throw down a stick from the proper bundle. The stick tells the speaker how many people our chief wants to invite. That way, nobody is left out by mistake.

The people of the northern village are pleased to see the visitors. They welcome them warmly and give them lots of gifts and a feast in their honor.

When our chief returns, he adds the gifts he received to the other things he is going to give away at the potlatch. The other men can do as they wish with their gifts. They received baskets of smoked salmon and boxes of salmon roe and share the gifts with the other people around our chief's fire that night.


We have returned to our winter village, and once again, it is the Elder (Sibling) Moon. The sound of banging on our roof awakens me, and I run outside to see what is happening. It sounds like a drum echoing through the village. There, on our roof, sits one of the men from our house, drumming on a plank. Since our house is the house of the first chief, he is announcing a special occasion. The potlatch is beginning!

One at a time, the drummer shouts the names of all the people to call them to the potlatch. First, he calls out the names of the chiefs in order of rank. When each chief calls his name, he takes a special potlatch seat in the first chief's house. I stand outside and admire the chiefs as they entered the house one by one. They are all wearing their finest clothes and look very important.

When all the chiefs have taken their seats, the drummer calls the rest of the names. These people, who are not chiefs, do not have special seats. They can sit wherever they like, with the women on one side of the house and the men on the other. At last, all the names are called, and everyone is seated.

The first chief gives a signal to some young men. They begin carrying out gifts for everyone to see. I see blankets, boxes, baskets, containers filled with food, bladders filled with whale oil, sea otter pelts, and many other things. I have never seen so much all at once.

When all the gifts had been brought out, the first chief's speaker stood up. He gave a speech for the chief. He said that it was an important occasion because we would be celebrating the building of a new house. Since the first chief's house was getting rather crowed, the new house would be for my father. We were so excited. A new house for me and my family! Then, he went on to talk about all the gifts and where they came from.

When the speaker has finished, the chief dances around the fire. Whale oil is thrown on the flames to make them flare up, lighting up the whole house. Then he starts giving the gifts to his guests in order of their rank. Each person accepts his or her gift and thanks the chief. By accepting the gifts, the guests honor the chief and show that they respect his rights.

 I leave the chief's house with my family, clutching the lovely, little spruce-root basket I received at the potlatch. I will keep my special shells and other treasures in it.

Now I am tired. As I climb onto my sleeping platform, I think of all the things that have happened in my village since the Elder (Sibling) Moon one year ago. However, this is only the beginning. A new year is starting. I close my eyes and think about my father's whale-shaped fish bowl. I imagine him using it for the first time as the chief of our new house. Then, I slowly drift off to sleep to dream of all the good things yet to come.

© Copyright 2012, Guinness Cultural Studies Publishing, Tiburon, California 94920