Among the First Nations of the North West Coast there are 13 different language families, making up 13 ‘nations’. The Coast Salish are part of the Salishan language family, forming a cultural continuum from the north end of the Strait of Georgia to the southern end of Puget Sound, covering coastal regions of British Columbia and Washington, including parts of Vancouver island. Western archeologists believe that the First Nations of the North West Coast have occupied the region as of c.9000BC. The various bands argue that they have been living in that region, interacting with their environment, from time immemorial.
The Coast Salish and the Environment
The various bands and nations of the area, including the Coast Salish, recognized their dependence on the environment and as such, many aspects of their lives and culture were tied to the environment. This tie to the environment still exists today and has become an important factor in land claims issues, environmental conservation, and in other attempts made by the First Nations to redefine their relationship with the state after the era of colonialism.
Traditionally, the various bands and tribes within the Coast Salish language group lived in a seasonal round; with large, central, permanent villages in the winter, and temporary summer campsites. For the First Nations on the Coast of British Columbia and Washington, the ocean was the central source of food extraction and in their food production nothing was wasted.
Maintaining family relations was of high priority, with extended family being as important as the nuclear family. The local group was also of great importance in the social organization of the Salish bands and they consider themselves to be the descendants of a common ancestor. Above all else, the local group served to connect the people to their land. Membership to a local group gave individuals the right to use names and to tell stories that connected them to their ancestors. The Salish peoples relied on their environment for survival. As such, they developed a very special relationship to their land, with their traditions and oral history linking them into the environmental and seasonal cycle of their territories.
The Coast Salish see themselves as the youngest of all creation, as students who must learn from their environment. They also recognize that as ‘children’, they still have a lot to learn from their environment.
According to native legend as expressed through oral accounts, back in the beginning of time the Xexa:ls (or Transfomers - three brothers and one sister) traveled through the land, up and down the river, transforming the legendary beings into rocks and animals and the river’s first salmon and sturgeon, creating the world as it exists today.
Before Xexá:ls came, life was very different, animals, birds and even people could change forms and all living life could speak with each other. Xexá:ls taught the people how to relate to and observe the land, water and air in order to learn to survive in balance and harmony.
--Helen 14:06, 10 July 2006 (PDT)