The Coast Salish is a group of ethnically and linguistically related indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, living in British Columbia, Canada and the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon. They speak one of the Coast Salish languages. Nuxalk (Bella Coola) nation are usually included in the group, although their language is more closely related to Interior Salish languages.
The Coast Salish are a big loose grouping of many tribes with numerous distinct cultures and languages. Territory claimed by Coast Salish peoples span from the northern limit of the Strait of Georgia on the inside of Vancouver Island and covers most of southern Vancouver Island, all of the Lower Mainland and most of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula (except for territories of now-extinct Chemakum people). Their traditional territories coincide with modern major metropolitan areas, namely Victoria, Vancouver, and Seattle. The Tillamook or Nehalem around Tillamook, Oregon are the southernmost of the Coast Salish peoples.
The Coast Salish cultures differ considerably from those of their northern neighbours. It is one of the few indigenous cultures along the coast with a patrilineal rather than matrilineal kinship system, with inheritance and descent passed through the male line. According to a 2013 estimate, the population of Coast Salish numbers at least 56,590 people, made up of 28,406 Status Indians registered to Coast Salish bands in British Columbia, and 28,284 enrolled members of federally recognized Coast Salish tribes in Washington State.
Neighboring peoples, whether villages or adjacent tribes, were related by marriage, feasting, ceremonies, and common or shared territory. Ties were especially strong within the same waterway or watershed. There existed no breaks throughout the south Coast Salish culture area and beyond. There existed no formal political institutions.
External relations were extensive throughout most of the Puget Sound-Georgia Basin and east to the Sahaptin-speaking lands of Chelan, Kittitas and Yakama in what is now Eastern Washington. Similarly in Canada there were ties between the Skwxwumesh and Sto:lo with Interior Salish neighbours, i.e. the Lil’wat/St’at’imc, Nlaka’pamux and Syilx.
There was little political organization. No formal political office existed. Warfare for the southern Coast Salish was primarily defensive, with occasional raiding into territory where there were no relatives. No institutions existed for mobilizing or maintaining a standing force.
The common enemies of all the Coast Salish for most of the first half of the 19th century were the Lekwiltok aka Southern Kwakiutl, commonly known in historical writings as the Euclataws or Yucultas. Regular raids by northern tribes, particularly an alliance between the Haida, Tongass, and one group of Tsimshian, are also notable. With earlier access to European guns through the fur trade, they raided for slaves and loot. Their victims organized retaliatory raids several times, attacking the Lekwiltok.
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