Times & Places

The Northwest Coast

The societies of the Northwest coast of North America developed between the Coastal Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In relative isolation, they lived in fiords and islands in small communities and utilized the huge cedar forests to build elaborate totem poles. Their skill and favor for carving extended to include all areas of life on the coast. In ornately carved canoes, they could travel across the ocean for hundreds of miles, in order to hunt fish and whales, and also for trade or war. By controlling the sea, chieftains gained considerable wealth, which was celebrated and distributed to followers at elaborate feasts known as potlatches. A central part of potlatches was masking, a performance art that was commonly practiced on the coast; during the potlatch, mythic stories of ancestors were performed in longhouses before the tribe and their guests. Some masks were designed to transform from one form to another mid-dance, an essential part of Northwest Coast storytelling.

Adapted from

"Native North America, an introduction: The Northwest Coast," The British Museum: Khan Academy, 2015, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/native-north-america/beg-guide-native-am-1600/a/native-north-america-an-introduction (accessed 28 October 2015).

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