Interesting facts about the Family and Social Organization in the Northwest Coast are culled from the First Peoples of Canada website.
The people in the Northwest Coast of Canada occupied the western shore, the islands of British Columbia and Yukon. The main groups that lived there were the Haida, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), and the Salishan.
In the family structure, men and women had specific roles. The men did the hunting and fishing, building of longhouses and carving of canoes and totem poles. The women were stay-at-homes, doing housekeeping and caring for children. They tilled the land near their home and collected clams, shellfish, and berries from nearby forests. The women also did the weaving and making of clothes using pounded and softened cedar bark, which they also processed.
A man and woman who wished to marry could only contract marriage with partners from different clans. The man would pay the woman’s father a certain amount agreed by the parties before the wedding. When the couple’s first child was born into the mother’s clan, the clan of the wife paid her husband back the wedding payment which he gave before the wedding. After the transaction, the marriage would be annulled and the woman could opt to be with her husband or leave him.
The Northwest Coast people were grouped into basic social units, such as extended families with a common ancestry. The society was composed of nobles, commoners, and slaves.
The oldest and highest-ranking individual in the family closely linked to the common ancestor was named the Chief of the family. Within each family, a person was ranked according to his relationship with the Chief. The Chief was in charge of distributing wealth to the people according to status. The people who were higher in rank in society received more so that the most powerful people were the wealthiest clan.
Family groups living together formed villages. In each village, ranking by families was also done. The most powerful family’s Chief was made the village Chief. The Village Chief’s family’s crest would be displayed on the village totem poles.
The people in the Northwest Coast were divided into two or more family clans. Examples of family clans were the Tlingit and Haida with two clans, namely, the Raven and the Eagle clans, and the Tsimshian with four clans, namely, the Raven, Wolf, Eagle, and Killer Whale.
The clan would inherit the clan membership through the maternal or mother’s side of the family. The membership would be confirmed through proclamation through crests, totem poles, canoes, cedar boxes, and masks.
It was always the norm that an individual could only contract marriage outside of their own clan.
The Northwest Coast people were recognized for their land and property ownership. Families would claim ownership of fishing and gathering sites and land. The family was ranked the wealthiest by the amount of property and acquired wealth. The wealthiest family was always the most powerful, influential and higher ranked in their society.

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