The Coast Salish native peoples are indigenous to the southeastern part of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of British Columbia. The Salish peoples extend from northern Washington State as well as the entire southern tip of Vancouver Island. Originally, their aboriginal lands were abundant with animals, birds, berries and greens. Fish, especially salmon and sturgeon, were an important focus of their lives. Communities traded foods and raw materials, facilitated by the use of dugout canoes to cross waterways.
Coast Salish people recognized wealth and social status, with three classes in their social structure: upper class, lower class and slaves (persons captured in war or purchased). Despite this class system, there were no formal chiefs or government. The most capable members of the family were chosen as leaders. Social ties, such as marriage, were encouraged between people of different villages.
Early in the 1800's, Salish textiles were recognized by visitors for their excellence and beauty. Their blankets were items of wealth, to be worn on ceremonial occasions. The famous "Cowichan" sweaters, hand-knitted by the Salish, are given as gifts to visiting dignitaries. The basketry and matting produced by the Coast Salish women are, likewise, works of art.
The Salish peoples also created art in the form of sculpture and engraving. Sculpture and engraving were used in a variety of objects, such as textile implements, ceremonial objects and house posts. Generic birds, animals and human figures were common subjects for engraving and sculpture.
Dance, storytelling, music and oratory were used in religious and ceremonial activities, and were not performed in public. The Salish believed in spirit powers that could be contacted by humans through dreams and visions. These experiences were intensely private and were not revealed to others in order to protect the relationship between the spirit power and the person.