Trade and Transportation - Plateau Indians in Olden Times
Trade: Upriver people, the people of the Plateau, started at the top of salmon streams and paddled downstream once a year to trade for whale oil and dried clams with the Pacific Northwest Coastal tribes. The people of the Plateau found the Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians most alarming, especially the whale hunters.
The coastal tribes had huge plank houses, with rows of canoes drawn up in front on the bank. It was an imposing sight to a people who lived in tiny independent villages. Should it ever come to war between the inland and the coastal tribes, the inland people were well aware that they would be greatly outnumbered, although they kept that information to themselves of course.
The coastal tribe government was not democratic. It was based on wealth. This was a concept totally alien to a people who believed that cooperation and knowledge made you wealthy, not the stockpiling of goods. The government of each village was composed of a Council of elected men and women.
The coastal tribes had slaves, people captured in battle or people who owed a debt and could not pay it. This too was an alien concept. In the inland culture, you could not run up a debt because everything was shared. The inland Indians had occasional skirmishes amongst themselves, but after peace was made, anything taken from another village was returned.
If it was not for whale oil, they might have hidden themselves from the Pacific Northwest Coastal Indians entirely.
But the people of the Plateau really wanted that whale oil. It was an important food product, used like olive oil or butter is used today. So, once a year, they worked up their courage and paddled downstream to trade their beautifully embroidered clothes, water-tight baskets, and soft furs for oil. In spite of their nervousness, trading was done calmly and fairly. Still, they were always glad to get home. The Plateau people traded far more comfortably amongst themselves.
Transportation: Travel was accomplished by canoes, snowshoes, boats, and on foot. Canoes were shallow dugouts made from trees. Each was about 2 feet wide and 12-20 feet long. The people did not fish from their canoes. They used canoes for travel.
Horses: It was not until the early 1700s that Indians from the south arrived on the Plateau. They traded horses for furs. That was the first time the people of the Plateau had ever seen a horse. The arrival of the horse changed life on the Plateau considerably.