Pacific Northwest Coastal Native Americans - Canoes Illustration

Pacific Northwest Coastal Native Americans
in Olden Times for Kids

Canoes. Fishing was the major source of food. Strong canoes made better fishing possible. Canoe building quickly developed into an art form. Canoe carvers were trained by their ancestors to be carvers. No one else was allowed to carve a canoe. The art was handed down from father to son, from uncle to nephew. These canoes were huge. They were carved from cedar trees, of course.

For those of you who do not live in the Pacific Northwest, cedar trees can grow over 80 feet tall quite easily. Since the forests are so thick, there are few branches on the way up. (This is still true today.) One way to describe a cedar tree is that it is a tall, wide, strong pole of wood with a hat of green leaves at the very top.

The natural shape of cedar trees make them rather perfect for cutting into planks or for splitting into two long sections. That's exactly what these early people did. They built canoes that were 50 feet long and 8 feet wide. These were workboats. Each canoe could hold 20 warriors and 10,000 pounds of cargo, such as fish.

They also carved boats that were much smaller. A single family, for family outings, to enjoy the water and the sunshine or to visit other tribes along the coast, used these small boats.

To make a canoe, first they had to cut down a cedar tree. Then they had to split the log in half, without cracking it. Then, they had to burn and scrape down the middle, to begin to shape it. Once they got that far, they filled the hole they had scraped down the middle with water. Just as the women used hot stones to make water boil in cooking baskets, so did the ancient canoe makers soften the cedar. They filled the hollow with water and added hot rocks until the water boiled. This softened the cedar so that they could begin to shape and carve their canoe.


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