Here are some basic terms you should know when reading about Native Americans.

Basic Terms

a handtool, similar to an axe, used to chip out wood for a dugout canoe; used by Pacific Northwest Indians.


the doctrine that all life is produced by a spiritual force; the belief that all natural objects and phenomena have souls. Type of religion practiced by Native Americans. Basically, a belief that various objects and animals had either good or evil spirits.

Camas Root:

a type of root gathered by women and children of the Plateau Indian tribes. It was a major source of food.


the primary mode of water transportation for the Coastal and Plateau Indians. Dugout canoes in the Pacific Northwest were constructed by hand or by burning out the inside of a tree trunk.

Cedar Bark:

a material used by the Coastal Indians to make skirts and other articles of clothing to be worn mainly by the women of the tribe.

Chinook Jargon: a language that evolved when Europeans first came to the Pacific Northwest, incorporating some of the terms from both the Native Americans and the various European languages...English, French and Indian terms.

a shelter constructed by Coastal Indians. It was long, rectangular, with an A framed roof (normally) and made of cedar logs.


a soft heelless shoe worn by Indians...made of leather.


one of a people that has no fixed location but wanders from place to place. Plateau Indians were nomads.


once a main source of food for the Plateau Indians, made from animal fat, fish, camas root and salmon.

Pit House:

a form of winter shelter for those Indians living in the Plateau region. They hollowed out an area on the leeward side of a hill, covered it and lived in it during the long cold winter days


an area set aside by the United States government for Native Americans.


an Indian medicine man. A Native American possessing supernatural powers; associated with religious ceremonies, marriage and burial rituals; and a person who aided the sick and injured. The shaman was the spiritual leader of the tribe.


a conal shaped house made of ten to twelve poles with buffalo hides, animal hides, or mats wrapped around the poles. They are easy to assemble and to take down; used by nomadic Plateau Indian tribes.


a device used by the Plateau Indians to transport their belongings. The travois was made of two long poles, uneven in length, attached with leather straps to either a horse or a dog.


a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations. The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest could be divided into many different tribes, however there were two major groupings: Coastal and a Plateau.


an important Coastal Indian ceremony in which the host gave away gifts to those guests who were in attendance. It was an important social function in which the greater the value of the gifts given away, the greater the assumed wealth of the host.


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Contact Author: Mike Alfred