California Coastal Native Americans

Over the past few months, as we have traveled to various parts of California and Oregon, we have had many opportunities to learn about the Native Americans of this region.  It has been a gratifying experience – made even more rewarding because the learning opportunities have occurred naturally and in context to our daily lives.  I’ve always believed that seeing artifacts, standing in the same surroundings, and being able to truly experience what life was like in the past has a greater impact than reading about it in a textbook. 

I have had a profound memory of a field trip that I must have experienced as a little girl.  Every time I travel on the coast – either north or south from the county in which I grew up – these memories come flooding back to me.  Sadly, I don’t recall exactly where I had visited but I clearly remember sitting in a Native American longhouse and hearing tribal elders share stories of their ancestors and demonstrate their tools and lifestyle.  I have always wanted to return – particularly now so that I can share that experience with my own children. 

When we were in Trinidad a few months ago, we traveled to Patrick’s Point State Park – where we visited the recreated Yurok village, Sumêg, consisting of traditional stye family houses, a sweat lodge, a redwood canoe – and Redwood National and State Parks – where we further explored the dynamic ecosystem of the Redwood forest.  As we wandered about and as the kids completed the activities to earn their Junior Ranger badges, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was where I had come as a child. 

The Northwest Coastal Indians lived in what is now Alaska along the Pacific Ocean down the coast to Northern California. This was a rugged strip of land with many small islands, deep inlets, and narrow beaches. The mountains rise to the shore in many places. Thick forests of spruce, cedar, and fir dominate the area supplying and endless supply of wood. Many rivers and streams cross the land. By the 1750’s more than 100,000 Indians lived in this area because it was richer in natural resources than any other area of North America.

While this territory was crisscrossed with thousands of trails, the most efficient form of transportation was the dugout canoe (pictured above) used to travel up and down rivers and cross the wider and deeper rivers such as the Klamath. These tribes used the great coast Redwood trees to build their boats and houses. Redwoods were cleverly felled by burning at the base and then split with elkhorn wedges. Redwood and sometimes cedar planks were used to construct rectangular gabled homes. 

Most villages consisted of large rectangular houses constructed of planks splits from fallen redwoods.  These houses were built over pits dug beneath the building, with the space between the pit and the walls forming a natural bench.  The posts were often decorated with carved figures. The earth floors were divided by woven mats into family units. Several families lived in one of these large structures. Cook fires in the center of the building were shared and an opening in the roof allowed smoke to escape. 

As we explored Sumêg, the exhibits at the visitors center, and the Native American museum at the Trees of Mystery, the kids made many connections to our studies.  We saw artifacts representing many of the tribes from across North America, including the Hidatsa (we had recently studied the expedition of Lewis & Clark and the contributions of Sacagawea), Modoc, and Wintu.  We discussed the similarities and differences between the coastal tribes as those we were familiar with in Central and Southern Oregon and the Northern Sacramento Valley.  

Vast difference exist between the coastal peoples, nearby mountain range territories, and the vast central valleys.  Nevertheless, all of these tribes enjoyed an abundance of acorn and salmon that could be readily obtained.  We marveled at the variety of the regions basketry – both coiled and twine type baskets were produced throughout the area. 

 

Aquarium of the Pacific

When we were in Southern California earlier in October for a family holiday at Disneyland, we also made a few little day excursions .. one to Legoland (of course), one to La Brea Tar Pits, and one to Long Beach specifically to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.  Sweetie had received earlier in the year, free passes to the aquarium for her honorable mention in the California Coastal Commission’s annual Coastal Art & Poetry Contest.

We arrived just in time to see the diver presentation at the Honda Blue Cavern, modeled after the local Blue Cavern Point, a kelp forest along the northeastern coast of Santa Catalina island.  We enjoyed listening to the diver identify several of the species found in this community, including the Giant sea bass (Sterolepis gigas).

Focused on the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium is organized into three main galleries: Southern California/Baja, Northern Pacific, and Tropical Pacific.   The Ocean Science Center uses NOAA’s “Science on a Sphere” to explore our planet and tell stories about ocean phenomena and their impacts.  Other exhibits include The Shark Lagoon, Lorikeet Forest, Molina Animal Care Center, and Watershed Exhibit. Additionally, there is a special exhibits gallery which featured the Arctic & Antarctic: Our Polar Regions in Peril exhibit while we were there.

I was delighted to point out to the kids the large Sunflower seastars (Pycnopodia helianthoides), the largest seastars in the world.  To the touch, they feel like soft, velvet and velcro covered sponges.  They are commonly found where the substrate is soft, feeding on clams.

While enjoying the outdoor exhibits, Buddy climbed aboard a ship and received an unexpected squirt from a giant fish nearby.  Thankfully, he thought it was as funny as we did and we all chuckled.  🙂

One of our favorite exhibits was the June Keyes Penguin Habitat located outdoors.  We included the photo below in our annual Christmas DVD – you would be surprised to learn how many people asked us if the penguins pictured beside us were actually real.  “I can’t believe they let you hug them,” one family member actually said.

Throughout the aquarium, there are eight embossing stations where visitors can emboss an image of a sea creature in the corner of their visitor’s guide.  This was a great activity for the kids, keeping them engaged and focused on their signage.  If you enjoy Letterboxing and collecting National Park Passport cancellations like we do … you’ll love this.