Haida Tribe - Lydia, Jana, Kiera, Shane, Madeline

Table of Contents





Tools and Weapons

Haida TribeHaida_flag.png

The Haida (pronounced "HIGH-da") Tribe were people who lived on islands around Alaska and BC. Like other natives of the Northwest Coastal areas, the Haida's lives were greatly dependent on cedar trees. They were resourceful people, as they were able to base their lifestyles around a single type of tree. Cedar was a vital part of their diet, transportation, shelter and clothing. The Haidas were said to be the best of the Northwest Coast people at carving, painting and building homes. We have collected some facts on this unique tribe, so be sure to read below for further information.


The Haida tribe spent spring to autumn gathering and storing food. These people were skillful fishers and hunters.Most of the food they caught was from the sea, so they needed canoes to fish. They used nets, harpoons, and traps made out of small tree branches to catch the salmon that traveled up the river in the autumn. But the Pacific Ocean was definitely their main source of food. So the men spent most of the day fishing. To get the eulachon fish, they needed to go to the Nass River and trade with the Nisga's people. They needed this fish because the oil was used for many things. First, the women would squeeze the oil out of the fish. Then, the Haida tribe would use it as food seasoning or use it to light a lamp. The oil was also saved for them to tr
The men of the Haida Tribe fishing for Eulochon fish
ade with. It would be stored in a bottle made from dried kelp. Some fish that they would catch would be eaten fresh or dried up and stored for the winter. I bet you are wondering what they ate for winter. Well they would usually eat berries or some meat that they stored from the autumn. They would preserve the berries in oil. The Haida people would catch crabs, shellfish, seaweed, and herring roe. The men would also hunt whale, but it would have took them days to capture it. The men killed the whale with a harpoon that had a copper blade. The blubber of the whale was used for oil and the tendons were used for ropes. The women would not fish, but they would collect oysters and mussels from the ocean. They would also dig in the sand using sticks to find
A man spearing salmon
crabs and oysters. Razor clams would be a treat for the people of the Haida tribe. Seals were killed with clubs for their fat. Grizzly bears would be another food source that they would hunt, as well as beavers, moose, foxes, and wolves. The Haida people would hunt, fish, and look for edible plants to serve to their families. The Haida tribe would move with the seasons, so that they can fish and hunt for their families. They had many food resources. In fact, they didn't need to plant any crops very often. Eggs, wild meat, wild berry, roots, birds, shoots, and the bark of a cedar tree is something that they would also eat. The preparation of the food (meat and vegetables) were usually baked, steamed or boiled. They would take a basket and put water into it with hot rocks. This would boil the water. Or, they would hang the food over a fire. That would prevent the salmon from rotting (if they wanted to store it for the winter or trade it). The women would make wooden plates or trays that food would be served in. Many people lived in the west coast area because there were that many food resources.



The Haida people lived in a damp climate and therefore could not live in tipis. Instead, they built large cedar houses which were held up by totem poles. Men pulled totem poles into the corners (corner poles) with ropes. These corner poles anchored the four walls, which were made of cedar planks. To make these planks, logs were pounded with a hammer called a 'maul' until the logs were split into smaller planks. Roofs of wealthier citizens were made of overlapping cedar planks, while the less wealthy had to make do with a single layer of planks. These roofs had to be replaced more frequently. The entrance to these homes were holes cut into the totem pole (frontal pole) situated at the front of the house. These entrances were small to ensure that warm air from the fire would not escape, resulting in a warmer house.

Although many related people lived in each house (40-60 people), each immediate family had separate living quarters. Cedar or bulrush mats were placed on the dirt floor to separate each family's area. In the middle of the house, a fire was almost always burning to provide heat . A smoke hole was cut above the hearth to let out a moderate amount of excess steam, but some warm air still circulated the house, giving objects such as baskets a scent of burning wood.
A model of a Haida home.

Haida women were in charge of doing chores around the house. They cooked the food that men hunted and served berries, herbs and other plants as well. Also, they dug in the sand for clams and shellfish, which the tribe also ate. Women also pounded cedar bark, which was used for many things, such as clothing, which the women also made. Men, however, did quite different activities. The chief of the tribe could only be a man. They were in charge of hunting and fishing. Men also carved totem poles and canoes and built homes for the tribe. Some even went to war to protect their families. Both genders made (natural) medicine, composed music, and told stories/myths to the tribe.

The Haida tribe was separated into multiple different clans. Each clan was named after something important to the tribe, such as the Raven, or Eagle. All marriages were between two people from separate clans. Prior to the wedding, the man's clan gave the woman's clan an amount of goods. When the first child was born, the woman's clan paid the man's clan back an equal amount of goods. Then, the husband and the wife would decide if they would separate from each other or stay together.



Clothing was very important to the Haida tribe during celebrations and day to day life. The Haida tribe believed that Cedar trees, birch, animals and their environment were spirits, and if they took too much, the spirits would become angry with
This is a Bark Beater
This is a Bark Beater

them. They used many materials to make clothing such as: cedar bark, paint, spruce roots and animal parts for many different purposes. For every material there was a different process before it could be worn or woven into their clothing. Every article of clothing that the Haida tribe wore was practical and suited to all four seasons. The main material used for
the Haida tribes clothing was cedar bark. There were two types of cedar bark, red and yellow. The yellow cedar bark was peeled off the tree in long strips. Then carefully, the inner layer was separated from the outer layer of the bark. After that, the yellow bark was soaked in cold, then hot water. When finished, it would be beaten with a bark beater. A bark beater was made out of whale bone and was a hand held tool that was used to beat the bark until it was smooth. When the bark was smooth, the Haida tribe would sometimes twist the cedar until they felt it was ready to be woven. Red cedar bark had a similar process, but instead of soaking it in water, it was just dried and split. Next, it was beaten with a bark beater. Then, it was woven into their clothing.

Clothing articles

The spruce roots were mainly used to make hats because they were water proof. Hats were important to the Haida tribe because of when it was summer they needed to have protection from the blazing sun. Most women wore a long cape and a skirt. These items were made out of cedar bark or elk skin. Sometimes during celebrations some of the womenwould wear a dance skirt. A dance skirt was made of cedar bark but it was decorated with dentalia shells
Dentalia shells
Dentalia shells

.These shells jingled when they walked or danced.These shells were usually placed at the bottom of the skirt. Men would wear very little in the summer because of the hot weather. In the winter they would usually wear long elk skin capes sometimes woven with birds down or goats hair. This is how the men stayed warm in the winter. The women would wear basically the same as the men except women would wear long skirts instead of pants. Women also wore capes. This is how the women stayed warm in the winter. In the summer the women of the Haida tribe would wear

The Haida's footwear was very simple. They would usually go barefoot. In the winter, his tribe used snowshoes to hunt. Although sometimes they would wear moccasins, they would usually go barefoot because if they were to make moccasins out of leather they would become hard and brittle from the dampness of the water that they lived near. If they tried to wear shoes made out of cedar bark it would start to rip and break. This would happen because the shores that the Haida tribe lived on were rocky. Therefore, the soft material would break when on contact with the sharp rocks. Moccasins were only used for potlatches (a big celebration). This is why the Haida tribe would go barefoot.

The Chiefs wardrobe

The chief was the head of the Haida tribe. The chief had the most power in the tribe. The chiefs wardrobe was simple but it showed power. There was a special blanket that the chief wore, it was called a Chilkat blanket. The Chilkat blanket was decorated with fringes on the bottom and was made out of mountain goat hair and cedar bark. This blanket was a prized possession of the
The chiefs Chilkat blanket
The chiefs Chilkat blanket
chief. It was also used to keep warm in the night. The chief would also wear a special hat during some celebrations or ceremonies. The hat was made out of wood with the tails of ermine. This hat also had carved spaces that would be filled with abalone shells. The top of the hat was circled with sea lion whiskers. In the space were the sea lion whiskers circled, that space was filled with birds down which fluttered down like snow during ceremonies. The chief would were many different textiles including a piece called the frontlet. This was made out of yellow cedar bark, birch or maple that was attached to a cap worn on the forehead. The purpose of this accessory was for decoration and to show power.One of the things that separates the Haida tribe from the others is that the chief would not wear feathered headdresses. This was mainly what the Chief of the Haida tribe would wear.


The Haida tribe usually walked by foot or canoes.
Canoes were very important for this Northwest tribe. Shoes did not matter to these people. Instead, they walked barefoot (read "Clothing" for footwear).
The canoes were important because they lived close to rivers, lakes and streams. Canoes were built to withstand stormy conditions and big waves. The Haida tribe depended on the Pacific Ocean as much as cedar trees.Therefore, they fished very often.

Canoes were often made out of cedar (a type of tree). The tall cedar trees were so important to their lives because the Haida tribe used cedar for clothing, tools,baskets, dishes, mats, totem poles and homes.In fact, if they did not have cedar, they would not survive. This is how they made their canoes:

First, they would cut down a cedar tree. After that, the Haida tribe would chop the log in half , making sure it does not
Haida Tribe Canoe
crack. Next, they burn the inside of the log so that they can scape it. Later, they would fill the hollow log with water and then they put in hot rocks. The hot rocks makes the water boil, which then softens the wood. Then, they would dump out the water and let the wood cool. This helped the canoes keep their shape. Next, they would grease the canoe with whale oil to preserve the wood. Finally, the people were ready for carving and painting in designs.

The canoes were usually used for fishing, traveling to places (events and/or ceremonies), and war. The Haida tribe fought other Northwest Coast tribes usually for revenge.The canoes can be small (for fishing), or very large (for war or for large cargo). A canoe can hold up to 10,000 pounds of fish all at once. Some canoes had the measurement of 50 feet long and 8 feet wide. A war canoe can hold up to 50-60 warriors. Paddles were also made of cedar. Some paddles are made with a notch to "park" the canoe on tree roots. Some paddles are made long and pointed at the end to help the person (fisherman) to paddle silently when fishing.


The Haida tribe was part of the Northwest Coast area, which also consisted the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Bella Coola, Kwakiutl and Coast Salish Tribes.The Haida people made sure to use their surroundings wisely and to their advantage. Around the villages were many rugged coastlines with many mountains nearby. There were wide and narrow beaches with many islands close to the beaches. Did you know much more fish lived in the water in the Haida tribe time then there are today? There were many lakes, rivers, and fjords(a narrow body of water surrounded by cliffs) around the west coast. On the land there were thick woods of cedar, spruce, and fir with many animals living in them. The climate, more or less the same, consisted of mild winters (14 degrees and below) with warm summers (high of 18 degrees). In the west the western winds blew rain through the coastline.
The area where the Haida tribe lived is now known as B.C., Alaska, Washington, and Yukon.


Art played a very major part in the Haida tribe's lives. They were known for basketry (baskets
Haida Totem Pole
and hats), woodwork (masks, canoes, bentwood boxes and totem poles), and weaving (chilkat blankets). These were some of the things they would do or make. For basketry the Haida people would weave baskets and use them to store things and it was used for trading as well. They would also make hats that would be protection from the rain. They were also known for their totem poles, they were used to display the clan crest and the social status of a family. They would be carved right from a cedar tree and could be as high as up to 15 meters tall. The carvings would be animal and human forms. Lastly they would usually be painted black, red and blue. But sometimes they got painted white or yellow. Bentwood boxes would be another for woodwork, they were made from a single piece of a plank which was made from cedar. They were made by being steamed and bent at all three corners then pegged together. They were used for storing food. Bentwood boxes were common at ceremonial feasts as well. Masks would be part of the art as well. If they were made of copper then it was a sign of wealth. There would also be a transformation mask and the common theme for that would be metamorphosis. This would be the art for the Haida Tribe.

Tools and Weapons

The Haida tribe used tools and weapons that varied in size, function, and form. The Haida people only used materials that grew in the general area and after many years their methods made their tools more efficient and had more uses. Did you know the Haida tribe used steam to shape their canoes? The people were very smart and made many different tools like: sledge hammers, mauls (a small hammer), adzes (carving axe), and wedges. The Haida people started to make carvings in their tools making them more enjoyable to use. Used bows, arrows, spears, and daggers, in many of their wars against other tribes. This tribe was very intelligent. They found a way to use fish oils to light lanterns.

Materials used to make tools

Haida Tribe Maul

  • stone
  • bone
  • ivory
  • shells

Weapons used to hunt

  • clubs
  • harpoons
  • snares
  • deadfalls (a trap where a large log falls on the animal)
  • bow and arrows


There were different ceremonies for different purposes, such as celebrating a finished house, the raising of a new totem pole, to announce a marriage, death, naming children and to announce a new chief. A chief would invite others to the potlatch and give them gifts (the more better the gift was, the more sucessful the chief was). A potlatch is a word given to most Northwest Coast ceremonies. "Pachitle" is a Northwest Coast word, which means to give. Gifts were given to other people and feasts were included as well. Each person that came to the potlatch would get a gift based on their social rank. Some gifts that were often given away were canoes, fish oil, slaves (captives from other tribes) and carved dishes. The more wealth a person gives, the more respect he/she gets. There would be storytelling through songs and dances. These stories would be past from one generation to the other. Most dances and songs were about family history, therefore, it is a way for children to learn more about their family history. There can be 500 or more people at this celebration. A potlatch can take months and sometimes a year to plan. A person of high rank would host the potlatch. This celebration can be a way for families to show off their wealth. Potlatches were also very important because announcements about hunting and fishing territories were announced. This would prevent from any misunderstandings. Family and guest rights were also announced. Food was provided for all the guests and everybody would gather more food than what they could eat. It took a long time to gather enough property to host a big potlatch. Many did not last very long. However, some potlatchs lasted as long as 2 to 3 weeks!

Religious Beliefs

The Haida tribe believed in spirits and supernatural beings. They believed that they were surrounded with supernatural beings in the human world at all times and that spirits were connected to all living things. Each person had a soul that turns into a ghost their after life. If a Haida person was ill, the people would think that a part of their soul was gone. The Haida tribe believed that spirits form the dead were still with them. Therefore, they did not bury the dead bodies very often. Instead, they would put the dead bodies high up in a tree, or, if the person had a very high rank or role in the tribe, they would build a totem pole and place them near the top of the totem pole They also believed that animals were more intelligent than humans and that they can transform into human form. Legends, customs and beliefs were passed down from one generation to the other. They often built a "burial house" (where they placed the dead bodies). The only thing that connects the spirit world to the human world is the "Shaman" or the "Medicine Man". Their job was to heal the ill, to ensure there was enough food, and persuaded the spirits for good weather.

Shamans were usually men, but some were women. These people were shown respect because they recapture lost souls and drive out ghosts. Shamans would use songs, rattles, drums, masks and a "soul catcher" to heal the sick.
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A soul catcher is a carved tube made of wood or bone.


Sea and Cedar - How the Northwest Coast Indians Lived ( By: Lois McConkey)