What were the most prevalent tribes of Native Americans in the Northwest?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Native Americans in the Northwest, which encompasses the coast of British Columbia, parts of Alaska, Washington state, Oregon, and northern California, included (and still contains) many tribes and nations. They were among the most prosperous Native Americans, as they had a steady supply of food and well-constructed shelter.

The tribes in this region include the Tlingit, a matrilineal tribe that lives in the Alaskan panhandle, the Yukon, and British Columbia. Other tribes in the northern part of the Northwest include the Haida, the Nisga'a (which absorbed the Tsetsaut people), the Tsimshian (who today number about 10,000 people in British Columbia and southern Alaska), the Gitxsan, the Haisla, the Heiltsuk, the Nuxalk (the northernmost of the Coastal Salish people who are also called the Bella Coola), the Wuikinuxv, the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Wakah, and the Nuu-chah-nulth.

The Coastal Salish people, who live in Vancouver Island, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, and the Olympic Peninsula, are among the largest groups of Northwest Native Americans. Other groups in the southern part of the region included the Chimakum (now largely absorbed by other Salish peoples), the Quileute, the Willapa, the Chinook, and the Tillamook. The Chinook were one of the most prevalent and powerful tribes in the region, in part because their location on the Columbia River allowed them access to trade. The Nez Perce, who were in parts of what today is Oregon, Washington state, and Idaho, were the largest tribe that Lewis and Clark encountered in 1805 on their journey between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast.