The Royal BC Museum, right in our own backyard, is a treasure trove of our province’s rich history and a great educational resource. That is why SMUS teachers enjoy bringing students to the museum on fun field trips, as the artifacts, exhibits and galleries help bolster the in-class lessons by providing students with a learning opportunity that you can’t get from a textbook.
Recently, our Grade 4 classes headed downtown for an afternoon at the museum. In school, they had been learning about First Nations and explorers. The museum’s extensive First Peoples Galleries was the premiere stop on the field trip. Afterwards, students reflected on what they learned at the museum, as it relates to culture, food and tools used by the Coast Salish peoples.
The Coast Salish people depended a lot on the ocean because their main food source was fish, and I also noticed that they had many ways to catch fish. Now I think that the main ways they acquired food were picking/gathering and fishing because in the museum displays the two food examples were berries and fish. I used to think that they mostly hunted for food.
First Nations peoples mostly used bones as tools but I used to think that they would use stones as tools. What surprised me about how they used natural resources for woodworking and hunting was that pretty much all of their tools were made out of some sort of bone (caribou antler, bird bones, etc.).
My biggest take-away when I compare cultures across the coast and the interior is that in the coast you would probably eat fish more and have more transportation to do with the water. Natural resources played a big role in the First Nations culture because pretty much everything they owned was made out of natural resources, such as their clothing (made out of cedar bark or various types of fur).
I found myself in the artifact area of the museum the most because the items that they had I haven’t ever seen before and they were very interesting and educating. Another reason I found myself in this area is because there were items from the past that are cool looking and things I have no idea on what they are.
The food they would make is not just plain food – instead they smoke it and dry it. I thought it was very smart of them to dry the food they caught because it could last for a long time and wouldn’t waste any food.
I liked learning that they would use the dullest rocks and turn them into sharp hunting tools. What surprised me the most was eventually the First Nations people would make the arrowheads smaller on the spears and harpoons.
My take-away from the field trip was that the First Nations people would help the community build houses and also not waste the cedar trees they need for building. The natural resources (like wood and food) could be used for hunting (with the wood and rocks) and it could also be used to benefit the tribe (by finding food). That is why the First Nations respect the environment like it is family.
I found myself thinking the most about comparing how First Nations did things, versus how I would have – such as how they made an arrow tip versus how I would have made an arrow tip. I was thinking the most because I was interested in the different ways they crafted their tools compared to how we do it.
I found that I eat a lot of different food than the First Nations do. The First Nations trapped their food but I fish with a rod to get food. I know that fishing with a rod would be easier for me to do because I have had more experience with it.
I got to see how First Nations improved on how they were able to craft certain things, such as arrow tips. I was surprised by how they used the woodworking tools and how they were created because I have not seen anything like that before. I noticed that they used a lot of, if not all, natural resources for woodworking and hunting supplies so that they could be successful in crafting and hunting. I knew that they had different animal bones for different purposes, such as seal bones for clubs and bird bones for whistles.
My take-away was that if you were in the interior of B.C. it would be harder to live – the hunting and fishing would be more difficult because of the harsh weather. On the coast of B.C. you could fish all year long because the ocean does not freeze and it stays populated with fish. Natural resources, such as hats made from cedar bark and masks made from bark, would be ceremonial. Hats would keep sun away from your face so that you could not have sun in your eyes when hunting.
As I was visiting the museum, I found myself thinking about what connections I could make and how this affected my thinking, my learning and my questions. The connections I made were mostly about how living then was different than it is now.
They had only natural resources and only ate what they could get and they didn’t waste anything. The complexities of their traps really changed my thinking as a learner because they had holes big enough to trap the fish but small enough so they wouldn’t escape.
I was amazed that their woodworking tools were made of wood, too. This amazed me because what they made was so detailed and carefully crafted that it’s almost hard to believe they had wooden things to carve the wood.
My big take-away was that the First Nations people stuck with their traditions – and they had many. Some of these are vision quests and the burning of a long house if the owner dies. Nature plays a big role in their culture because they use nature for everything.
The food that they ate was not just open fire-cooked fish; they actually smoked the fish to make it last longer and so it also tastes better. What changed my thinking about how the Coastal Salish obtained food is how they had a whole bunch of different methods that actually worked to catch their food, which is very hard because the Internet was not invented yet and they’re in the wilderness.
I used to think that the Coastal Salish made perfect arrow heads like you imagine from a storybook or your mind. But now I know that when they carved the arrow head a bunch of chunks fell off. What surprised me is that when they carved totem poles they were so perfect and beautiful to look at. I could never carve one as skillfully as they did.
My big take-away is that when I compare the Coastal Salish with the Interior First Nations, the Interior is much colder, so they have to wear warmer clothes than the Coastal Salish. Natural resources made their culture. You have to have wood to make a totem pole, you have to have animals to make warm clothes and you definitely need cedar bark to make clothes. Those are just some of the roles natural resources played in culture.
(photos courtesy of the Royal BC Museum)