North Cascades
Ethnography of The North Cascades
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A Look To The Future

The four chapters that precede summarize the available information relating to the traditional cultural patterns of the four Indian groups that regarded segments of the North Cascades National Park and the Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas as within their "tribal" borders. Because of the particular interests of this present study, each chapter concludes with a section in which are brought together whatever data have been found that relate to the tribes' utilization of the mountainous sectors of their traditional tribal territory. Plainly all four exploited to a substantial degree the natural resources of these elevated regions.

In some considerable measure each of these four groups was culturally unique. The Upper Skagit were a western "foothills" tribe on the middle Skagit River with linguistic and cultural affiliations to the coastally oriented Puget Sound tribelets to the west and south. The Chilliwack were a back-country people on a tributary of the Fraser River west of the Cascades crest with their principal dialectal and cultural ties to nearby Fraser Valley groups and with a highly dilute Northwest Coast life style. The Lower Thompson were a main Fraser River tribal division in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, tied in language and basic lifeways to their Upper Thompson kinsmen on the eastern slopes of the Cascades and in the adjacent Fraser Plateau, yet with extraordinarily productive salmon fisheries and revealing clear life-patterning influences from their strongly riverine and weakly coast-oriented downriver neighbors. The Chelan, on the other hand, were a Columbia River and especially lake and mountain Plateau people, related in speech and culture most closely to the tribes immediately north and south of them in the Columbia Valley. Owing to these environmental and cultural contrasts, the four groups seem to provide an ideal, small and so workable sample of distinct tribal traditions, on the two faces of a major mountain mass, for an examination of certain questions of special theoretical interest.

These issues focus in particular upon:

(1) The essential features of the biogeoclimatic mountain environments of the four tribes and the degree to which they were substantially similar or different in terms of the general cultural requirements of the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

(2) The nature of the use made by each tribe in subsistence and other ways of their respective high terrain homeland and the life patterns, interpreted most broadly, followed by each when in its mountainous environment, and the ways in which among the four tribes these were substantially similar or significantly different.

(3) The ways in which environmental factors appear, on the one hand, to have made cultural similarities possible and, on the other, seem to explain differences in the mountain adaptations of these four tribes both in their resource use patterns and in their total life mode while resident in the higher elevations.

(4) The ways in which tribal cultural ../backgrounds, orientations, and interests seem to explain similarities and differences in the mountain utilization of the four tribes and, more generally, their higher elevation lifeways: the Upper Skagit and Chilliwack with their somewhat different coastal tilt, the Lower Thompson with their coastal-tinged but basic Plateau affiliation, and the Chelan with their out-and-out Plateau cultural life style.

Before this study was undertaken, it was recognized that the data descriptive of the high-country use by each of the four tribes and of their mountain life more generally were nowhere assembled into cohesive statements and subjected to thoughtful analyses. Yet it was hoped that the published, highly scattered ethnographic and ethnohistorical materials relevant to the subject would prove sufficiently rich and precise to allow at least a preliminary description and comparison of the four groups in the preceding four areas of research. Unfortunately, the available information was discovered to be both remarkably scanty and deficient in detail. Why in their field research ethnographers in the Pacific Northwest have been remiss in inquiring into how high-altitude land masses have contributed to the traditional material, social, and religious existence of native American groups need not be speculated upon here: the situation is hardly worse than it is for the remainder of western North America. It became apparent, at any rate, that even a first-cut endeavor to approach the above four central questions in relation to the North Cascades Complex and adjacent regions should be postponed until a period of limited field study could be undertaken with members of the four tribes who might be able to contribute meaningful, relevant data.

Because total-culture ethnographic summaries of the four tribes that traditionally claimed country within the perimeters of today's North Cascades Complex were required as major segments of this present study, too little time was available for two areas of further inquiry that might well contribute appreciably to the comprehensiveness and completeness of this report:

(a) The brief, aforementioned period of field work with the more elderly and best informed members of the four tribes, designed specifically to secure additional information regarding their traditional tribal life in the more elevated sectors of their territory. Present plans call for this to be soon carried out. If meaningful fresh and focused data are secured, these new findings will be integrated with the mountain cultural information in the preceding four chapters as a supplement to this present study.

(b) A further, systematic canvassing of peripheral and ephemeral data sources, both published and archival, for information relating to the traditional high-altitude lifeways of the four tribes. While not a segment of this present project, it is hoped that at some later time this necessarily slow research program can be undertaken and that the resulting extending information can be integrated with profit into the mountain cultural data of the preceding chapters and the projected supplementary summary.

With a full complement of the available data as compiled for this present literature survey and as broadened and deepened through the additional research specified under (a) and (b) immediately above, it is reasonable to hope that the more theoretical analyses specified under the four-pronged approach above may become possible. If this is the case, we shall then understand more fully not only the traditional hunting, fishing, and plant gathering life mode of the Upper Skagit, Chilliwack, Lower Thompson, and Chelan in the mountainous sectors of their Park and neighboring home territory, an intriguing and hitherto neglected segment of their total lifeways during the protohistoric and early postcontact period. We should also comprehend some of the natural and cultural factors that influenced the shape of their individual tribal life patterns. Further, this understanding would possess a much wider geographical relevance: it would contribute in some measure to our current meager knowledge of Native American cultural adaptation to the high elevation regions of all mid-latitude Western North America.

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Last Updated: 10-Nov-2016