The Colville and the Nisqually

Two tribes... two worlds... but one goal, to achieve the needs and wants presented in their community. The need for food, shelter, and
clothing were very large throughout life for the Native Americans, but equally important were wants, one of which is adornment.


The Colville

Colville Indians in Ceremonial Dress
Colville Indians in Ceremonial Dress

Colville Introduction

The name for Colville is in association with Fort Colville. The Colville Indians first inhabited the Colville area during the mid 1800's along such famous routes such as the Oregon Trail. Throughout the whole time this tribe lived, various needs including food, clothing, and shelter, and wants like adornment emerged changing the way they lived and experienced life

Fort Colville

Basic Needs


The Colville Indians had a large need for food for it was not easily accessible in the Plateau Side of the Pacific Northwest.
Colville woman gathering plants
They also believed that the food contained spiritual powers, thus leading to honorable feasts.

Some of the most common food eaten was:

  • Salmon (dietary mainstay), sturgeon, and trout
  • Buffalo, elk, deer, beaver, and bear
  • Nuts, roots, and berries

The Colville acquired these foods by fishing, hunting, and gathering. They trekked to locales to harvest salmon along with gather and hunt game. All the trekking classified them as nomadic (wanderers always in the search of food). There were always special camps for fishing and colleting their nuts, roots, and berries in the locations they traveled too.


Colville House and Tepee
The Colville Indians built summer and winter homes for protection from extreme weather and comfort in their community.

During the cold months, families stayed warm in communal mat lodges and sturdy pit dwellings. These dwellings were built 45' in diameter with all available materials. The underground dwellings were built to protect the tribe from the cold, and from catching any illnesses.

During the warm months, the tribe camped in mat or hide tents, built with animal skin and tree branches (which served as poles). Although these looked nothing like a house, they served the same purposes by providing shelter, warmth and protection from outside nature.

This shelter was acquired by gathering and bartering for the materials used to build the houses and tents,
such as animal hides, branches, mats, etc. Once acquired, the tribe was capable of meeting the minimum for shelter, the protection and comfort.

Please follow the link below for additional information on the Native American Teepees.
Girl wears a dress, small blanket, and moccasins.


The Colville's clothing is unique in the way it helps protect the Native Americans from outside nature and
weather while enhancing their minds.

During warm weather, the men and women wore breechcloths, which this tribe created with flaps of animal skin covering both the front and the back. If these materials were unavailable, the men went naked and the women gathered and items to cover the bare minimum of the front and back.

When winter arrived, women wore tunics with leggings and moccasins to prevent the cold from causing illnesses. All of the Colville Tribe wore fur robes made from animal fur for warmth.

To acquire these materials, the Colville bartered and hunted. They bartered for materials like moccasins and tunics, but hunted for animal skin and fur. The Colville Tribe was very successful in achieving clothes, therefore, well protected and enhanced in their life.



One major want for this Plateau tribe was adornment, the ability to creatively decorate themselves and their clothing.
Women in Ceremonial Dress

Some ways the Colville used this ability of adornment was:
  • Porcupine to puncture, embroider, and fringe.
  • Various seeds, hoofs, shells, elk's teeth, and ermine skins
  • Nose pins, necklaces, and earrings made from shells polished to look like beads
  • Ceremonial events, such as dances and festivals.

The Colville used simple ways to acquire these attractive goods, barter and gathering. They bartered for anything
available and gathered for materials like elk's teeth, ermine skins, shells, etc.

The Nisqually


Nisqually Introduction

The name Nisqually means "People of the River... People of the Grass Country", or in other words, Squally-Absch. On December 26, 1854, the first Nisqually reservation was established. As with the Colville and any other tribe, the life of the Nisqually depended on various needs including food, clothing, and shelter, and wants like adornment.

Basic Needs


Nisqually Man and Fish Trap
The Nisqually Tribe had an array of foods available to eat. Some of these included:
  • Bluefish, flounder, halibut, skate, sole, and devilfish
  • Licorice roots, wild carrots, and various bulbs
  • Berries crushed into blocks and dried into the sun or fire

A typical meal included boiled liquid followed by steamed meat or fish. The food was prepared once a day and eaten throughout the afternoon. The food was acquired by fishing, hunting, and gathering. Food was abundant in the Coastal Side (where the Nisqually Tribe dwelled)
so their need for food was easily met.


There were two types of shelter in the Nisqually area, one for the winter and the other for the summer.

Their homes for the cold months were solid houses made out of cedar posts and planks. Inside were rectangular platforms that served as beds. These
Cedar Plank House
houses were built to withstand the cold and ferocious months the winter brought along.

During the summer, the houses were usually empty or in square or cone shaped houses covered in mats. Most of the activities occurred either outdoors, which was the reason that the houses were empty. If the weather was extremely hot, the tribe slept outdoors on mats.

The cedar posts and planks, platforms, mats, etc. were acquired by gathering and bartering. They bartered with other tribes for items not able to be obtained from gathering. The shelter for the Nisqually was extremely strong and powerful for all the seasons and the weather that comes along with it.


The Nisqually clothing had one main purpose, to protect and enhance the life of the tribe. Their clothing items were very elaborate and decorative
Nisqually Dress
, depending always on the seasons.

During the warm weather, the men went naked or wore only hide and cedar bark. The women and children wore hide and cedar breechcloths. When the season changed, and it became winter, both men and women wore animal hide rubbed with dear brain to soften them. They also wore hide moccasins along with blankets woven of mountain goat or dog hair. In rainy weather, the women made capes from cedar bark strips and narrow skirts or full length dresses.

The Nisqually acquired these materials by bartering with other Native American Tribes. They bartered for hide and cedar bark along with animal hide to construct and create intricate clothing. When the Nisqually created these clothing, they achieved the simple purpose to protect and nurture along with enhance to lifestyle and creativity in the minds of these Native Americans.



For the Nisqually Tribe, adornment was extremely popular. It was not only used for ceremonial events, but also for everyday life.
Watershed Festival Emblem

Some of the ways they valued and used adornment was:
  • Red face paint combined with deer tallow to keep their faces from being weather-beaten
  • Dances and festivals such as the First Salmon Ceremonies, etc.
  • Headbands with shredded tassels
  • Necklaces, earrings, and nose rings made of shells polished to look like beads.

The Nisqually valued ceremonial events to such an extent, so they used all of these methods of adornment within their events. These items were gathered from one source, other Native American Tribes. The Nisqually bartered and traded with other Natives to achieve what they needed for the adornment items. If possible, they also gathered these materials. The
great want for adornment was shown all throughout this great tribe's history, culture, and life.

The Native Americans

Throughout their whole life full of the struggle and victory for achieve these many needs and wants, both the Colville and Nisqually tribes were overall successful in achieving what was a necessity and a luxury.

End Credits

Many thanks to the following sources for great information and pictures.

Tribal Website

  • Colville Women Gathering Plants
  • Colville House and Tepee
  • Girl wears a dress, small blanket, and moccasins.
  • Colville Women in Ceremonial Dress
  • Nisqually Man and Fish Trap


Native American Tribes Volume III and IV