Printer Friendly Version

Bella Coola Frontlet

The homeland and present-day territory of the Bella Coola people is the Bella Coola Valley, on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Ermine pelts decorate the back and sides of the frontlet. Ermines are a type of weasel whose fur is brown in the summer but turns white in winter. Native people in many parts of North America used ermine fur.

Trade between the Bella Coola and Europeans began in the late 18th century. European goods like the plaid cotton and wool fabric on this frontlet are seen in many Native American objects.

key idea
Gifts from the Earth

The Northwest Coast region of North America is a narrow strip of forested land stretching from northern California to the Alaska Panhandle. It is sandwiched between majestic mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Within this area, inland waterways weave among lush northern rain forests. In the past, Native Americans here obtained their food, clothing, and shelter from the natural resources of this rich ecosystem. They relied on fishing, along with hunting and gathering, for their food supply.

The objects created by Northwest Coast peoples reflect the riches of the region. This frontlet–a wooden forehead carving and attached headdress–was made by the Bella Coola, or Nuxalk (nu-hawk), people. Most of the materials for it, such as wood, ermine fur, and sea lion whiskers, came from the dense forests and teeming waters. It is painted with red and blue-green pigments from plants and minerals.

Trade was another source of materials for Northwest Coast objects. Trade with neighboring native groups brought abalone shell, from mollusks found on the California coast, and copper, a metal scarce and highly valued in the region. Buttons, cotton, and wool came through trade with Europeans, starting in the late 18th century.

Blue-green abalone shell from the California coast was a valued item traded with other Northwest Coast groups.
September 2010