Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest bred little, fluffy white dogs that provided for them, both materially and spiritually.

Matthew Marino.

Dogs were so important to Indigenous people on the coast that the canines were sometimes buried in association with humans—a practice not extended to other animals. Washington State University alumnus Matthew Marino analyzed numerous such burials and concluded that some dogs operated as persons in the Coast Salish world, a conclusion that echoes Indigenous elders.

As persons and ancestors, dogs were entitled to a better life than other animals. And since wool dogs provided wealth via their fur, they were accordingly well fed and treated kindly. The dog bones that Marino examined showed little damage, although some puppies may have been sacrificed to accompany the burial of a child; one adult dog had a healed broken vertebra, indicating it had been cared for long enough to recover from an injury. The wool dogs, in particular, ate well.

There is no doubt wool dogs underpinned a robust weaving industry on the coast, an activity noted in archaeological digs. For instance, excavations in the 1970s at the Makah village of Ozette on the westernmost point of today’s Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, uncovered wooden looms, spinning whorls, combs, and beaters, as well as miniature looms for training children. A landslide—probably caused by an earthquake on January 26, 1700—had destroyed the village and buried several cedar longhouses beneath a three-meter wall of mud.

Dale Croes.

The disaster preserved numerous belongings of the people—kin to the Nuu-chah-nulth—including one blanket containing dog fur that was largely intact, as it was stored in a cedar wood box. They were very productive weavers. “They built 25-foot [7.5-meter] longhouses of cedar,” says Dale Croes, an archaeologist at Washington State University, who helped on the excavation. “They could easily fit three to four looms inside. We calculated they could have easily had nine weavers per household. It was an absolute industry.”

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