How did Native Americans bury the dead and What was a Canoe Burial like?

Many Native Americans living along the Pacific Coast showed respect to their most honored dead by burying them in canoes.

For instance, when a Tillamook chief died, his followers thoroughly washed the body, painted his face red, and wrapped him in a blanket held tight with strips of cedar bark.

The body was then placed on a bed in a deserted house and visited for several days by mourners, who struggled not to fall asleep in the presence of the body for fear the chief would take them with him to the land of the dead.

Then, the corpse was moved to the burial ground in the early morning, when mourners believed the other buried souls would be asleep. At last, the chief’s body was placed in its final home, a richly decorated canoe held above the ground on posts. A second, smaller canoe was put upside down over the corpse, while mourners hung grave offerings from the canoe with rope.

If the chief’s family were very wealthy, a year later they might have another burial ceremony, during which the body would be uncovered, re-washed, and then reburied.

When a Coast Salish Native American died, no one was allowed to speak the person’s name until it was given to a newborn.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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