Dugout Canoe

Making a Dugout Canoe

Native American Dugout Canoe

Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. The Dugout Canoe was the main type and mode of transportation used by the Native American tribes who inhabited the Northwest Pacific Coast, the Southeast and the Plateau region.

The design and style of the dugout canoes were based on the natural resources that were available to the tribes, in this instance the people made use of the numerous large trees, especially cedar trees, found in their tribal homelands.  The dugout canoe was made from the hollowed-out logs of large trees. The tribes hollowed out logs using controlled fire or steaming to soften the timber so they could carve and shape their dugout canoe to have a flat bottom with straight sides.

Native American Life - Dugout Canoe
The Life and Lifestyle of Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on the Dugout Canoe. Native Indian Tribes across North America made different styles and designs of canoes. 

 Fact Sheet for kids

  • Dugout Canoe Fact 1: The canoes made by the tribes of the Northwest Pacific Coast were masterfully designed with with a distinct shape and decorated with highly artistic designs and crests. They were carved from solid logs, usually of red cedar, but occasionally made from cottonwood or Sitka spruce. These canoes were widened beyond the diameter of the original log by the spreading of the steam-softened sides. The ornate bow and stern pieces were carved and added separately
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 2: The Northwest Pacific Coast tribes who built these distinctive canoes believed that each canoe had its own personality and spirit
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 3: The Northwest Pacific Coast canoes were “dugouts” of single tree trunks. The logs were cut in summer time and fire was used to char the wood to be cut away. After it had been partly cut out inside it was stretched and shaped by steaming with water and hot stones.
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 4: The names of the Northwest Pacific Coast tribes who built the ornate canoes included the Bella Coola, Tlingit, Chinook, Haida, Tsimshian, and the Coast Salish. Some of their canoes were over 60 feet (18 m) long
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 5: The Bella Coola and other Northwest Coast tribes used several different types of canoes, including long, narrow canoes of a single red cedar log for rivers and bigger types of seagoing canoes that were often decorated with crest designs or painted black.
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 6: The Chinook tribe were referred to as the "Canoe Indians" who buried their dead in canoes together with their personal effects to help them on the journey to the afterlife
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 7: Canoes made by Native Americans such as the Plateau tribes were more basic designs and lacked the ornate shape and paintings favored by the Northwest Coast tribes
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 8: The men hollowed logs with controlled fire that softened the timber so they could carve and shape their canoe to have a flat bottom with straight sides. The fires were extinguished at regular intervals to scrape out the burned wood and shape the boat
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 9: The names of Plateau tribes who built and travelled in dugout canoes included the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce, Cayuse, Modoc, Palouse, Spokane, Walla Walla and the Yakama.
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 10: The Lewis and Clark expedition used dugout canoes built with the help of the Nez Perce Native American Indians. The canoes enabled the Corps of Discovery to float downstream from the Clearwater River Idaho, the Snake River into the Columbia River in the state of Washington
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 11: The Modoc constructed two types of dugout canoe. A large canoe, they called their large canoes "vunsh". These were suitable for open water navigation which was paddled and could hold four or five people. A smaller canoe, called a "vunshaga" held two people and was propelled by poling and primarily used to gather wocas seeds and duck eggs.
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 12: The Shasta  tribe inhabited California living at the mouths of creeks, which flowed into the Shasta, Klamath, and Scott rivers. The Shasta utilized broad, clumsy dugout canoes for fishing
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 13: The Chumash people of California were great fishers and constructed a distinctive type of  planked, seagoing canoe, called a tomol. The tomol measured up to 30 feet in length and was occasionally used for whaling. Smaller tomols were used for transportation and catching smaller fish
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 14: The Maidu tribe of California made rafts and dugout canoes. They made rafts by tying logs together with plant fiber ropes and their canoes were made using the hollowed log technique
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 15: The Southeastern Choctaw people established villages across the Deep South and used dugout canoes to travel and trade with many other tribes.
  • Dugout Canoe Fact 16: The different types of canoes were propelled by either paddling or polling, depending on the nature of the water
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