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War, peace and Northwest Coast complex hunter-gatherers

Richard H. Daly (Aboriginal Rights Researcher, based at Oslo, Norway)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to question the assumptions behind the aggressive competitive image of Northwest Coast (NWC) forager societies, given that their most reflective descendants emphasize sharing and paying back as constant peacemaking actions through history. Also to seek data that help ascertain whether this contemporary view might predate today's sensibilities colored by life as post-foragers encapsulated in nation states.


Historical, ethnographic and ethnohistorical documentary sources are studied, together with regional archeological findings. These are considered against the author's own ethnographic work among various foragers on the edge of, but integrated with higher profile coastal peoples. Some historical context for regional war and peace is provided.


The archeology indicates that evidence for violent warlike activity appears clearly about three times in 10,000 years, the most extensive being contiguous with Europe's economic and political influence on the continent in the past half millennium. Even in this latter period, extended family foragers managed and sought to control aggression/competition by social sharing and cooperation between like units and by upholding established peacemaking processes and protocols.

Research limitations/implications

Since the region and its literature are vast, this theme requires extensive long-term investigation. Findings given here from a limited number of locations are tentative and require detail from other parts of the region; however, they do suggest an existing ethic of sharing and peacemaking reflected back in time through oral history and archeology.

Practical implications

The literature of the NWC's bellicosity, its slavery, war-making and agonistic giving is based on events reported from a very short span of contact history. If these conditions had been endemic over time, there would have been insufficient peace to allow these foragers to hunt, gather, fish, barter and prepare foods and goods with which to survive between annual growing and spawning seasons.

Social implications

Instead of finding ways to cooperate with each other to seek better living conditions, some NWC post-foragers now assume competition and aggression to be endemic features of their relations with each other. Such persons, perhaps from a sense of inferiority engendered by history, cite the bellicose literature and the glories of the fur trade period as more typical of their heritage than the wisdom and peaceful teachings of their own elders about the past, the future, human relations and the natural world.


The findings from the NWC suggest analogies in the emphasis on sharing as a mechanism for making and maintaining peace in the broader comparative context of hunter-gatherer studies. Sharing remains central whether one examines complex hunter-gathers or their more egalitarian colleagues.



H. Daly, R. (2014), "War, peace and Northwest Coast complex hunter-gatherers", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 240-254.



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