Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Nootka were fishermen and whalers. Salmon was the most stable food source and was obtained in large numbers in the fall and stored for the winter months; herring and salmon roe, cod, halibut, sardines, and herring complemented salmon supplies. Wooden fishing weirs were placed in rivers, and tidal fish traps were used in the sea; nets, hooks, lines, herring rakes, gigs, fishing spears, and harpoons, as well as dip nets for smaller fish, such as smelt, were also used. Seals, sea lions, whales, and porpoises were also important food sources; whales were valued for their ceremonial use as well. Land animals, such as deer, bear, and elk, were hunted or occasionally trapped. Wild plants and roots added to the Nootkan diet. Reliable food preservation techniques were vital to maintain adequate food supplies during winter months as well as in lean periods. Herring and sardines, for example, were eaten fresh as well as dried and smoked. Many Nootka return to their aboriginal coastal villages during the summer months to enjoy the pleasure of "going home" to fish, commercially or privately, and to hunt and gather plant and sea foods. Neah Bay is a well-known sport-fishing port and for decades was a prospering commercial fishing port.
Industrial Arts. Traditionally, the Nootka were master wood carvers. Houses, furniture, canoes, containers, masks, headdresses, and many similar objects were made of wood. Wooden boxes of various sizes, for example, were used by house-group families to store food and possessions. Wood in another form was used for clothing. In cold weather, men wore robes woven out of shredded cedar bark; women's robes were similar to men's, and they always wore an apron of shredded cedar bark. Highly prized ceremonial robes had mountain-goat wool woven into the shredded cedar bark. Over the past fifteen years, many Nootka carvers and silkscreen artists have become well-known Indian artists and have drawn critical acclaim for their work.
Trade. Principal trading relations with outsiders, established on Captain Cook's third expedition to Vancouver Island, took place at Nootka Sound. Sea otter pelts were in demand by Chinese merchants at Canton and were bartered at Nootka Sound. British and American vessels in Nootka Territory became frequent sights as the fur trade expanded. As traders bartered for valuable native goods, the Nootka began to acquire firearms and ammunition, and hostilities Eventually broke out between the Nootka and British and American traders. Trade dwindled progressively in the nineteenth Century, as sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction.
Division of Labor. Men fished and hunted for land and sea animals and did the wood carving. Women gathered plant foods, such as elderberries, gooseberries, and currants, and sea food, such as sea urchins and mussels. They usually did the everyday cooking, although young men often prepared food at feasts. Women cured fish such as sardines and salmon. They wove garments, using simple frames, out of yellow cedar bark, which was stripped off of trees with an adze. Pine tree bark was used for clothing, too. Women also wove baskets using grasses.
Land Tenure. Inheritance was the basis of ownership, which in Nootka society went well beyond control of land. Chiefs inherited their right to own and control all economic and ceremonial property as well as the privilege of using those properties. Economic privileges included the ownership of habitation sites, as well as places to fish, hunt, and gather roots and berries; longhouses and living spots within them; and the salvage rights to beached whales. Chiefs' ceremonial privileges included the right to conduct certain rituals and to perform particular dances or songs, the ownership of dances and songs, and the ritual names that accompanied each privilege. A chief's most important property was his salmon streams. Chiefs not only gave the right to set salmon traps in particular locations; they also had the right to claim the Fishermen's entire first salmon catch. By accepting the privilege to fish at certain places, a local-group member publicly acknowledged the chief's right of ownership of those places, and a chief exercised his right to collect a "tribute" during the fishing season. The chief held a feast with his tributes, during which time he announced his hereditary right to collect it.