The tribal groups of the Pacific Northwest occupied areas as far south as California, east to the Rocky Mountains, north to Alaska, and west to the Pacific Ocean. There were dozens of different individual tribal groups, each with a distinct culture and language, and unique traditions.
These groups utilized a number of different societal types, based on the regions where they lived. Some, like the Nez Perce, were nomadic, while many coastal groups, such as the Tlingit and Makah, built permanent townships and communal buildings.
Although there was a variety of cultural groups, they all shared several things in common. For example, each tribe relied on annual salmon runs for a majority of their winter stores. Unlike plains tribes, which relied on abundant buffalo herds, the most plentiful source of protein in the Northwest has traditionally been found in rivers, lakes, streams and the ocean itself. This is why many tribal groups developed along the coastal region, and why many of the great rivers in the region, such as the Columbia, Okanagan and Snake, hold significance even today. In the days before Manifest Destiny became a part of American culture, these rivers virtually teamed with fish during the spawning period for native Pacific salmon. Today, those runs are greatly diminished because of commercial fishing and the damming of these great rivers.