Coast Salish Woolly Dogs

Illustration by Jeffrey Veregge

A new article on Coast Salish wool dogs appeared in Hakai Magazine this week. This is very comprehensive and a great read and is also available in audio form.

I want to make some corrections or question a few minor items not to nit pic or be critical, I just want to clarify what is known. So bearing that in mind, here’s a few items and if you can point me to sources that say otherwise I would love to hear about them:

  1. Food – I’m not sure that it was a ‘stew‘ of fish and marine bits. Cooking for dogs would be labour intensive. If you were tending a herd of 40 dogs, that requires a lot of labour and time. There are accounts of dried fish (which may have been softened in hot water) and marine-derived food was certainly the main component for both humans and dogs. It makes sense that what humans ate, dogs ate and there is at least one reference to elk pieces of elk and stable isotope analysis points to a diet of what humans ate (as opposed to coastal wolves which included marine and a higher percentage of a land-based foods) .
  2. Diatomaceous earth – I haven’t come across any references that suggest diatomaceous earth can prevent mildew, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I have done a lot of research on Coast Salish use of DE and wrote an article in BC Studies on the use of diatomaceous earth here, which goes into it in details but generally, diatomaceous earth can remove oil, grease, or water to an extent, and it can whiten and make mountain goat wool easier to spin. It has been shown to kill insects and there are good references that was the intention of the Pacific North West nations.
  3. The article suggest that mixing the dog wool with mountain goat, plant fibres and down was to make the yarn warm and strong. Dog wool is strong enough that it doesn’t need to be mixed with other fibres but there may have been good reasons to blend fibres — adding a more spiritual connection (mtn. goat) or taking a scarce resource and stretching it out. I have seen at least two if not three blankets were the yarn was not mixed with other fibres and other blankets that contained a mixture of yarns, some of which was 100% dog wool.

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