Salish, indigenous people of North America, also known as the Flathead, who in the early 19th cent. inhabited the Bitterroot River valley of W Montana. Their language belongs to the Salishan branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). These people never practiced head flattening, but the Columbia River tribes who shaped the front of the head to create a pointed appearance spoke of their neighbors, the Salish, as "flatheads" in contrast. After the introduction of the horse the Salish adopted a Plains culture, including the hunting of buffalo and the use of the tepee. They fought a series of wars with the Blackfoot over hunting land. The Jesuit missionary Pierre Jean De Smet, who in 1841 founded the mission of St. Mary in the Bitterroot valley among the Salish, persuaded the Blackfoot to make peace. By the Garfield Treaty (1872) the Salish agreed to move north to the valley of the Flathead lake and river. Many now live on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, which they share with a small group of Kootenai. In 1990 there were close to 5,000 Salish and over 2,000 people of mixed Salish and Kootenai descent in the United States.
There are several Coast Salish groups centered around Puget Sound. They numbered some 10,000 in 1990, including the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Suquamish, Tulalip, and other groups. The city of Seattle is named after one of their great chiefs. The Native Americans of the Puget Sound area were traditionally part of the Northwest Coast cultural area (see under Natives, North American), speaking Salishan languages, living in large wooden houses, and practicing wood carving. Their diet was based on an abundant supply of salmon, shellfish, berries, and game until they were moved onto reservations by the treaties of Medicine Creek, Point Elliott, and others in the 1850s. Since then they have waged a continual battle in federal courts over fishing and shellfish rights in the area, one of the most productive in the country.
See O. W. Johnson, Flathead and Kootenay (1969); J. G. Jorgensen, Salish Language and Culture (1969).