Chinookan peoples

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Peoples of the Lower Colombia
Lewis and clark-expedition.jpg
Chinook people meet the Corps of Discovery on the Lower Columbia, October 1805
(by Charles M. Russell, 1905)
Chinookan langs.png
Location of Chinookan territory early in the 19th century
Total population
2700 [1]
Regions with significant populations
United States
Chinook Jargon, English, formerly Chinookan languages
traditional tribal religion

Peoples of the Lower Columbia include several groups of indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in the United States who speak the Chinookan languages. Peoples of the Lower Columbia reside along the Lower and Middle Columbia River (Wimahl) (″Big River″) from the river's gorge (near the present town of The Dalles, Oregon) downstream (west) to the river's mouth, and along adjacent portions of the coasts, from Tillamook Head of present-day Oregon in the south, north to Willapa Bay in southwest Washington. In 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition encountered the Chinook Tribe on the lower Columbia. [2] However, it is not appropriate to use the term "Chinookan." This term is a misnomer invented by white people to describe a wide variety of peoples who have inhabited the Lower Columbia but aren't connected as a single group of people. (This is separate from the Chinook Tribe itself, which is an appropriate name.) "Peoples of the Lower Columbia" is preferable as an inclusive name. There are several theories about where the name ″Chinook″ came from. Some say it is a Chehalis word Tsinúk for the inhabitants of and a particular village site on Baker Bay, or "Fish Eaters". It may also be a word meaning "strong fighters".


Some Peoples of the Lower Colombia are part of several federally recognized Tribes: the Yakama Nation (primarily Wishram, upper Washington side Chinookans), the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation (primarily Wasco, Upper Oregon side Chinookans), Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community (Middle Chinookan people), Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians (Upper and Middle Chinookans).

The Chinook Indian Nation, consisting of the five westernmost Tribes of Chinookan peoples, Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Kathlamet is currently (2020) working to obtain federal recognition. The Chinook Nation gained Federal Recognition in 2001 from the Department of Interior under President Bill Clinton. [3] After President George W. Bush was elected, his political appointees reviewed the case and, in a highly unusual action, revoked the recognition. [4]

The Chinook Nation sought Congressional support for recognition by the legislature in 2008 with a Bill Introduced by Brian Baird. [5] The Bill died in Congress.

The unrecognized Tchinouk Indians of Oregon trace their Chinook ancestry to two Chinook women who married French Canadians traders from the Hudson's Bay Company prior to 1830. The specific Chinook band these women were from or if they were Lower or Upper Chinook could not be determined. These individuals, settled in the French Prairie region of northwestern Oregon, becoming part of the community of French-Canadians and Métis (Mix-Bloods). There is no evidence that they are a distinct Indian community within French Prairie. The Chinook Indian Nation denied that the Tchinouk had any common history with them or any organizational affiliation. On January 16, 1986, the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that the Tchinouk Indians of Oregon do not meet the requirements necessary to be a federally recognized tribe.

The unrecognized Clatsop-Nehalem Confederate Tribes was formed in 2000. [6] The Clatsop-Nehalem have approximately 130 members and claim to have Chinookan and Salish-speaking Tillamook (Nehalem) ancestry. This is contested by the Chinook Indian Nation. The Indian Claims Commission, Docket 234, found, in 1957, that the Clatsop Chinooks were part of the Chinook Indian Nation. [7] The Indian Claims Commission also found in Docket 240, 1962, that the Nehalem people were part of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. [8]

Historic culture

The People of the Lower Colombia were relatively settled and occupied traditional tribal geographic areas, where they hunted and fished; salmon was a mainstay of their diet. The women also gathered and processed many nuts, seeds, roots and other foods. They had a society marked by social stratification, consisting of a number of distinct social castes of greater or lesser status. [9] Upper castes included shamans, warriors, and successful traders. They composed a minority of the community population compared to common members. [9] Members of the superior castes are said to have practiced social discrimination, limiting contact with commoners and forbidding play between the children of the different social groups. [10]

Some Peoples of the Lower Colombia practiced slavery, a practice borrowed from the northernmost tribes of the Pacific Northwest. [11] They took slaves as captives in warfare, and used them to practice thievery on behalf of their masters. The latter refrained from such practices as unworthy of high status. [10]

Chinook child undergoing process of flattening the head. Kane Flathead Child.jpg
Chinook child undergoing process of flattening the head.

The elite of some tribes had the practice of head binding, flattening their children's forehead and top of the skull as a mark of social status. They bound the infant's head under pressure between boards when the infant was about 3 months old and continued until the child was about one year of age. [12] This custom was a means of marking social hierarchy; flat-headed community members had a rank above those with round heads. Those with flattened skulls refused to enslave other persons who were similarly marked, thereby reinforcing the association of a round head with servility. [12] The Chinook were known colloquially by early white explorers in the region as "Flathead Indians."

Living near the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the Chinook were skilled elk hunters and fishermen. The most popular fish was salmon. Owing partly to their settled living patterns, the Chinook and other coastal tribes had relatively little conflict over land, as they did not migrate through each other's territories and they had rich resources in the natural environment. In the manner of numerous settled tribes, the Chinook resided in longhouses. More than fifty people, related through extended kinship, often resided in one longhouse. Their longhouses were made of planks made from red cedar trees. The houses were about 20–60 feet wide and 50–150 feet long.


Map of traditional Chinook tribal territory. Chinook.png
Map of traditional Chinook tribal territory.

The Chinook peoples have long had a community on the lower Columbia River. They re-organized in the 20th century, setting up an elected form of government and reviving tribal culture. They first sought recognition as a federally recognized sovereign tribe in the late 20th century, as this would provide certain benefits for education and welfare. The Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected their application in 1997. [13] Since the late 20th century, the Chinook Indian Nation has engaged in a continuing effort to secure formal recognition, conducting research and developing documentation to demonstrate its history. They are referred to in government and historic accounts, but never made a treaty with the government to cede land and establish a reservation, which would have meant automatic recognition. [14]

In 2001, the U.S. Department of Interior recognized the Chinook Indian Nation, a confederation of the Cathlamet, Clatsop, Lower Chinook, Wahkiakum and Willapa Indians, as a tribe, according to its rules established in consultation with other recognized tribes. The tribe had documented continuity of their community over time on the lower Columbia. This recognition was announced during the last months of the administration of President Bill Clinton. [15] have Allotments on the timber-rich Quinault Reservation in Grays Harbor County, Washington. The Quinault appealed recognition of the Chinook in August 2001, and the matter was taken up by the new administration. [13]

After President George W. Bush was elected, his new political appointees reviewed the Chinook materials. In 2002, in a highly unusual action, they revoked the recognition of the Chinook and of two other tribes also approved by the previous administration. [16] Efforts by Brian Baird, D-Wash. from Washington's 3rd congressional district, to gain passage of legislation in 2011 to achieve recognition of the tribe were not successful. [1] In his decision on a lawsuit filed in late 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton ruled recognition could only be granted from Congress and other branches of government, but largely sided with the tribe; Leighton denied seven of eight claims by the Interior Department to dismiss the case, including a challenge to a 2015 rule that bars tribes from seeking recognition again. [17]

The Chinook Indian Nation's offices are in Bay Center, Washington. The tribe holds an Annual Winter Gathering at the plankhouse in Ridgefield, Washington. It also holds an Annual First Salmon Ceremony at Chinook Point (Fort Columbia) on the North Shore of the Columbia River. [18]

List of Chinookan peoples

Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Chinook-style cedar plankhouse erected in 2005 at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which was once inhabited by more than 1200 Chinook people Cathlapotle Plankhouse 07402.JPG
Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Chinook-style cedar plankhouse erected in 2005 at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which was once inhabited by more than 1200 Chinook people
Illustration of the interior of a Chinookan plankhouse Interior of a Chinookan plankhouse.jpg
Illustration of the interior of a Chinookan plankhouse

Chinookan-speaking groups include:

In the 21st century, most Chinook live in the towns of Bay Center, Chinook, and Ilwaco in southwest Washington and in Astoria, Oregon.

Books written about the Chinook include the novel Boston Jane: An Adventure by Jennifer L. Holm

Notable Chinook

Lower Chinook chief from Warm Spring reservation (1886). Lower Chinook chief from Warm Spring reservation 1886.jpg
Lower Chinook chief from Warm Spring reservation (1886).

See also

Drawing of a Chinook dugout canoe from a memoir of the Oregon Country published in 1844 Chinook-Canoe-1844.jpg
Drawing of a Chinook dugout canoe from a memoir of the Oregon Country published in 1844

Related Research Articles

Yakama Ethnic group

The Yakama are a Native American tribe with nearly 10,851 members, based primarily in eastern Washington state.


The Clatsop are a small tribe of Chinookan-speaking Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. In the early 19th century they inhabited an area of the northwestern coast of present-day Oregon from the mouth of the Columbia River south to Tillamook Head, Oregon.

The Siletz were the southernmost of several divisions of the Tillamook people speaking a distinct dialect; the other dialect-divisions were: Salmon River on the river of that name, Nestucca on Little and Nestucca River and Nestucca Bay, Tillamook Bay on the bay of that name and the mouths of the Kilchis, Wilson, Trask and Tillamook rivers, and Nehalem on Nehalem River. The name "Siletz" comes from the name of the Siletz River on which they live. The origin of the name is unknown

Chinookan languages

The Chinookan languages were a small family of languages spoken in Oregon and Washington along the Columbia River by Chinook peoples. Although the last known native speaker of any Chinookan language died in 2012, the 2009-2013 American Community Survey found 270 self-identified speakers of Upper Chinook.

The Multnomah are a tribe of Chinookan people who live in the area of Portland, Oregon, in the United States. Multnomah villages were located throughout the Portland basin and on both sides of the Columbia River. The Multnomah speak a dialect of the Upper Chinookan language in the Oregon Penutian family.

The Clackamas Indians are a tribe of Native Americans of the U.S. state of Oregon who traditionally lived along the Clackamas River in the Willamette Valley. Lewis and Clark estimated their population at 1800 in 1806. At the time the tribe lived in 11 villages and subsisted on fish and roots.

Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau

Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau, also referred to by the phrase Indigenous peoples of the Plateau, and historically called the Plateau Indians are indigenous peoples of the Interior of British Columbia, Canada, and the non-coastal regions of the Northwestern United States.

Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGR) consists of twenty-seven Native American tribes with long historical ties to present-day western Oregon between the western boundary of the Oregon Coast and the eastern boundary of the Cascade Range, and the northern boundary of southwestern Washington and the southern boundary of northern California. The community has an 11,288-acre (45.7 km2) Indian reservation, the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, which was established in 1855 in Yamhill and Polk counties.

Kathlamet was a Chinookan language that was spoken around the border of Washington and Oregon by the Kathlamet people. The most extensive records of the language were made by Franz Boas, and a grammar was documented in the dissertation of Dell Hymes. It became extinct in the 1930s and there is little text left of it.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians in the United States is a federally recognized confederation of more than 27 Native American tribes and bands who once inhabited an extensive homeland of more than 20 million acres from northern California to southwest Washington and between the summit of the Cascades and the Pacific Ocean. The tribes spoke at least 11 distinct languages, including Tillamook, Shasta, the Clatsop, lower, middle and upper dialects of Chinook, Kalapuya, Takelma, Alsea-Yaquina, Siuslaw, Coos, the Plateau Penutian languages Molala and Klickitat, and several related Athabaskan dialects (Upper Umpqua, Upper Coquille, Sixes/Euchre Creek, Tututni, Chetco, Chasta Costa, Galice/Applegate, Tolowa Oregon Athabaskan languages. After the Rogue River Wars, these tribes were removed to the Coast Indian Reservation, now known as the Siletz Reservation.


Wasco-Wishram are two closely related Chinook Indian tribes from the Columbia River in Oregon. Today the tribes are part of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs living in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon and Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation living in the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington.

Upper Chinook, endonym Kiksht, also known as Columbia Chinook, and Wasco-Wishram after its last surviving dialect, is a recently extinct language of the US Pacific Northwest. It had 69 speakers in 1990, of whom 7 were monolingual: five Wasco and two Wishram. In 2001, there were five remaining speakers of Wasco.

The Tillamook are a Native American tribe from coastal Oregon of the Salish linguistic group. The name "Tillamook" is a Chinook language term meaning "people of [the village] Nekelim ", sometimes it is given as a Coast Salish term, meaning "Land of Many Waters". The Tillamook tribe consists of several divisions and dialects, including :

Tenino people

The Tenino people, commonly known today as the Warm Springs bands, are several Sahaptin Native American subtribes which historically occupied territory located in the North-Central portion of the American state of Oregon. The Tenino people included four localized subtribes — the Tygh or "Upper Deschutes" divided in Tayxɫáma, Tiɫxniɫáma and Mliɫáma, the Wyam (Wayámɫáma) (Wayámpam) or "Lower Deschutes", also known as "Celilo Indians", the Dalles Tenino or "Tinainu (Tinaynuɫáma)", also known as "Tenino proper"; and the Dock-Spus (Tukspush) (Takspasɫáma) or "John Day."

The Kathlamet people are a tribe of Native American people with a historic homeland along the Columbia River in what is today southwestern Washington state. The Kathlamet people originally spoke the Kathlamet language, a dialect of the Chinookan language. They were also called "Guasámas, or Guithlamethl, by the Clackamas", and "Kwillu'chini, by the Chinook."

The Willapa or Willoopah, also known as Kwalhioqua, were a Northern Athapaskan-speaking people in southwestern Washington, United States. Their territory was the valley of the Willapa River and the prairie between the headwaters of the Chehalis and Cowlitz Rivers.

Lower Chinook is a Chinookan language spoken at the mouth of the Columbia River on the west coast of North America.

Native American peoples of Oregon

The Native American peoples of Oregon are the set of Indigenous peoples who have inhabited or who still inhabit the area delineated in today's state of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. While the state of Oregon currently maintains relations with nine federally recognized tribal groups, the state was previously home to a much larger number of autonomous tribal groups, which today either no longer exist or have been absorbed into these larger confederated entities. Six of the nine tribes gained federal recognition in the late 20th century, after undergoing the termination and restoration of their treaty rights starting in the 1950s.

The Western Oregon Indian Termination Act or Public Law 588, was passed in August 1954 as part of the United States Indian termination policy. It called for the termination of federal supervision over the trust and restricted property of numerous Native American bands and small tribes, all located west of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. The act also called for disposition of federally owned property which had been bought for the administration of Indian affairs, and for termination of federal services which these Indians received under federal recognition. The stipulations in this act were similar to those of most termination acts.


  1. 1 2 Wilson, Katie (7 October 2014). "Recognition move by Oregon tribe stirs Chinook concerns". Chinook Observer. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  2. The term "Chinook" also has a wider meaning in reference to the Chinook Jargon, which is based on Chinookan languages, in part, and so the term "Chinookan" was coined by linguists to distinguish the older language from its offspring, Chinuk Wawa.
  9. 1 2 Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1993; pg. 42.
  10. 1 2 Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, p. 43.
  11. Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, p. 39.
  12. 1 2 Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 47.
  13. 1 2 Amy McFall Prince, "Feds revoke tribe's status", The Daily News (TDN), 6 July 2002; accessed 25 November 2016
  14. "Chinook tribe pushes for recognition, again". The Oregonian, p A1+. The Oregonian. November 30, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
  15. Federal Register, Volume 66, Number 6 (Tuesday, January 9, 2001)
  16. For the 2001 recognition, see 66 Federal Register 1690 (2001) at Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine ; for the subsequent reversal, see 67 Federal Register 46204 (2002) at [ permanent dead link ]
  17. Solomon, Molly. "Chinook Tribe A Step Closer To Recognition As Federal Judge Advances Claims". Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  18. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2019-06-22. Retrieved 2005-06-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. The Clackamas Chinook people
  20. Chinook Indian Nation - Our Coast
  22. the ″Wahkiakum″ are often mistaken for the Lower Snake River Sahaptin-speaking local group or band of ″Wauyukma″
  23. "President Obama, Hillary Clinton pay tribute to slain Chinook member Stevens", Chinook Observer Newspaper, September 14, 2012 Archived January 19, 2013, at
  24. Chuck Williams. "Kalliah Tumulth (Indian Mary) (1854-1906)". The Oregon Encyclopedia .

Further reading

*Who's Who in the Chinook tribes

*Lewis and Clark PBS