Yakama Indian Reservation

Last updated

Confederated Tribes and Bands
of the Yakama Nation
Yakima Indian Reservation map.png
Map of the Yakama Indian Reservation
Total population
31,799 (2000)
Regions with significant populations
United States (Washington)
English, Ichishkíin Sínwit
Related ethnic groups
other Klikitat, Palus, Wallawalla, Wanapam, Wenatchi, Wishram, and Yakama peoples [1]

The Yakama Indian Reservation (spelled Yakima until 1994) is a Native American reservation in Washington state of the federally recognized tribe known as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. [2] The tribe is made up of Klikitat, Palus, Wallawalla, Wanapam, Wenatchi, Wishram, and Yakama peoples. [1]


Geography and topography

The reservation is located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in southern Washington state. The eastern portion of Mount Adams lies within this territory. According to the United States Census Bureau, the reservation covers 2,185.94 square miles (5,661.56 km²) and the population in 2000 was 31,799. It lies primarily in Yakima and the northern edge of Klickitat counties. The largest city on the reservation is Toppenish.

About 80% of the reservation's land is held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of the tribe and tribal members. [3] The remaining 20% of the reservation's land is privately owned. [3] [4]

Some 410,000 acres of the reservation are shrub-steppe rangeland; as of 2014, about 15,000 wild horses roamed these landsan unsustainable population, many times what the land can support. [5]


The reservation was created in 1855 by a treaty signed by Washington Territory Gov. Isaac Stevens and representatives of the Yakama tribe. Several Native leaders believed that those representatives did not have the authority to cede communal land and had not properly gained consensus from the full council or tribe. A dispute over the treaty conditions led to the Yakima War (1855–1858), which the Yakama and allied tribes waged against the United States.

Following the Bannock War of 1878, the United States government forced the Northern Paiute people out of Nevada and onto the Yakama Reservation, although most had not been involved in the war. The more than 500 Paiute in Washington were subjected to privation for more than a decade before being allowed to return to Nevada. [6] They were forced to compete for the limited resources and housing on the reservation with peoples who had been established there for decades. The Paiute did not return to Nevada until the 1886 expansion of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation permitted them to reunite with their Western Shoshone brethren. [7]

In 1994, the Yakima Tribal Council unanimously voted to change the spelling of the tribe's name from Yakima to Yakama, matching the spelling of the 1855 treaty. [8] The pronunciation remained the same. [8] [9]

The Yakama reservation was affected by the Cougar Creek fire, one of the 2015 Washington wildfires. About 80% of the Cougar Creek fire burned on reservation land. The Yakama responded by salvage logging. [10]


Roughly 10,000 people were enrolled members of the Yakama Nation in 2009. [11] The required blood quantum for tribal membership is 14. [12]


The Yakama Nation suffers from high poverty and unemployment; a 2005 report indicated that 42.8% of Yakama Nation families lived in poverty. [13] As of 2017, there was a wait list of 1,800 families for tribal housing, and high rates of homelessness. [14] In 2016, an encampment at the reservation was set up by about 130 people evicted from tribal housing. [15] Members of the tribe responded by building tiny houses, [15] but the structures do not have plumbing and are not viewed as a permanent solution. [14]

The tribe undertakes forest management activities, including a lumber mill that supports several hundred jobs in the region. [10]

The tribe operates a casino, one of the few Native American casinos in the United States that are "dry" (alcohol-free). [16]

Law and government

The governance of the tribe is the responsibility of a 14-member tribal council, elected by a vote of the tribe's members. [3]

In 1963, most criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal members was transferred from the tribe to the Washington state government under Public Law 280. (Misdemeanors and traffic infractions continued to be handled by the tribe.) [17] From 1983 to April 1993, thirteen women were killed on the reservation, and two other women disappeared in the early 1990s; none of the cases were solved, fueling native distrust of the FBI. [18]

In 2016, full criminal jurisdiction over tribal members reverted to the tribe, along with jurisdiction over the five civil areas of "compulsory school attendance, public assistance, domestic relations, juvenile delinquency and operations of motor vehicles on public roads and highways on the reservation." [17]

The Yakama Nation bans alcohol on tribal land, including its casino and convenience store, as well as on tribal powwows and other ceremonies. [19] In 2000, the tribal council voted to extend its alcohol ban to the entirety of the 1.2-million-acre reservation, including private land owned by the estimated 20,000 non-tribal members who lived on the reservation. [19] [20] Washington state, represented by its state attorney general, sued the tribe. [4] [20] The suit was dismissed on ripeness grounds, because the ban had not yet been enforced against non-tribal members or on privately owned land. [21] [3] In 2001, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington issued an opinion letter stating that federal prosecutors would enforce existing federal liquor laws, but would not enforce a ban on the sale of alcohol on privately owned, non-Indian communities within the reservation. [21] [3]

The reservation has struggled with substance abuse over a series of decades. [16] Although the recreational use of marijuana is generally legal in Washington state under Initiative 502 (enacted by voters in 2012), the Yakama have sought to block the issuance of licenses for the legal marijuana cultivation and sales on their lands; in 2014, the tribe filed challenges to almost 1,300 pending applications for marijuana business licenses in the 10-county area on which the reservation is located. [16] [22]

Crime and public safety

In February 2018, the Yakama tribal council Yakamas passed a resolution declared a public safety crisis in response to a surge of crime on the reservation, particularly in White Swan. The resolution sought to impose greater penalties on tribal members who commit crimes (including the loss of treaty rights to hunt and fish, as well as banishment from the tribe) and stated that non-members who committed crimes on the reservation could be excluded from the reservation. [23]

In June 2019, the tribal council said that the reservation was plagued by drug use and violent crime, as well as "disregard for the rule of law and general civil unrest" and responded by imposing a youth curfew, establishing a telephone hotline for reporting crime, and increasing penalties for theft and assault. [24] The announcement came after five people were killed in White Swan on the reservation in a shooting earlier that month. [24]



  1. 1 2 Pritzker 260
  2. Indian Entities Recognized by and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, 84 Fed. Reg. 1200 (February 1, 2019).
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Mark T. Baker, The Hollow Promise of Tribal Power to Control the Flow of Alcohol into Indian Country, 88 Va. L. Rev. 685 (2002).
  4. 1 2 Robert J. Haupt, "Never Lay a Salmon on the Ground with His Head toward the River": State of Washington Sues Yakamas over Alcohol Ban, 26 Am. Indian L. Rev. 67 (2001).
  5. Kate Prengaman, "Yakima land can't sustain growing wild horse population," Yakima Herald-Republic (January 6, 2014).
  6. Omer Stewart, Review: "Gae Whitney Canfield, 'Sarah Winnemucca of the Northern Paiutes', Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1983", Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology, 5(2), 1983. Retrieved February 12, 2014.
  7. "Cultural Department". Sho-Pai Tribes. Archived from the original on February 6, 2015. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  8. 1 2 'Yakamas' Alter Spelling of Tribe, Seattle Times News Services (January 26, 1994).
  9. Clifford E. Trafzer, "Infant Mortality on the Yakama Indian Reservation, 1914-1964" in Medicine Ways: Disease, Health, and Survival Among Native Americans (eds. Clifford E. Trafzer & Diane E. Weiner: AltaMira Press, 2001), p. 91.
  10. 1 2 Timothy Brown, For Native Foresters, Land Management About More than Economics and Timber, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (May 20, 2016).
  11. Phil Ferolito, Yakama Nation casino fined for distributing profits to tribal members, Yakima Herald-Republic (November 11, 2009).
  12. Esmy Jimenez, Dating Is Hard Enough, Harder as a Yakama Nation Member Mindful of Tribal Identity, Jefferson Public Radio, February 20, 2018.
  13. Programmatic Environmental Assessment: Yakama Nation Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture (September 2005), p. 3-41.
  14. 1 2 Lauren Dake, The quiet crisis: mass eviction shows toll of homelessness on Native Americans, The Guardian (June 12, 2017).
  15. 1 2 Yakama Nation building tiny houses for homeless, Associated Press (October 11, 2016).
  16. 1 2 3 Maria L. La Ganga, Yakama tribe just says no to Washington state's legal pot market, Los Angeles Times (December 21, 2013).
  17. 1 2 Phil Ferolito, Yakamas celebrate return of jurisdiction over civil, criminal law, Yakima Herald (April 23, 2016).
  18. Timothy Egan, 13 Unsolved Deaths Feed Indian Mistrust of F.B.I., New York Times (April 18, 1993).
  19. 1 2 Tribe Votes to Go Dry, Associated Press (April 8, 2000).
  20. 1 2 Indians and Washington State Are at Odds Over Alcohol Ban, Associated Press (October 10, 2000).
  21. 1 2 Feds will enforce existing liquor laws, Associated Press (April 1, 2001).
  22. Jonathan Kaminsky, Indian tribe seeks pot business ban in part of Washington state, Reuters (March 24, 2014).
  23. Phil Ferolito, Yakamas declare public safety crisis, call for harsher punishment for criminals on reservation, Yakima Herald (February 9, 2018).
  24. 1 2 Mihir Zaveri, Killing of 5 on Indian Reservation Underscores Challenge With Violent Crime, New York Times (June 12, 2019).

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Coordinates: 46°14′00″N120°49′19″W / 46.23333°N 120.82194°W / 46.23333; -120.82194