Stop #17 — Native Americans

Native Americans


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There are many famous Native American tribes who played a part in the history of the state and whose tribal territories and homelands are located here.


Here’s an early photo of Klamath people in dugout canoes, between 1870-1900.


The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde represent almost thirty different tribes and bands that the U.S. government removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the nineteenth century. The history of the reservation—and how so many western Oregon Native people came to reside there—is long and complex.


The indigenous people had occupied the land thousands of years before the first European explorers arrived. The European invasion brought epidemic diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera, influenza, measles and smallpox. The Native Indians of Oregon had not developed immunities against these diseases resulting in huge losses in population.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition traversed the Columbia River, and spent time among various tribal groups categorized as Chinook. Peoples speaking dialects of the Chinookan language include the Kathlamet, Wasco and Wishram, Clatsop, and Clackamas nations. At the time of their expedition, Lewis and Clark estimated a population of approximately 16,000 for the various Chinook peoples, with other tribes in the Oregon Country pushing the total indigenous population to perhaps 50,000.


In the late nineteenth century, the people of the Umatilla and Warm Springs Reservations continued to live by seasonal rounds—hunting, gathering, and fishing at particular times of the year. White resettlement of former Indian lands made this difficult, contributing to the decline and ultimate destruction of Native economies in northeastern Oregon.

The Modoc War was one of the most dramatic American Indian wars in U.S. history. It began in November 1872 when the military tried to force a small band of Modoc Indians to a reservation. By the end, the Modocs were fighting off a force of nearly 1,000 men, made up of both military soldiers and civilian volunteers.


Celilo Falls was the oldest continuously inhabited community on the North American continent. The falls were the sixth-largest by volume in the world and were among the largest in North America. Celilo Falls and The Dalles were strategically located at the border between Chinookan and Sahaptian speaking peoples and served as an extensive trading network.


Kennewick Man, found on a bank of the Columbia in Kennewick in 1996, is one of the most complete ancient skeletons ever found. Radiocarbon tests on bone have shown it to date from 8.9k to 9k calibrated years before present. Kennewick Man became the subject of a controversial nine-year court case between the United States Army Corps of Engineers, scientists, and Native American tribes who claimed ownership of the remains.


In September 2016, the US House and Senate passed legislation to return the ancient bones to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes for reburial according to their traditions. The coalition includes the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids. The remains were buried on February 18, 2017, with 200 members of five Columbia Basin tribes, at an undisclosed location in the area.


The Portland metro area rests on traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other tribes and bands. These groups created communities and summer encampments along the Columbia and Willamette rivers and harvested and used the plentiful natural resources of the area for thousands of years.


Portland’s Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), which hosts cultural programming and other events, is located on what, to the Native community, is sacred ground. The site in contemporary Northeast Portland is recognized as the original location of an Indian village known as Neerchokikoo, dating to before 1792 and cited in Lewis and Clark’s journals. The Portland region is home to more than 40,000 Native American, Alaska Native and First Nations people.


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