“We wish to be left alone in the lands of our forefathers, whose bones lie in the sand hills and along the trails, but a pale-face stranger has come from a distant land and send word to us that we must give up our country…Where can we go? There is no place left…My people, the Great Spirit has his eyes upon us. He will be angry if, like cowardly dogs, we give up our lands to the whites. Better to die like brave warriors on the battlefield, than live among our vanquishers, despised. Our young men and women would speedily become debauched (destroyed) by their fire water and we should perish as a race.~Kamiakin, Head Chief of the Yakama Nation~ c. 1800-1878
The Yakama were hunters and gatherers who supplemented their food supply by fishing and trading with other tribes. Initially they occupied the territory along the Columbia and Yakima Rivers on the plateau north of the Columbia, on the inland side of the Cascade Range.
In 1805, the Yakama people encountered the Lewis and Clark Expedition where the Yakima River merges with the Columbia River. Soon after this encounter, both American and British trappers followed, bringing with them goods to trade with the Yakama people. In increasing numbers white settlers searching for land and resources continued to arrive in Yakama territory.
In order to accommodate the increasing demand for land and resources, Isaac Stevens, who during this time was the governor of Washington created the Yakama Treaty with the Yakama and 14 other tribes in 1855. In signing the treaty, the Yakama ceded approximately 11 million acres of land to the U.S. government, with the stipulation that they [the Yakama] reserved the right to fish and hunt on the land. In addition, the Yakama and other tribes would move to a new reservation and receive federal benefits.
Another provision of the Treaty was that the tribes would have time to relocate to the new reservation. However, very soon after the treaty was signed, Governor Stevens, in order to expedite the sale of land to white settlers, threatened to remove the Indians by force.
As a consequence of this broken promise, Kamiakin, a Yakama chief, encouraged the tribes to fight the Steven’s declaration and the settlers. Many of the tribes joined forces under Chief Kamiakin, while other Indians joined forces under leaders of various tribes in the area.
This was beginning of the uprising known as the Yakima Indian War, which lasted from 1855 until 1858.
In September of 1858, at the Battle of Four Lakes near Spokane, Kamiakin and his warriors were defeated. Kamiakan refused to surrender, and escaped to Canada, but two dozen other leaders were apprehended and executed.
As a result of this defeat, most of the Yakama Indians were forcibly moved to the reservation, where white agents took charge of the Indians, intending to assimilate them into American society. A boarding school was established at Fort Simcoe on the reservation to educate and indoctrinate Indian children.
Eventually, this confinement and forced assimilation contributed to a rise in alcoholism, poor health, and other problems among the Yakama. In addition, the Yakama gradually lost access to fishing and hunting lands. In accordance with a new U.S. policy in the late 1800s, government agents began to break up the reservation into 80-acre allotments for individual Indians, supposedly to encourage farming.
Later in the 1900s, Federal government promoted the construction of roads, railroads, and the Wapato Irrigation Project. The Yakama Indians found that they were confined even more by these new constructions.
In 1933, the Yakama organized as the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation. The Yakama have focused on self-sufficiency and economic independence since World War II. In the Boldt decision of 1974, the federal government reaffirmed Yakama Indian fishing rights and made the tribe a co-manager of fishery resources with the state of Washington.
Tribalpedia Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. What was the name of the expedition that the Yakama encountered In 1805?
2. What was the name of the treaty signed by the Yakama and Governor Stevens?
3. Why did Governor Stevens threaten to remove the Yakama by force?
4. Who was Kamiakin, and why is he remembered by the Yakama?
The Yakama Today
Today the nation is governed by the Yakama Tribal Council, which consists of representatives of 14 tribes and bands. Many tribal members engage in ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial fishing for salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon in the Columbia River and its tributaries within land ceded by the tribe to the United States. The Yakama have several programs that help all members of the tribe. The Adult Vocational Training Program provides individuals with vocational training and Direct Employment grant assistance. The Behavioral Health program provides counseling services for children, families, and adults. The community Health Program is providing improvement on health status, instituting health promotion and disease prevention.
The Cultural Resources Program preserves and perpetuates the care for Yakama legendary sites, and places. The Food Distribution Program provides needy families with USDA grant Commodity Foods that are on the Reservation and also helping with Energy Assistance to qualifying households. The mission of the Yakama Nation Higher Education Program is to provide eligible Yakama tribal members the opportunity to attend an accredited postsecondary institution and earn college degrees which will enhance their ability to gain employment in professional fields. In addition to other positive signs of progress, the tribe owns theYakama Nation Cultural Center, and the Yakama Nation Legends Casino
Yakama Myth: Creation of the Yakima world
In the beginning of the world, all was water.
Whee-me-me-ow-ah, the Great Chief Above, lived up in the sky all alone.
When he decided to make the world, he went down to the shallow places in the water and began to throw up great handfuls of mud that became land.
He piled some of the mud so high that it froze hard and made the mountains. When the rain came, it turned into ice and snow on top of the high mountains. Some of the mud was hardened into rocks.
Since that time the rocks have not changed – they have only become harder.
The Great Chief Above made trees grow on the earth, and also roots and berries.
He made a man out of a ball of mud and told him to take fish from the waters, and deer and other game from the forests.
When the man became lonely, the Great Chief Above made a woman to be his companion and taught her how to dress skins, how to find bark and roots, and how to make baskets out of them. He taught her which berries to gather for food and how to pick them and dry them. He showed her how to cook the salmon and the game that the man brought.
Once when the woman was asleep, she had a dream, and in it she wondered what more she could do to please the man.
She prayed to the Great Chief Above for help. He answered her prayer by blowing his breath on her and giving her something which she could not see or hear, smell or touch.
This invisible something was preserved in a basket. Through it, the first woman taught her daughters and granddaughters the designs and skills which had been taught her.
But in spite of all the things the Great Chief Above did for them, the new people quarreled.
They bickered so much that Mother Earth was angry, and in her anger she shook the mountains so hard that those hanging over the narrow part of Big River fell down.
The rocks, falling into the water, dammed the stream and also made rapids and waterfalls. Many people and animals were killed and buried under the rocks and mountains.
Someday the Great Chief Above will overturn those mountains and rocks. Then the spirits that once lived in the bones buried there will go back into them.
At present those spirits live in the tops of the mountains, watching their children on the earth and waiting for the great change which is to come. The voices of these spirits can be heard in the mountains at all times. Mourners who wail for their dead hear spirit voices reply, and thus they know that their lost ones are always near.
We did not know all this by ourselves; we were told it by our fathers and grandfathers, who learned it from their fathers and grandfathers. No one knows when the Great Chief Above will overturn the mountains.
But we do know this: the spirits will return only to the remains of people who in life kept the beliefs of their grandfathers.
Only their bones will be preserved under the mountains.
Yakama Myth: Ella Clark in 1953. Native Lore