Yakama Indian Nation
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The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation are descendents of 14 tribes and bands that were federally recognized under the Yakama Treaty of 1855. The 1,377,034-acre reservation is located in southcentral Washington, along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range.
The current spelling of "Yakama" was reintroduced in 1994 by the tribe to return to the original spelling.
The Yakama were one of several Native American groups who lived in similar ways on the Columbia Plateau of today's Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Their economy was based on fishing, hunting, gathering, and intertribal trading of such items as fish products, baskets, dogs and horses*.
The seasons drew them to various parts of the plateau. In the winter, people lived along interior rivers in villages of tule-mat lodges, and subsisted on dried foods. In March they trekked to root grounds and camped with neighboring Indians. In May or June salmon began to travel up the Columbia River. Then the Yakama moved to the lower Columbia to catch and preserve the fish. In the fall they went into the Cascade Mountains to pick berries and hunt, while drying their victuals for the winter.
In accordance with a profound connectedness the Yakama felt to their environment, they gave thanks for their foods through spiritual ceremonies. In the 19th century, the Catholic missionary Charles Pandosy introduced them to Christianity.
The Yakama encountered the Lewis and Clark Expedition near the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers in 1805. Not long thereafter, American and British trappers introduced ready-made goods to the Yakama. Homesteaders, miners and others would follow in increasing numbers.
To accommodate an insatiable white demand for land and resources, Washington territorial governor and Indian agent Isaac Stevens concluded the Yakama Treaty with the Yakama and 13 other tribes and bands on June 9, 1855. In signing the treaty, the Indians ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States. Although the Yakama themselves ceded 10,828,800 acres to the U.S. government, they reserved their right to fish, hunt and gather within the ceded area. The tribes and bands also agreed to move to a new reservation and receive federal benefits.
The treaty stipulated two years to allow the tribes and bands to relocate on the new reservation, but Governor Stevens threw open Indian lands for white settlers less than two weeks after the treaty was signed. A Yakama chief, Kamiakin, called upon the tribes to oppose the declaration. Some of the tribes joined forces under Kamiakin. The Indians managed to fight off U.S. soldiers for about three years in the uprising called the Yakima War (1855-1858). Other Indians in the territory rose up as well. In September 1858, at the Battle of Four Lakes near Spokane, the Indians were decisively defeated. Kamiakan escaped to Canada, but two dozen other leaders were apprehended and executed.
Most of the Yakama and other tribes then moved onto the reservation where numerous Sahaptin dialects, Chinookan, Salish and English languages converged. They led a harrowing existence. White agents ran the reservation intending to assimilate the internees into American society. A boarding school was established at Fort Simcoe on the reservation to educate and indoctrinate Indian children. Confinement on the reservation contributed to a social breakdown, ill health, alcoholism, and such other problems as high infant mortality.
Agents also compelled Indians to grow crops on the reservation, but they farmed without enthusiasm. Many struggled to fish, hunt, and gather, but the old ways had been disrupted. The Yakama gradually lost access to fishing and hunting lands, as well as to areas with roots and berries; non-Indians had started farms and ranches on ceded Yakama land. Whites let their livestock feed on roots and berries. Irrigation projects destroyed Yakima River salmon runs and plowing ruined plant and animal habitat.
In accordance with a new federal policy in the late 1800s, government agents began to break up the reservation into 80-acre allotments for individual Indians, to encourage tillage. By 1914, 4,506 tribal members held 440,000 allotted acres, leaving 780,000 acres owned by the tribe as a whole.
Later in the 1900s, however, nearly all tillable acreage was purchased out of Indian hands. Such towns as Toppenish and Wapato were established on lands purchased from Indian allotments. Various entities threatened to confiscate Indian water. County, state and federal governments promoted development, including road and railroad construction, as well as the massive Wapato Irrigation Project. Whites sought through official channels to restrict the movement of Yakama people on the Columbia Plateau.
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. The federal government had acknowledged Yakama fishing rights in the treaty of 1855, but later, county and state officials opposed native fishing rights. As a result of legal battles culminating in the historic Boldt decision of 1974, the federal government reaffirmed Yakama fishing rights and made the tribe a co-manager of fishery resources with the state of Washington.
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