Marriage Kinship among the Willamette Valley Tribes

Chinook woman, daughters, 19th century

Much is still not known about how marriages were arranged among the Kalapuya-Mollala-Clackamas tribes. Hints appear in ethnographic literature that still needs to be tracked down to greater specificity.  Generally, it is known that many marriages were arranged by the tribal chiefs and headmen. These arranged marriages were along political and economic lines of reasoning. It was considered preferable to marry your daughter to the son of a Chief of the Clackamas tribe, so that trade for dried salmon would be assured to include good prices and perhaps added benefits. Such marriages cemented relationships in the region so that they was very little war or conflict as everyone was interrelated. It was normally peoples from outside of your region where such conflict originated.

Molalla Encampment, Late 19th century
Mollala Encampment, Late 19th century

In the tribal triangle of kinships within the Kalapuya-Mollala-Clackamas tribes and bands, there was much bride purchase previous to settlement and the removal of the tribes to reservations in the mid-1850s. Then within the Kalapuya tribes there was much interrelatedness between all of the major tribes and bands, Santiam, Ha’lpam, Wapato Lake, Ahanchuyuk, Marys river, all had interrelationships. There were customs and laws among the tribes of the region regarding marriage. It was correct and lawful to marry outside of one’s tribe. Many of these marriages were arranged through annual trading gatherings, where young men and women would notice one another, have an attraction and would petition for marriage. If the genealogy was right, if they were not closely related, marriage could then move on to negotiations over the bride’s bride purchase price. Women of wealth and power would fetch a large price, many horses, blankets, etc. Once married the women would go to the man’s village to live. that was the way it was in this region. Some of the wealthy Chiefs took more than one wife.

When death of one or the other spouse occurred then other marriages could be arranged from the middle aged eligible partners. there was less of a protocol over marriage in this manner. But still the people would avoid marrying their direct cousins. there would be a feeling of guilt if this would occur, a feeling that something was wrong and bad.

Wishram Bride, E. Curtis 1910
Wishram Bride, E. Curtis 1910

When White men came along, everything changed. Indian people were not adverse to marrying Whites and actually sought it out. Chief Concomley of Clatsop Nation actively sought to marry his sisters and daughters to men of the fur trading companies in order to have favorable relationships in the new fur trade. White men were seen as having great wealth and power and the tribes sought a bit of that by becoming related to them. Many Fur Traders married native women and settled in the region, in French Prairie and along the Columbia River. They took Kalapuyan, and Chinookan wives. then later they and their families removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation. There are examples of some of these White men being adopted into the tribes by the tribal leaders in the 19th century.

Grand Ronde Reservation
Grand Ronde Reservation

Everything changed at the reservation. Consolidated on a reservations, the resulting generations of Indians began marrying together, marrying their direct cousins. This was reinforced by new discriminatory notions that came through the Dawes act, that only people of 1/2 Indian blood or better could have an allotment. In this manner many people today have several bloodlines of interrelatedness and many five or more tribal ancestries. This enforced bloodedness was made possible by the subjugation of the tribal people on the reservation, with aspects of a prison; and the fact that they did not have the freedom to leave, which forced a closer interrelatedness. This was noted in the 1920s by Eustace Howard to Melville Jacobs when contributing to the oral history ethnographic and linguistic  research.

That’s very awful, bad, when they do that (i.e. make a relative one’s wife). Now these whites now when they got here now, since that time now, these people (Indian people) some they do get their relatives and make them their wives. That’s the way now it is in this land. Long ago however it wasn’t that way. Now it is different changed now, the earth.

This change in the way people are conceived of as Indian and Native changed the worldview of generations of tribal people through the Dawes act and enforced living on the reservation. Afterwards tribes began to believe in a concept of blood quantum as a real, true, representation of Indianness. This belief system is still in place today.

1840s Methodist Mission, O.T.
1840s Methodist Mission, O.T.

One thought on “Marriage Kinship among the Willamette Valley Tribes

  1. That girl in the picture resembled my Kalapuya grandmothers girl-hood pictures, she was from the Grand Ronde reservation. But, she was only two at the time of the picture. The resemblance makes me wonder if the girl could be a long ago relative.

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