The Chinook Nation is still seeking recognition in 2018, despite having one of the oldest and longest relationships with the United States of any tribe on the West Coast.
In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached their final destination on the Columbia River, within the territory of the Clatsop and other Chinookan tribes of the lower Columbia. The expedition built a cabin, Fort Clatsop, and lived there throughout the winter of 1805-1806. During this time, the expedition members interacted daily with Chinookan peoples, trading with them, having visits with tribal leaders and mapping and recording the territory up and down the coast, on behalf of the United States. Peaceful and welcoming hosts. the Clatsops namely Comcomly and other tribal leaders, aided the Americans in many ways. If not for the help of the natives in procuring food and, maintained a peaceful and trade relationship with the explorers. The lack of aggression helped the expedition to survive the Oregon winter. Winters in Oregon at the time were much harsher than today, it would get cold enough to freeze the Columbia with a solid sheet of ice. The Clatsop Chinookan people would not normally remain at their village at Pt. Adams through the harsh winter, but moved inland to a seasonal village site on one of the rivers, to shelter themselves from the cold and wind. The explorers had done nothing to lay up foods for the winter, and knew little or nothing about the native vegetables, and so were completely dependent on what they could capture, kill, or trade for. The Clatsops did have winter food stores as they normally planned ahead for winter survival, but had not planned on a party of explorers camped on their doorstep. Still they traded with the Americans, despite the harsh weather and rough conditions. In 1806 the expedition returned to the United States, roughly backtracking their path to the east while within Oregon.
The Lewis and Clark journals, population counts, and maps have since provided innumerable scholars with very early information about the tribes on the Columbia and connected rivers along the route of the expedition. Their information was also used by President Thomas Jefferson, and successive administrations in the expansionist-minded United States to decide to claim the Oregon Territory in contention with the British and Spanish Claims. Their journals then inspired explorers and fur traders to retrace their steps to the West to begin to gather the great wealth of the region noted in the maps and journals. In fact their journals may be the spark that inspired tens of thousands of Americans to sell everything in the east and travel for nine months over the Oregon Trail to find wealth and opportunity in the Willamette Valley and the West coast.
The Chinookans of the Lower Columbia continued to interact with successive rounds of explorers and traders on the Columbia. Chinookan Chiefs like Comcomly and Kiesno became wealthy through being intermediaries in the trade between the American, British fur companies, and the tribes of the region. Comcomly benefited greatly by being located near to Fort Astoria, and so grew wealthy in the early fur trade from 1811-1813. Then when the fort was taken by the British, Comcomly continued working with the British at the renamed Fort George in the fur trade until at least 1824.
That year, the British moved their operations to Fort Vancouver, which was in the territory of Chief Kiesno, who then became the primary leader to gain wealthy as an intermediary in the fur trade. Kiesno managed access to the fort for local tribes, assigning men to help with scouting, pulling in canoes, and hunting, and native women for working as maids and laborers inside the fort. Kiesno managed natives of many tribes that lived in the Indian village that grew up on the outskirts of the fort, named Kanaka Village because of the Hawaiians who established it there.
After the fur trade period, after 1850, the Chinookans continued to trade with the Americans who gained sole ownership of the the region below the 49th parallel in 1846 due to the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain. Many natives became fishermen, and boats-men, scouts and guides in various roles on the Columbia integrating into the new culture with their advanced knowledge of the environment and willingness to work hard. When factories were established to process salmon and other fishes for export, Native people were the laborers in most factories. The Chinookan peoples signed eight treaties with Anson Dart, Indian Superintendent of Oregon Indian Affairs in 1851, none of which were ratified. At Tansy Point, the treaty grounds, were also signed a treaty with the Klatskania Tribe (Athapaskan speakers) and with two Salish speaking tribes, the Tillamook, and the Naalem band of Tillamooks.
- Clatsop tribe of Indians- south side, at Pt. Adams
- The Lower band of Chinook Indians- the tribe directly opposite the Clatsops (north side of river)
- Quillequeoquas– Shoalwater bay (north of the Columbia on the coast)
- “Wallooska”– the sole remander of a tribe of Chinookans- (east of the Clatsops)
- Kathlamet band of Chinooks- East of the Clatsops on the south side of the river for some 40 miles (including Astoria)
- Konnaack bands of Chinooks
- Waukikum band of Chinook Indians
As well as three treaties with other tribes,
- Treaty with the Tillamooks– the country south of the Clatsops, to include Tillamook Bay
- Naalem Band of Tillamook Indians.
- Klatskania Indians
In January of 1855, the Lower Chinookans between the Cascades rapids and Oak Point signed onto the Willamette Valley treaty to be removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856 (apparently some tribes did not sign at first and Palmer left them the option of signing and removing later). The Lower Chinookans below Oak Point remained on their lands, and were integrating with the new economy and population settling the area. Some of these people were removed to the Quinault reservation and gained land allotments. Some people married with the settlers and remained in their original towns, towns now heavily settled by Americans. Some few others went to Grand Ronde and other reservations based on marriage and kinship.
The Chinookan Nation still maintained a government structure into the 20th century. They, along with hundreds of other tribes across the United States, began seeking payment for their lands, lands that were never paid for by the United States, well into the 20th century, until these “Indian Claims” were settled, some as late as the 1980’s. The tribes who had never been paid for their lands, which technically under US land laws meant that the tribes still owned their territories, because of their original Aboriginal occupation of the land. In the early 20th century, the un-ratified 1851 treaties of the tribes were found in the National Archives (NARA), and tribes who had never been paid for their lands, hired lawyers to sue the US for the money they were owed. These suits from tribes across the United States, were so many, and complicated, that the United States had to create a new court, the Court of Indian Claims, in about 1947, to decide legally and efficiently what was owed the tribes. The early records of the lawsuits can be interesting and valuable to scholars of Native histories in Oregon.
In 2001 the Chinook Nation was recognized by President Bill Clinton. Their recognition lasted some 18 months when President George W. Bush reversed their restoration effectively terminating the tribe. There are today two efforts to gain recognition for the two tribes of the unrecognized Chinook peoples, that of the Chinook Nation, and that of the Confederated tribes of Clatsop and Nehalem. Still today, these Chinookan tribes, who hosted and welcomed the first American explorers, are not recognized by the United States, even though they may be some of the most well-known of all tribes on the west coast.
The Marion County Historical Archives has some of the files of these claims. The Crawford Collection, has reports and appraisals related to the claims of the Tillamooks, Umpquas and Calapooias and Chinookans.
For further reading I suggest my textual source reference page.
Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher.
I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects.