Maps of Oregon tribal regions have existed since 1805. Lewis and Clark published the first maps in 1810 and their hand-drawn maps date to 1805-1806. Their drawings show the Chinookan peoples to have many villages, many settlements, and great diversity on the Columbia. Their journals emphasize the numbers of Chinookans from various tribes were found in villages far from their homes. Today, we now understand that what the expedition was documenting was the Columbia River Trade network, where thousands of villages and hundreds of tribes would send their traders to visit neighbors close and far to trade for unique wealth items and for other staples of their lifeways. But the Lewis and Clark maps do not note tribal nations, there appear to be no tribal borders on their maps, which is perhaps indicative of the brief time of their stay in the region, their unfamiliarity with the tribes, their lack of ability to communicate such things, and their orders from President Thomas Jefferson, to find a passage to the Pacific and to document the peoples and resources along their way. It has been suggested by me, that the expedition was spying upon the tribes of the Columbia, collecting intelligence to help politicians in the United States make decisions about colonizing the Northwest Coast. Their journey of intelligence gathering was hardly an innocuous “Corps of Discovery” as it has been framed by many historians.
Similarly, United States Exploring Expedition, or the “Wilkes Expedition,” of 1841 came into the Columbia River and traveled the Oregon coast, surveying the coastline and documenting the river depth, and tribes, and natural resources which they encountered on their trip. The expedition had numerous scientists, the Philologist and Ethnographer being Horatio Hale. Hale collected vocabularies of tribal languages from the Pacific, Oregon, and California, and descriptions of the tribes, in their characters and cultures. Hale’s descriptions can only be termed as “highly biased” as he tended to run down the character of the tribes in “racialized” language. Hale does publish his own Philology volume from the Expedition (12?) and likely had input into the maps created by Wilkes and his cartographers, two of which have references to tribal territories. The 1845 Wilkes expeditionary maps have some tribal names in their locations and a few divisions, likely based on very little understandings by Hale of the diversity of tribes, from his very short-term experience in the region, and perhaps little or no direct communication with native peoples of the tribes they place on the maps. Much of their information may have actually come from Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders, at Fort Vancouver, who had extensive interaction with the tribes but may not have known exact territories and boundaries.
The next two government-produced maps are the Gibbs-Starling and Belden maps of 1851 and 1855. These maps are based on tribal territories identified during the treaty-making talks between the tribes and the federal Indian agents. The 1851 Gibbs-Starling map was produced during the meetings which took place over 2 weeks in May 1851, at Champoeg, Oregon, between the Willamette Valley tribes and the Willamette Valley Treaty Commission. The notes and transcript from the commission suggest that the tribes were able to stand over the map and point out their territories during the proceedings. George Gibbs and Edmund A. Starling were at the proceedings and were able to directly record their claims. Interesting enough, the Indian Superintendent of Oregon, Anson Dart, took over the treaty-making responsibilities after this time, and for his later meetings at Tansey Point, Port Orford, and Oregon city, there were no maps made of tribal land claims. These 1851 treaties, however, did record their claims, a description of their lands, in narrative language. These 1851 treaties were never ratified by the U.S. Congress. Very few ethnographers appear to have used these treaties when conducting research on the tribes, even though there is significant information in them about the tribes, where they lived and even native placenames. There do not appear to be any published maps created from the areas covered by the treaties besides those recorded on the Gibbs-Starling map. It may be because the treaties were originally lost in the NARA archives in Washington, D.C. for some 50 years. and many ethnographers either did not know about them or did not think them important enough to access for their studies. As well since they were never ratified, they have lesser value compared to the ratified treaties that came later, from 1853 to 1855. However, the 1851 treaties do give us a snapshot into the tribal lands of 1851.
Similarly, the 1855 Belden Map is drawn to record all of the land-claims or ceded lands of all Oregon tribes up until 1855. The boundaries are again, drawn so that there is no overlap and no unclaimed territory.
It initially struck me as strange that the Molalla tribes are noted to claim the whole of the Cascades Range in Oregon, while ethnographically, they actually lived within and had villages in the western foothills on the eastern side of the Willamette Valley. As well, tribes like the Wascos, Klamaths, Paiutes, Kalapuyans, and Molallans all utilized the Cascades for the same purposes, picking berries, using trade trails, and hunting elk. So how can the Molallans be assigned, on nearly all tribal territorial maps, the whole of the Cascades as their traditional home when so many other tribes utilized the same range and no tribes appeared to live there? There may very well be an answer in the mission of the federal Indian agents, to purchase all of the Tribally-held lands for the United States. Within this mission there was no room for unclaimed lands or lands commonly used by several tribes. These federal agents likely did not perceive of such a thing, they would perceive of the tribes as sovereign nations (as is appropriate), and had to treat them as such for treaty-making, and as any sovereign nation, they could not have overlapping claims to the same lands. The model for American land-claims was very European, imbedded in a western civilization model, where shared lands or overlapping claims did not occur, and so it was not conceivable from the “Euro-American” perspective that Tribal nations would have such a thing. If this reasoning holds, then some tribes may have been assigned larger and more expansive land-claims, into commonly used areas like the Cascades, so that the United States could buy all tribal claims, and own all the land, without any unpurchased lands. This constitutes a political and legal claim as established by the United States, and tribes today are bound to these legally defined claims because of their ratified treaties which guarantee some level of responsibility of the federal government to the tribes and establishes (creates) a land base for tribal rights. Even so, tribes could choose to adopt a more traditional model in their working relationships with one another, one which recognizes that some lands were commonly held shared areas for specific types of activities, otherwise they will continue operating under a vision of land ownership and land-claims completely defined by the United States.
Ethnographically drawn maps begin with the Wilkes maps of 1845 and continue with those from George Gibbs in 1877, and a great many more such maps created in the 20th century. Most maps follow that of Wilkes or adopt the base descriptions of ethnographers from periods 1841-1900. Even linguists’ maps tend to follow suit and base their tribal cultural boundaries on the original federal maps. Few maps try to designate the political boundaries of tribes based on ethnographic descriptions and none access Native peoples’ perspectives about their own lands. It does seem interesting that on the Gibbs-Starling map, there are no spaces between tribal land-claims, and there is no overlap in their claims, because, when we compare the map to ethnographic evidence of what areas the tribes living in, traveled to, or utilized for hunting, gathering, fishing or even trading, we find that there is significant evidence that the tribes had overlapping land-claims.
Today, tribal territories are significant issues in conflicts over tribal casino siting, tribal fishing rights, and tribal land management rights. Tribes are working on or have established maps of their ceded lands, based on lands ceded to the U.S. by treaties. These maps also incorporate Usual and Accustomed places (U & A) which are cultural use areas documented in tribal narratives. These maps as almost completely tribally produced, but again much of their ceded lands boundaries are heavily informed by the federal treaty-making goal to buy all the land. The larger contemporary U & A land-claims are analogous to the original traditional ethnographic claims of the tribes. These U & A maps do not always show it, but when comparing them to the footprints of maps of neighboring tribes, there is significant overlap in the land-claims.
The overlapping claims are now a significant place of contention between tribes when there are cultural resources management needs. In Oregon, resources like Willamette Falls has significant salmon and lamprey runs. There are now at least five tribes with claims to Willamette Falls, Grand Ronde, Siletz, Warm Springs, Cowlitz and Yakima. Grand Ronde has the most significant claim, because the original Clackamas people who lived at the falls for as long as 10,000 years, and who signed the Willamette Valley Treaty, removed to Grand Ronde. Siletz claims this same treaty and has individuals in the tribe who relate to the Clackamas through intermarriage and resettlement. Similarly, Warm Springs, Yakima, and Cowlitz have various levels of claims to the falls through U & A claims, mainly from stories of their peoples using the falls for trade or fishing. There is also a significant history of Warm Springs peoples coming to the falls in the last 50+ years just before or after their traditional fishing areas on the Columbia and at Celilo were inundated by dams. There is as well a history of intermarriage in the region that predates treaties and reservations, which makes all of the tribal peoples in the region one larger tribe of interrelated families, some of whom may have had familial rights to fish at the falls previous to treaties and removal.
It seems reasonable to expect that the tribes need to understand their collective history better, to collectively agree to relieve themselves of the colonial layers of land claims and boundaries, and find a way to work together for mutual benefits. Understandings of why federal authorities created maps, for that purpose, really need to be looked at to understand better their influence over descendant maps concerning the tribes. Efforts need to be made to take corrective action concerning tribal ethnographic territories and cultures so that information known about the tribes, their resources, lifeways, and traditional homelands, is as close to the traditional culture as possible.
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.