A brief history
The Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw were the original human groups to inhabit the central and southcentral Oregon coast, which included the Coos Bay, Umpqua and Siuslaw estuaries. Their lands were part of what later became several counties. The Coos spoke the Hanis and Milluk languages; the Lower Umpqua, Athapascan; and Siuslaw, Kuitsch and Siuslaw.
Social life consisted of extended families supervised by a headman. Because of close family ties, marriages were sought outside of their communities, which consisted of winter villages and summer camps. Dwellings were constructed of cedar planks. Winter villages were usually located near a regular water source, such as a spring or large stream. Summer camps were erected upstream to follow the fish migrations. Women collected berries, roots and nuts. In addition, their rich diet consisted of seafood, game, sea bird eggs and other delicacies. Deer and elk skins were fashioned into garments and blankets. Baskets were woven using a variety of materials, from conifers to grasses. Nearly everything had a spirit, and spirits could exert a positive influence on people's lives. Young people set out on vision quests to locate their spirit power. To become a shaman, one had to possess five powers.
During the mid-16th century, Spanish, then British explorers touched the Oregon coast, but there was little contact with Indians. Fur trappers appeared in the early 1800s and struck up trade with the tribes. Such European diseases as smallpox arrived with the white man's penetration into the area and sickened the tribes. Settlers made their appearance in the 1850s. They were hungry for land, but federal law precluded acquisition of Indian territories without a signed treaty. The Coos, Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes became a confederation with the signing of the Treaty of August 1855, which promised a supposedly protective relationship with the federal government in exchange for relegation to reservation life. Along with loss of their homelands to white settlement, federal promises of just treatment were persistently broken over the ensuing 100 years.
In 1856, the bloody Rogue River War broke out between whites and Indians to the south. The military decided to prevent the Coos, Umpqua and Siuslaw from getting involved by rounding up most of them and putting them in Fort Umpqua, a new structure on a spit of the Umpqua River. In 1860, they were moved to the Alsea subagency in Yachats. In 1876, the subagency was handed over to white settlement and the tribes were assigned to the Siletz Reservation, which created a major disruption among the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw bands. Many declined to move.
The 1855 treaty left bitter and lasting memories among descendants. The Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw allied to seek redress and make land claims. The struggle was slow and difficult. In 1941, 6.1 acres of donated land were made available to the tribes for a reservation, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs constructed a tribal hall on the property. In 1956, the Congress terminated its relationship with the confederation, which was stoutly opposed by the bands. In 1984, however, the government reversed its stance and restored recognition of the tribes.
A recent major project of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians has been to construct their Three Rivers Casino in Florence.
The confederation today
There are more than 700 confederation members with 50 full-time employees. Their tribal organization consists of a general council comprising all members over the age of 18. Among several other functions, they vote in tribal elections, elect tribal council members and offer that body advice.
The tribal council is headed by an elected tribal chief and is made up of six elected members who choose a chair and vice chair from among themselves. The council exercises the executive and legislative authority of the tribes, except those powers held by the general council.
The tribal administration manages confederation affairs and carries out the legislative enactments of the general and tribal councils. In addition, it ensures delivery of services to all members.
A tribal court exercises jurisdiction over the confederation members in such matters as employee rights, housing and evictions, and appeals.
The following tribal health and prevention programs are provided by the confederation:
A health department offering contract services, mental health services and a dental clinic;
a family services department with referrals to treatment programs;
an elders program;
outreach offices with an emphasis on prevention; and
a tribal welfare program.
The confederation education and employment program offers adult basic education, higher education and employment assistance, among other functions.
The confederation offers several affordable housing assistance programs that benefit more than 100 tribal families a month.
The objectives of the natural resource department are:
"To enhance and protect the natural resources of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians while also supporting the tribes and the local communities' long-term need for economic growth."
In addition to the main office in Coos Bay
, a tribal branch office is located at 4969 North Hwy 101, Florence, OR 97439 (541-997-6685). Another area office is located at 1126 Gateway Loop, Springfield
, OR 97477 (541-744-9300).
Major confederation events
Several happenings reflect the life of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw bands.The Spring Family Culture Night involves such groups as the Medicine Dancers that demonstrate and teach ancient dance. In addition, participants have learned wild game harvesting, root digging, first salmon catch and naming ceremonies.
The weekly Circle of Woman is an opportunity for tribal women to gather for "education, relaxation, restoration and plain old fun!"
Such activities for young members as swimming and skating at various locations.