Northcentral Oregon is home to a confederation of the bands of Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute Indians. Most of them reside on a 640,000-acre reservation flanked by the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Deschutes River to the east. The bands that now constitute the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs were the original inhabitants of central Oregon. Their traditional languages are Kiksht (Wasco), Sahaptin (Warm Springs) and Numu (Paiute).
A brief history
Many generations before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, the Wasco and Warm Springs tribes resided beside the Columbia River and Cascade Mountains. They followed a subsistence economy of fishing, hunting and gathering. In addition, they traded items with other tribes from as far away as the Puget Sound to California and east to the Great Plains. Their Wahsat religion stressed a spirit life in things animate and inanimate. Legends of animal people such as Coyote were orally transmitted from generation to generation. The Paiute ranged throughout the plateaus of southeast Oregon and beyond. Their lifeways varied significantly from the Warm Springs and Wasco tribes. Life on the high plains demanded wide and frequent migration in search of game. In addition, they did not fish as extensively.
With the onset of the 19th century, the traditional lifeways of the aboriginal bands in Oregon were disrupted by a trickle, then a flood of non-native outsiders from the east. In less than 10 years (1843-1852), the number grew from 1,000 to 12,000 settlers traversing Wasco and Warm Springs lands annually. The newcomers were aggressively hungry for land and bloody conflict erupted with the Indians who put up resistance.
To salvage their way of life, the Warm Springs and Wasco tribes inked a treaty with the United States in 1855. By the treaty terms, 10 million acres of aboriginal lands were relinquished to the United States. In exchange, 640,000 acres were reserved for the tribes' sole use. The parcel was dubbed the Warm Springs Reservation.
Aboriginal lifeways were altered drastically following the Wasco and Warm Springs tribes' move onto the reservation. It quickly became abundantly clear their former economic system was viable no longer. Moreover, federal policies intended to press the Indian people into the mainstream of white ways compelled the tribes to relinquish numerous traditional ways to make way for sawmills, schoolhouses and other alien introductions.
Thirty-eight Paiutes arrived at the reservation in 1879. They and other Paiutes had sided with the Bannock tribe in a bloody losing war against the U.S. Army, and were forced onto the Yakama Reservation and Fort Vancouver. More Paiutes would settle on the Warm Springs Reservation and become woven into the fabric of reservation life.
In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed into law the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), whose aim was to spark a fresh start for Native American communities and to foster tribes by means of autonomous governments of their own. The IRA acknowledged the wisdom of allowing tribal governments to run their own affairs and offered federal help to tribes agreeing its stipulations. After deliberation, the Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute tribes signed on in 1937, confederated, drew up a constitution and bylaws, and accepted a charter from the government for their business affairs. A series of confederation businesses and other accomplishments began to blossom, beginning in 1942 with the Warm Springs Lumber Company.
The confederation today
Today, the enrolled membership of all three tribes totals about 3,500. Most members reside on the reservation. In their own words:
"Despite the great loss of traditional culture that occurred as a result of settlement on the reservation, the people of the Warm Springs Reservation have succeeded in holding on to many of our ancient traditions and values. Our longhouses still ring with prayer songs that have been handed down for generations. Traditional feasts are still held each year. Indian languages are still spoken, and the old legends of Coyote and the other Animal People still told."
The tribal headquarters are in Warm Springs, the reservation's political and economic center. An 11-member council oversees tribal government. Eight represent reservation districts and are elected for three-year stints. Three are chiefs who serve for life. The Warm Springs tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service co-manage five watersheds on the reservation. USFWS also maintains a salmon hatchery.
A chief operating officer ensures that tribal programs are administered and delivered to confederation members. They include education, family services, legal services, public safety, public utilities, social services and tribal housing.
Tribal businesses include:
KWSO radio station
Warm Springs Power Enterprises
Warm Springs Forest Products Industries
Warm Springs Apparel Industries
Warm Springs Clothing Company
Warm Springs Crushing and Construction Company
Warm Springs Composite Products
The Museum at Warm Springs
Significant tribal activities
The tribes celebrate a number of festivals year round. They include special food feasts: the Celery Feast (concurrent with the Lincoln's Powwow), Root and Salmon Feast and Huckleberry Feast, during their respective seasons. The foods are believed to contain spiritual potency conferred by the Creator; thus they are honored and thanks are given for them.
The Pi-Ume-Sha Treaty Days Powwow, held in June, features dancing in all age categories, Indian stick games, an all-Indian rodeo, endurance race and numerous other activities.
Such athletic events as the Kah-Nee-Ta Mini Marathon in March and Kah-Nee-Ta Fun Run in October, as well as holiday-oriented activities, including the Warm Springs Christmas Bazaar and two New Year celebrations, enrich tribal life.
A monthly exhibit at the Warm Springs Museum reveals more of the historical and cultural life of the tribes.
At the falls near Sherar's Bridge on the Deschutes River, confederation members drop set nets and dip nets from wooden scaffolding, much as they did in the old days.