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Yakama Indian Nation

The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation are descendents of 14 tribes and bands that were federally recognized under the Yakama Treaty of 1855. The 1,377,034-acre reservation is located in southcentral Washington, along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range.

The current spelling of "Yakama" was reintroduced in 1994 by the tribe to return to the original spelling.

A brief history

The Yakama were one of several Native American groups who lived in similar ways on the Columbia Plateau of today's Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Their economy was based on fishing, hunting, gathering, and intertribal trading of such items as fish products, baskets, dogs and horses.

The seasons drew them to various parts of the plateau. In the winter, people lived along interior rivers in villages of tule-mat lodges, and subsisted on dried foods. In March they trekked to root grounds and camped with neighboring Indians. In May or June salmon began to travel up the Columbia River. Then the Yakama moved to the lower Columbia to catch and preserve the fish. In the fall they went into the Cascade Mountains to pick berries and hunt, while drying their victuals for the winter.

In accordance with a profound connectedness the Yakama felt to their environment, they gave thanks for their foods through spiritual ceremonies. In the 19th century, the Catholic missionary Charles Pandosy introduced them to Christianity.

The Yakama encountered the Lewis and Clark Expedition near the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers in 1805. Not long thereafter, American and British trappers introduced ready-made goods to the Yakama. Homesteaders, miners and others would follow in increasing numbers.

To accommodate an insatiable white demand for land and resources, Washington territorial governor and Indian agent Isaac Stevens concluded the Yakama Treaty with the Yakama and 13 other tribes and bands on June 9, 1855. In signing the treaty, the Indians ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States. Although the Yakama themselves ceded 10,828,800 acres to the U.S. government, they reserved their right to fish, hunt and gather within the ceded area. The tribes and bands also agreed to move to a new reservation and receive federal benefits.

The treaty stipulated two years to allow the tribes and bands to relocate on the new reservation, but Gov. Stevens threw open Indian lands for white settlers less than two weeks after the treaty was signed. A Yakama chief, Kamiakin, called upon the tribes to oppose the declaration. Some of the tribes joined forces under Kamiakin. The Indians managed to fight off U.S. soldiers for about three years in the uprising called the Yakima War (1855-1858). Other Indians in the territory rose up as well. In September 1858, at the Battle of Four Lakes near Spokane, the Indians were decisively defeated. Kamiakan escaped to Canada, but two dozen other leaders were apprehended and executed.

Most of the Yakama and other tribes then moved onto the reservation where numerous Sahaptin dialects, Chinookan, Salish and English languages converged. They led a harrowing existence. White agents ran the reservation intending to assimilate the internees into American society. A boarding school was established at Fort Simcoe on the reservation to educate and indoctrinate Indian children. Confinement on the reservation contributed to a social breakdown, ill health, alcoholism, and such other problems as high infant mortality.

Agents also compelled Indians to grow crops on the reservation, but they farmed without enthusiasm. Many struggled to fish, hunt, and gather, but the old ways had been disrupted. The Yakama gradually lost access to fishing and hunting lands, as well as to areas with roots and berries; non-Indians had started farms and ranches on ceded Yakama land. Whites let their livestock feed on roots and berries. Irrigation projects destroyed Yakima River salmon runs and plowing ruined plant and animal habitat.

In accordance with a new federal policy in the late 1800s, government agents began to break up the reservation into 80-acre allotments for individual Indians, to encourage tillage. By 1914, 4,506 tribal members held 440,000 allotted acres, leaving 780,000 acres owned by the tribe as a whole.

Later in the 1900s, however, nearly all tillable acreage was purchased out of Indian hands. Such towns as Toppenish and Wapato were established on lands purchased from Indian allotments. Various entities threatened to confiscate Indian water. County, state and federal governments promoted development, including road and railroad construction, as well as the massive Wapato Irrigation Project. Whites sought through official channels to restrict the movement of Yakama people on the Columbia Plateau.

In 1933, the Yakama organized as the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation.

The Yakama have focused on self-sufficiency and economic independence since World War II. The federal government had acknowledged Yakama fishing rights in the treaty of 1855, but later, county and state officials opposed native fishing rights. As a result of legal battles culminating in the historic Boldt decision of 1974, the federal government reaffirmed Yakama fishing rights and made the tribe a co-manager of fishery resources with the state of Washington.

The Yakama Nation today

More than 8,800 people are enrolled in the Yakama confederation of tribes, and there are more than 13,700 people living on or close by the reservation.

All tribal members over 18 years of age are automatically voting members of a general council, the basic governmental unit of the tribe. In addition, representatives of each of the confederated 14 tribes and bands comprise the Yakama Tribal Council, the body that carries out the will of the general council. Directly reporting to the tribal council are standing committees that deal with cultural resources, education, farming, grazing, health, housing, irrigation, recreation, roads, timber, and wildlife management.

The tribe fills approximately 600 full-time employment positions, and in the summer, up to 800 with such seasonal work as forestry.

Tribal enterprises include:

  • Heritage Inn Restaurant
  • Mt. Adams Furniture Factory
  • Production Orchards
  • Real Yakama Fruit Stand
  • Wapato Industrial Park
  • Yakama Forest Products
  • Yakama Nation Credit Enterprise
  • Yakama Nation Cultural Center
  • Yakama Nation Land Enterprise
  • Yakama Nation Legends Casino
  • Yakama Nation RV Resort.
  • The tribe operates a fisheries program with about 40 employees. One of its projects is its collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to use discontinued (radiation-free) settling ponds at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to condition about 500,000 juvenile Chinook salmon for release into the Columbia River.

    The Yakama Indian Nation also co-manages the Columbia and eight other rivers with the state of Washington. The tribe has "usual and accustomed" fishing places in numerous locations in the Columbia River Basin, as well as some beyond the area. Salmon continue to be an important nutritional and symbolic commodity of the Yakama Nation.

    To serve Yakama families, the Indian Health Service operates the 40,000-square foot Yakama Nation Tribal Health Facility near Toppenish. In addition, the tribe owns and operates the White Swan Health Clinic in rural White Swan, 20 miles west of Toppenish, and a maternal child health (MCH) center in the Apas Goudy Housing Project in Wapato. Itinerant health and social services are offered through the Community Health Representative, MCH, nutrition, Women, Infants and Children, and alcoholism programs. The tribe's health service delivery area covers four counties.

    The tribe manages 1,118,149 acres, which include 600,000 acres of timber. There also are 15,000 acres of cultivated land. In addition, the tribe irrigates 90,000 acres from the Wapato Project and leases farming and grazing acreage to non-Indians. The confederation maintains its own police force and tribal court.

    The Yakama people place an accent on academic achievement. They award scholarships to exceptional students and sponsor Camp Chaparral, whose activities encourage students both to stay in school and preserve their traditional identity. In addition, the public schools and some adult education classes offer the Yakama dialect of Sahaptin.

    The Yakamas actively preserve numerous elements of their heritage. A focal point is the all-purpose Cultural Heritage Center, which hosts numerous tribal projects to uphold traditional arts & crafts, history, language, literature and other topics. Powwows, celebrations and sporting events are an integral part of modern Yakama life throughout the year.

    Given that the confederation consists of 14 tribes and bands, it is not surprising that the Yakama people worship in various ways -- both native and Christian. Some partake of salmon, roots, and berries in sacred First Food rituals. Three longhouses on the reservation serve as traditional places of worship, while others participate in the Feather religion. Other Yakamas attend Christian services; an example is the Indian Shaker Church.

    Location: PO Box 151, Toppenish Washington 98948 Telephone 509-865-2800 Fax 509-865-5528

    Other History nearby:
    American Hop Museum
    Benton County Historical Museum
    Capitol Theatre
    Northern Pacific Railway Museum
    Ray E Powell Museum
    Sunnyside Historical Museum

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    12/08 Coming to The Toppenish area
    Apple Blossom Festival Wenatchee WA April1-May5 A delicious part of the Apple Blossom Festival is the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Food Fair.
    Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest Leavenworth WA May16-19 Learn about the wide variety of migratory birds that come here for a brief, but important part of their year: the breeding season. Hear the songs sung only during the breeding season.
    Columbia Gorge Wine and Pear Fest Hood River OR May18-19 Start off the weekend with friends and fun featuring Columbia Gorge wineries and eateries. Highlights include entertainment, live music, wine tasting, great food, fruit exhibits with samples, and local artisans.
    Gorge Blues and Brews Festival Stevenson WA June21-22 Fine collection of local craft brews and local wines, a multitude of phenomenal foods, and great blues music, while benefiting local charities in the Columbia Gorge.
    Bellevue Strawberry Festival Bellevue WA June22-23 Entertainment, an auto show, vendors, food, and family fun are all highly visible parts of the festivities.
    Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival Stevenson WA June25-28 Amazing talent, workshops, instrument contests and raffle, fine craft and food vendors, a merry beer garden, and nightly dances.