Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Yakama people catch salmon using dipnets at Celilo Falls in the 1950s. They had fished there since the beginning of time until 1957, when the falls and nearby settlements were submerged by the construction of The Dalles Dam.

10 Things You Should Know About the Yakama Nation

Richard Walker

Among the nations of the world, at 1,875 square miles, its land mass puts it just behind Luxembourg and Mauritius in geographic size. Count its historical territory, 18,750 square miles, and it’s smaller than Israel but larger than Kuwait.

Government-owned enterprises employ people in agriculture, communications and media, cultural preservation, education, entertainment, land and resource management, wildlife management, and utilities.

There are 55 government departments, among them business and economic development, education, environment, health and human services, law and justice, and natural resources.

Which nation of the world is this? It’s the Yakama Nation.

The Yakama Nation is a federally recognized indigenous nation, a signatory with the United States to the Treaty of 1855. In that treaty, the Yakama Nation made available 11.5 million acres for settlement, but reserved 1.4 million acres – “composed of ownership of Mount Adams as our western boundary, 600,000 acres of timber lands, 400,000 acres of rangelands, 200,000 acres of agriculture lands, and 200,000 acres of home sites, cities and towns,” according to Trudy Pinkham, Yakama, a supervisory forester with BIA.

The Nation has nearly 11,000 citizens and is governed by the 14-member Yakama Tribal Council; it’s an active, hands-on government, with council committees dealing with issues related to budget and finance; culture; economic development; education and housing; grazing and timber; health and welfare; fish and wildlife; irrigation and roads; law and justice; recreation and youth activities; veterans; and radioactive hazards from the U.S. government’s Hanford Nuclear Site.

The Yakama council is not afraid to take bold steps to protect the culture and public well-being. The council voted in 2000 to extend a ban on alcohol sales over the entire reservation, including land owned by non-Indians. At the time, then-council member Jack Fiander said in an Associated Press story, "It's a symbol that this is not the type of economy we want to see concentrated on the reservation. It's sort of a symbol to the youth – we don't think it's cool anymore to use or abuse alcohol.”

And in 2013, after Washington state voters approved the recreational use of marijuana, the Yakama Nation made it clear that the sale and use of marijuana would not be allowed on the reservation.

The Yakama Nation is a strong nation. ICTMN asked some Yakama people to share 10 characteristics that make their Nation strong.

David Sohappy Sr. (1925-1991) (Courtesy Yakama Nation Fisheries)

A diverse Nation: According to the Yakama Nation Museum & Cultural Center, “The ancestors of today's Yakamas were of different tribes and bands. Each was a distinct group led by a council of leaders, and each tribe or band spoke their own Native language, and were closely related to other Columbia Basin Plateau Tribes.”

The Yakama Nation was created by the Treaty of 1855, which states that the “following confederated tribes and bands of Indians, occupying lands hereinafter bounded and described and lying in Washington Territory … are to be considered as one nation, under the name ‘Yakama’”: Palouse, Pisquose, Yakama, Wenatchapam, Klinquit, Oche Chotes, Kow way saye ee, Sk'in-pah, Kah-miltpah, Klickitat, Wish ham, See ap Cat, Li ay was and Shyiks.

“A lot of Yakama people live different ways,” artist Toma Villa said. “To people who live in the valley, that’s Yakama to them. To people who live near the Columbia River, that’s Yakama to them.”

Much of Villa’s artwork is influenced by his family’s life at Cook’s Landing on the Columbia River. Villa fishes with his relatives – the sons of his granduncle, the late fishing rights defender David Sohappy Sr. – on the river. To honor his people’s river heritage, he’s painting murals near traditional fishing sites – one depicts a mammoth at the gorge; another, his granduncle, Sohappy; another, a gillnet fishing scene. (Villa also creates prints, sculpts and casts iron.)


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