Native American peoples of Oregon Article

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Native American Peoples of Oregon are the indigenous peoples who have inhabited and who still inhabit the area that is now the state of Oregon in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Though the federal government currently recognizes only nine tribes existing within the state boundaries of present-day Oregon, this land has been home to countless native groups and peoples, "Since time immemorial ... since before memories." [1] Many diverse communities and groups have lived in the area, cultivating land, engaging in complex relationships across communities, and creating and maintaining forms of governance consistent with unique values, beliefs, and traditions.


Native Peoples' Agriculture

Native peoples in Oregon have traditionally cultivated tobacco, wapato, and corn, among other crops. Plots of crops have been communal, familial, and individual, varying across groups and time. Historians speculate that the fertile soil and ideal conditions for agriculture in the Willamette Valley in Oregon were strongly influenced by native peoples' cultivation of the land. [1]

Native Peoples and Explorers from the United States

In 1805, an expedition group funded by the United States government arrived in the area that is now Oregon. The expedition, called the Corps of Discovery Expedition was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The expedition was undertaken in order to legitimize the claim of the United States to the area as well as to assess the potential for economic exploitation. Stories of the wealth and fertility of the area travelled through native peoples' trade routes across the continent, spurring the United States government's desire to access crops, land, human labor, and animal resources, including beaver pelts. [1] The members of the expedition, called, interacted with native peoples and recorded these interactions, along with observations of plants, animals, landforms, and bodies of water.

Native Peoples and Christian Missionaries

Native peoples engaged in encounters and interactions with Christian missionaries along with explorers and tradesmen. The missionaries focused on converting native peoples as part of a greater effort to assimilate native peoples and thus to decrease their threat to settlers and settler efforts. [1] Missionaries headed by the Methodist Jason Lee established a large "Indian church" at The Dalles in 1839 in an effort to convert members of the Klickitat tribe to Christianity. [2] Lee also set out to build a new settlement at the mouth of the Umpqua River, familial grounds of the Umpqua tribe. [3] Notably, Lee made great attempts to encourage further settlement of the area, traveling back east across the continent, bringing with him two native peoples to display to potential settlers. [4] Lee hoped to attract white settlers to the West in order to increase the United States' power and to create a white settler community. [1]


In response to settler arrival, some native groups chose to assimilate in order to survive. An unknown number of native individuals were killed due to their association with settlers through outright violence as well as through disease. [1] Settlers periodically engaged in acts of violence in attempts to displace and destroy local Native American communities. In 1849, one or more residents of Linn City launched a nighttime arson attack on a Native American village, destroying the community's winter provisions. [5] One observer estimated that 80% of total native people in Oregon died in a single summer. This depopulated whole villages and forced many communities to alter societal structures to combine multiple groups. [6] Many other individuals were displaced from traditional living spaces. In response, many groups moved into spaces traditionally used by other native groups, causing territory conflicts between native groups and peoples that had previously coexisted peacefully. [1] Some individuals and collective groups adopted the use of settler tools and practices. Many were forced to submit their children to settler schooling, including boarding schools, which were meant to assimilate the children to white settler culture which could be brought back to their home communities. [1]


In 1850, Anson Dart was appointed the Superintendent for Indian Affairs in the Oregon Territory. In order to pursue the interests of the United States, Dart worked to craft the Anson Dart Treaties. [1] These treaties promised reservation land, school, medical care, and safety from settler aggression. In return, the United States would absorb a vast amount of land. In particular, Congress was interested in removing native peoples from the fertile land in the Willamette Valley. Congress eventually rejected the treaties because they failed to fully clear the land for settlers. [7] This sharp and unrelenting focus on land fit closely with what Indigenous scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes as the settler goal of "elimination of Indigenous populations in order to make land available to settlers." [8] Treaty making was valuable to the United States government as a mode of acquiring land and limiting the resistance posed by native peoples.

The Rogue River War (1855–1856)

Map showing the location of the Rogue River Valley within the post-1859 boundaries of the state of Oregon

The indigenous peoples of Southern Oregon faced extreme brutality at the hands of white miners and settlers. [9] Individuals appealed to white authorities for protection but did not find assistance. [9]

In the summer of 1855, an anonymous letter signed simply "A Miner" appeared in the Oregon Statesman. [10] This letter predicted the eminence of bloody massacres carried out by native peoples against the white population of Oregon. [10] This claim was picked up by the Sub-Indian Agent for Southern Oregon, who convened a mass meeting in a Willamette Valley town and formally made the call to raise 3,000 troops from the citizenry to do battle with the menace. [10] Concern swept the Oregon Territory, with newspapers up and down the coast, from the Washington Territory to Northern California, virtually unanimously calling for war. [10]

Governor George Law Curry obliged the popular demand and issued a proclamation declaring war, urging that a volunteer militia take the field immediately. [10] A frenzy of extreme violence followed—native populations were uprooted from their villages, driven through the countryside, and killed. [11] In response, native individuals burned settler homesteads. These responses were used as justification for further violence and allowed settlers to affirm their own prejudiced beliefs. [11]

The fledgling Oregon press provided propaganda that rationalized the one-sided campaign of extermination. One paper opined on November 10, 1855, that

"The Indians are ignorant, abject, and debased by nature, whose minds are as incapable of instruction as their bodies are of labor. ... They have nothing in common with Humanity but the form; and God has sent us to destroy them, as he did to the Israelites of old to similar tribes." [12]


In 1856, the native groups or tribes of western Oregon were forcefully moved to a temporary reservation in Grand Ronde. [1] This reservation eventually became permanent with distinct settlements for distinct groups. These separations allowed for recognition of distinct group identities and contributed to the preservation of peace in spite of traditional rivalries. Within the reservation, groups adapted to use Chinook Wawa or Chinook Jargon, a common language previously utilized for trade.

The enclosure of Native People in reservations furthered the difficulty of survival efforts. Early reservations had extremely limited resources for supporting health and participation in the settler economy. [1] Because of the conditions of the reservations, many individuals were convinced to leave, causing groups to separate and weaken. [1]


In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. This act established citizenship for native peoples irrespective of individual desire to be considered citizens. As citizens, native peoples were under the jurisdiction of the United States government more firmly than as members of independent native nations.


In 1954, as a continuation of the United States government's work to remove or eliminate the resistance put up by native peoples, the state passed the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act which terminated, recognition of all native groups west of the Cascade Mountains. [1] This meant rejection of treaties and recognition without prior discussion and consent. Following termination, most native individuals were unable to buy back their land. Most individuals were forced to move away in order to survive. As a result, native people from Oregon are now spread across the United States. [1]

Native Peoples in Oregon Today

There are currently nine federally recognized native groups or tribes in Oregon. These are the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Coquille Indian Tribe, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Klamath Tribes. There are many native people in Oregon who are neither officially nor unofficially associated with any of these recognized groups. These individuals belong to groups that have not yet been recognized by the United States government, to groups that were at one time recognized but are recognized no longer, and to groups that have established communities elsewhere. There are significant populations of native peoples residing in Oregon as a result of the terrorization and attempted extermination of native peoples in California due to the settler gold rush. More than one hundred thousand Californian native people were killed in the twenty-five year period from 1845 to 1870 and thousands more were forcefully removed to reservations in Oregon and Oklahoma. [13] Many other native people live in Oregon, isolated from land traditionally belonging to their communities due to dispossession of land, violence, and other forms of pressure that lead to community fragmentation.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Two Hundred Years of Changes to Native Peoples of Western Oregon". Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  2. ^ Bancroft, pp. 180–181.
  3. ^ Bancroft, p. 193.
  4. ^ Brosnan, Cornelius J (1933). "The Oregon Memorial of 1838". Oregon Historical Quarterly. The Oregon Historical Society. 34 (1): 68–77.
  5. ^ Downing, p. 29.
  6. ^ Carey, p. 48.
  7. ^ "Anson Dart (1797-1879)". Retrieved 2017-12-11.
  8. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2014). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 10.
  9. ^ a b Beeson, p. 27.
  10. ^ a b c d e Beeson, p. 28.
  11. ^ a b Beeson, p. 29.
  12. ^ Quoted in Beeson, A Plea for the Indians, p. 32.
  13. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2014). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 129–130.

Works cited

Further reading