Chinook refers to several groups of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, speaking the Chinookan languages. In the early 19th century, the Chinookan-speaking peoples lived along the lower and middle Columbia River in present-day Oregon and Washington. The Chinook tribes were those encountered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805 on the lower Columbia.
The Chinook peoples were not nomadic but rather occupied traditional tribal geographic areas. They had a form of society marked by social stratification consisting of a number of distinct social castes of greater or lesser status. Upper castes included shamans, warriors, and successful traders and were a minority of the community population compared to common members of the tribal group. Members of the superior castes are said to have practiced social isolation, limiting contact with commoners and forbidding play between the children of the different social groups.
Some Chinookan people practiced slavery, a practice borrowed from the northernmost tribes of the Pacific Northwest. These slaves are said to have been encouraged to practice thievery on behalf of their masters, who excluded themselves from such practices as unworthy of high status.
At birth some Chinook tribes would flatten children's heads by binding them under pressure between boards, a process said to have been initiated when the infant was about 3 months old and to have continued until the child was about one year of age. This served as a means of marking social hierarchy that placed flat-headed community members above those with round heads. Those with flattened and deformed skulls additionally refused to enslave others with a similar condition, thereby reinforcing the association of a round head with servility. Such tribes were known colloquially by early white explorers in the region as "Flathead Indians."
Living near the coast of the Pacific Ocean, they were skilled elk hunters and fishermen. The most popular fish was Salmon. Owing partly to their non-migratory living patterns, the Chinook and other coastal tribes had relatively little conflict over land with one another. They also lived in long houses with more than fifty people in one long house.
Some are currently engaged in a continuing effort to secure formal recognition of tribal status by the U.S. Federal government. The U.S. Department of Interior initially recognized the Chinookan as a tribe in 2001. Subsequently, the department first reconsidered and then, in 2002, revoked this status.
Now in modern times, the Chinook people gather at the plank house to remember the great heritage that they have. They gather in the winter months to mark the time when the food they would eat would change from berries and other plant life to smoked meats and other preserved things.
List of Chinook peoples
Chinookan-speaking groups include:
- Echelut (Wasco-Wishram)
- Wahkikum (Wac-ki-cum)
- Wappato or Wapato
- Watlata (Cascade or Wishram).
- Chief Comcomly
- Charles Cultee, the principal informant employed by Franz Boas for his work published as Chinook Texts
- Ranald MacDonald, a half-Chinook, born in Fort Astoria, Oregon, to Archibald McDonald, a Scottish Hudson's Bay Company fur trader, and Raven, chief Concomly's daughter, was the first Westerner to teach English in Japan, in 1847–1848, including educating Einosuke Moriyama, one of the chief interpreters that would later handle the negotiations between Commodore Perry and the Tokugawa Shogunate
- J. Christopher Stevens, American diplomat and lawyer who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya from June 2012 to September 2012. He was killed when the U.S. consulate was attacked in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012 
- Catherine Troeh, historian, artist, activist and advocate for Native American rights and culture. She was a member and elder of the Chinook tribe and a direct descendant of Chief Comcomly
- Chief Tumulth, signed the treaty that created the Grand Ronde Reservation and was later killed by Gen. Philip Sheridan
- The term "Chinook" also has a wider meaning in reference to the Chinook Jargon, which is based on Chinookan languages, in part, and so the term "Chinookan" was coined by linguists to distinguish the older language from its offspring, the Jargon.
- Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1993; pg. 42.
- Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 43.
- Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 39.
- Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 47.
- "Chinook tribe pushes for recognition, again". The Oregonian, p A1+. The Oregonian. November 30, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
- For the 2001 recognition, see 66 Federal Register 1690 (2001) at ; for the subsequent reversal, see 67 Federal Register 46204 (2002) at 
- "President Obama, Hillary Clinton pay tribute to slain Chinook member Stevens", Chinook Observer Newspaper, September 14, 2012
- Judson, Katharine Berry (1912). Myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest, especially of Washington and Oregon (DJVU). Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection (2nd ed.). McClurg. OCLC 10363767. Oral traditions from the Chinook, Nez Perce, Klickitat and other tribes of the Pacific Northwest.
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