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The Clatsop are a small tribe of Chinookan-speaking Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. In the early 19th century they inhabited an area of the northwestern coast of present-day Oregon from the mouth of the Columbia River south to Tillamook.
The Clatsop dialect used by the tribe is a nearly-extinct dialect of the Lower Chinookan language. Most Clatsops spoke Chinook Jargon and some spoke a dialect of Nehalem, by the time Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery made contact with them.
Chinook Jargon is a trade language, and was once used throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. Many place names in the area come from the Chinook Jargon, for example, Neakahnie Mountain — "The Mountain", and Ecola Creek and Park — "whale".
The tribe was encountered at the mouth of the Columbia in 1805 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The expedition named their last encampment Fort Clatsop after the tribe, whose nearest village was approximately seven miles (12 km) away. The tribe later gave its name to Clatsop County, Oregon. According to the journals of William Clark, the Clatsop comprised about 200 people living in three separate villages of large cedar-plank houses. Clatsop members regularly visited the fort for trading purposes.
The tribe has never been organized hierarchically (under "chiefs") but individual families affiliated with one another in small villages and seasonal camps located near food sources.
The Clatsop shared salmon, berries, and hunting tips with the Corps of Discovery. In contrast to the Corps' interactions with the Plains Indians the previous winter, their interaction with the Clatsop was more limited. The two groups did not mingle for social occasions and the fort was opened to trading only 24 days during the winter. Part of the reason may have been the existing relationship between the British and the coastal Chinook tribes, resulting in a demand by the Chinook for higher prices for their goods at a time when the Corps' supply of "Indian Gifts" had dwindled. Only two Clatsop, Coboway and Cuscalar, appear regularly in the corps members' journals.
In an 1851 treaty, the Clatsop tribe ceded 90 percent of their land to the U.S. Government. This treaty was one of many in the Northwest that were never ratified by Congress. Unlike other tribes, the members were not required to move to a reservation, and in fact, they were the only tribe in Oregon that was not removed to a reservation.
The 200 members who have recently organized as the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederation have an average age of 65 and are scattered across Oregon and southwestern Washington. The last known speaker of the Tillamook language died in 1972. The Clatsop-Nehalem applied for membership with both the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde but were turned down. In January 2001, the Chinook tribe (of which the Clatsop were included) gained official recognition, but it was reversed by the Bush administration soon after taking office. The bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 2004–2006 has provided renewed interest in the status of the Clatsop and Chinook.
The tribe has no formal recognition today and has struggled in recent years to retain its identity. Some of the remaining members now form an unofficial confederation, the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes of Oregon, with the Salishan-speaking Nehalem (Tillamook) tribe that once inhabited the area around Tillamook Bay. Other Clatsop descendants continue to maintain their culture and ceremonies as family and small community units, as in the past.
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See also