Chinookan peoples

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For other uses, see Chinook.
Location of Chinookan territory early in the 19th century

Chinookan peoples include 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.[1]

Historic lifestyle[edit]

Drawing of a Chinook dugout canoe from a memoir of the Oregon Country published in 1844

The Chinookan 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.[2] Upper castes included shamans, warriors, and successful traders and were a minority of the community population compared to common members of the tribal group.[2] 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.[3]

Some Chinookan peoples practiced slavery, a practice borrowed from the northernmost tribes of the Pacific Northwest.[4] 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.[3]

At birth some Chinookan 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.


Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a 2005 full-scale replica of a Chinook-style cedar plankhouse at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which was once inhabited by Chinook peoples

Some are currently engaged in a continuing effort to secure formal recognition of tribal status by the U.S. Federal government.[6] 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.[7]

Now in modern times, the Chinookan peoples 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 Chinookan peoples[edit]

Chinookan-speaking groups include:[citation needed]

Most surviving Chinooks live in the towns of Bay Center, Chinook, and Ilwaco in southwest Washington. Many books have been written about the Chinook, including, Boston Jane: an Adventure.

Famous Chinooks[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1993; pg. 42.
  3. ^ a b Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 43.
  4. ^ Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 39.
  5. ^ a b Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 47.
  6. ^ "Chinook tribe pushes for recognition, again". The Oregonian, p A1+. The Oregonian. November 30, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2012. 
  7. ^ For the 2001 recognition, see 66 Federal Register 1690 (2001) at [1]; for the subsequent reversal, see 67 Federal Register 46204 (2002) at [2]
  8. ^ "President Obama, Hillary Clinton pay tribute to slain Chinook member Stevens", Chinook Observer Newspaper, September 14, 2012

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]