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 indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in the United States speaking the Chinookan languages. In the early 19th century, the Chinookan-speaking peoples resided along the lower and middle Columbia River but 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]

Since the late 20th century, the Chinook Indian Nation, made up of 2700 members of several peoples, has worked to obtain federal recognition. It gained this in 2001 but, after President George W. Bush took office, his political appointees revoked that status in 2002. The tribe continues to seek recognition.[2]

Historic culture[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.[3] Upper castes included shamans, warriors, and successful traders, and were a minority of the community population compared to common members of the tribal group.[3] 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.[4]

Some Chinookan peoples practiced slavery, a practice borrowed from the northernmost tribes of the Pacific Northwest.[5] They encouraged their slaves, taken as captives in warfare, to practice thievery on behalf of their masters. The latter refrained from such practices as unworthy of high status.[4]

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.[6] This served as a means of marking social hierarchy; flat-headed community members were ranked above those with round heads. Those with flattened and deformed skulls refused to enslave other individuals who were similarly marked, thereby reinforcing the association of a round head with servility.[6] The Chinook 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 settled living patterns, the Chinook and other coastal tribes had relatively little conflict over land as they did not migrate through each other's territories. In the manner of numerous settled tribes, they resided in long houses. More than fifty people, related through extended kinship, often resided in one long house.


Cathlapotle Plankhouse, a full-scale replica of a Chinook-style cedar plankhouse erected in 2005 at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, which was once inhabited by more than 1200 Chinook peoples

The Chinook Indian Nation has engaged in a continuing effort since the late 20th century to secure formal recognition as a sovereign tribe by the U.S. Federal government.[7] In 2001, the U.S. Department of Interior recognized the Chinook Indian Nation, a confederation of the Cathlamet, Clatsop, Lower Chinook, Whkaikum and Willapa Indians, as a tribe during the last months of the administration of President Bill Clinton.[8] After the administration changed under President George W. Bush, his new political appointees reviewed the materials and, in 2002, revoked this status, in what was a highly unusual action.[9] Efforts by Brian Baird, D-Wash. from Washington's 3rd congressional district, to gain passage of legislation to achieve recognition in 2011 were not successful.[2]

The Chinook Indian Nation's offices are in Bay Center, Washington. The tribe holds an Annual Winter Gathering at the plankhouse in Ridgefield, Washington. It also holds an Annual First Salmon Ceremony at Chinook Point (Fort Columbia) on the North Shore of the Columbia River.[10]

List of Chinookan peoples[edit]

Chinookan-speaking groups include:[citation needed]

Most surviving Chinook live in the towns of Bay Center, Chinook, and Ilwaco in southwest Washington and in Astoria, Oregon.

Books written about the Chinook include Boston Jane: An Adventure by Jennifer L. Holm

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 Wilson, Katie (7 October 2014). "Recognition move by Oregon tribe stirs Chinook concerns". Chinook Observer. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1993; pg. 42.
  4. ^ a b Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 43.
  5. ^ Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 39.
  6. ^ a b Ruby and Brown, Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest, pg. 47.
  7. ^ "Chinook tribe pushes for recognition, again". The Oregonian, p A1+. The Oregonian. November 30, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2012. 
  8. ^ Federal Register Volume 66, Number 6 (Tuesday, January 9, 2001)
  9. ^ For the 2001 recognition, see 66 Federal Register 1690 (2001) at; for the subsequent reversal, see 67 Federal Register 46204 (2002) at
  10. ^
  11. ^ "President Obama, Hillary Clinton pay tribute to slain Chinook member Stevens", Chinook Observer Newspaper, September 14, 2012

Further reading[edit]

Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia Published by University of Washington Press, 2013 - isbn 978-0-295-99279-2]

External links[edit]