History of the Tribes of Warm Springs
Produced and reprinted with permission from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
Long before Europeans set foot on the North American continent, the three tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation – – the Wasco, the Walla Walla (later called the Warm Springs), and the Paiute – – had developed societies beside the Columbia River, the Cascade Mountains, and other parts of Oregon. Although they have much in common today, each tribe has its own unique history and heritage.
The Wasco bands on the Columbia River were the eastern-most group of Chinookan-speaking Indians. Although they were principally fishermen, their frequent contact with other Indians throughout the region provided for abundant trade. Roots and beads were available from other Chinookan bands such as the Clackamas. Game, clothing and horses came from trade with Sahaptin bands such as the neighboring Warm Springs and the more distant Nez Perce. In exchange for these goods, the Wasco traded root bread, salmon meal, and bear grass.
The Warm Springs
The Warm Springs bands who lived along the Columbia’s tributaries spoke Sahaptin. Unlike the Wascoes, the Warm Springs bands moved between winter and summer villages, and depended more on game, roots and berries. However, salmon was also an important staple for the Warm Springs bands and, like the Wascoes, they built elaborate scaffolding over waterfalls which allowed them to harvest fish with long-handled dip nets. Contact between the Warm Springs bands and the Wascoes was frequent, and, although they spoke different languages and observed different customs, they could converse and traded heavily.
The Paiutes lived in southeastern Oregon and spoke a Shoshonean dialect. The lifestyle of the Paiutes was considerably different from that of the Wasco and Warm Springs bands. Their high-plains existence required that they migrate further and more frequently for game, and fish was not an important part of their diet. The Paiute language was foreign to the Wasco and Warm Springs bands, and commerce among them was infrequent. In early times, contact between them often resulted in skirmishes. Although Paiute territories historically included a large area from southeastern Oregon into Nevada, Idaho, and western Utah, the Paiute bands which eventually settled at Warm Springs lived in the area of Lake, Harney, and Malheur counties in Oregon.
Despite the great loss of traditional culture that occurred as a result of settlement on the reservation, the people of the Warm Springs Reservation have succeeded in holding on to many of our ancient traditions and values. Our longhouses still ring with prayer songs that have been handed down for generations. Traditional feasts are still held each year. Indian languages are still spoken, and the old legends of Coyote and the other Animal People still told.
Regardless of our success in the present, the people of Warm Springs realize that we must hold on to our past and bring it into the future lest the spiritual and cultural values that sustained our people for centuries be lost.
Prior to settling on the Reservation, natural food resources were so plentiful that agriculture was unnecessary for the three tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. Salmon from the nearby Columbia was a staple for the Wasco and Warm Springs bands. The high-plains Paiutes depended more on deer and other large game. All three tribes took advantage of assorted roots, fruits, and other plant-life.
Since gathering and preparing food was a substantial part of daily life for the three tribes, their methods became as much a part of the tribal culture as the foods themselves. Salmon were hauled out of the Columbia with long-handled dip nets. Roots were pulled from the ground with specialized digging sticks, or kapns. Berries were gathered in ornate baskets. After centuries of trial and error, these methods were perfected and became second nature.
Many of these foods and the methods of obtaining them are still an important part of life on the Warm Springs Reservation. Roots are dug from early spring through late summer. Fruits, especially huckleberries, are harvested summer and fall. Hunting and fishing occur year round. These foods are highly prized, and are a significant part of the many special festivals and rituals as well as part of the regular Indian diet.
Annually the Warm Springs Indians observe three religious feasts of thanksgiving based on important native foods.
Despite extensive efforts, the three languages of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Oregon are in danger of becoming lost languages. The Kiksht (Wasco), only have five fluent speakers, all elders, left in our area. The Numu (Paiute), have only five fluent speakers, and the Ichishkiin (Sahaptin) have about fifty speakers. There are no fluent speakers under the age of fifty. It is extremely important for the Warm Springs people to come together and strive for our languages to again become the first languages of our children.
The Tribal Language Program has taken various steps to bring language back to the community. We believe that it is up to the people of the community to develop a true commitment and the desire to revive and maintain our languages.