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Chinook

Chinook

ETHNONYMS: Cheenook, Tchinouks, Tsniuk

The Chinook are an American Indian group who joined the Chehalis Indians and other tribes of Oregon and Washington in the mid-nineteenth century following the decimation of their tribe by smallpox epidemics in 1782-1783, 1830-1833, and 1853. In the 1970s the descendants of the Chinook resided on or near the Chehalis Indian Reservation in Washington. The Chinook language is classified in the Penutian language phylum. In the late 1700s the Chinook numbered about two thousand and occupied the region of the lower Columbia River and the adjoining coastal area in Oregon and Washington. The Chinook included the Lower Chinook groups (Chinook, Clatsop, and Shoalwater) and the Middle groups (Clackamas, Cathlamet, and Wahkiakum).

Salmon fishing was their principal economic activity, but gathering berries and nuts and hunting deer, elk, and small game were also important. Autonomous villages were led by chiefs, and local society was divided into an upper class of chiefs, shamans, warriors, and traders, a class of commoners, and a slave class. Traditional religious life centered around guardian spirits sought through fasting and prayer in adolescence.

Bibliography

Boas, Franz (1911). Chinook. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin no. 40, 559-678. Washington, D.C.

Ruby, Robert H., and John A. Brown (1976). The Chinook Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

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chinook (warm, dry air mass)

chinook, warm, dry air mass that descends the eastern slopes of the U.S. and Canadian Rocky Mts. after having lost moisture by condensation over the western slopes. Chinooks occur mainly in winter. They sometimes replace the cold continental air mass over the western plains, causing rapid melting of snow and temperature increases as great as 40°F (22°C) within a few hours. Similar winds occurring in the Alps and elsewhere are known as foehn winds. The term chinook was originally applied by Oregon settlers to a moist Pacific wind blowing from the direction of a Chinook camp.

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Chinook (indigenous people of North America)

Chinook (shĬnŏŏk´, chĬ–), Native American tribe of the Penutian linguistic stock. Altogether twelve main tribes spoke Chinook languages; all were in the Columbia River valley. The Chinook themselves were on the lower extremity of the river and, with the Clatsop, constituted the now extinct Lower Chinook branch of the linguistic stock (see Native American languages). The village was their main social unit, and a wealthy chief might control several villages. Slavery was common among the Chinook. Their food consisted mostly of fish, roots, and berries. They were skilled with canoes, were noted traders, and practiced the custom of potlatch. They lacked the totemic art and the secret societies of their neighbors. They were well known to the traders on the Pacific coast in the late 18th cent., and a corrupted form of their language known as Chinook jargon served as a trade language from the Columbia River to Alaska. There were some 800 Chinook in the United States in 1990, working primarily in fishing, logging, and lumbering.

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chinook

chi·nook / shəˈnoŏk; chə-/ • n. 1. (also chinook wind) a warm dry wind that blows down the east side of the Rocky Mountains at the end of winter. 2. (also chinook salmon) a large North Pacific salmon that is an important commercial food fish. • Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, family Salmonidae.

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Chinook

Chinook Native American tribe living along the Pacific coast from the Columbia River to The Dalles, Oregon. Although numbering fewer than 1000, the Chinook travelled widely and the Chinook language was used by others, native and European, during the settlement of the West. The name is also given to a warm, dry wind on the e side of the Rocky Mountains.

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Chinook

Chi·nook / shəˈnoŏk; chə-/ • n. (pl. same or -nooks ) 1. a member of an American Indian people originally inhabiting the region around the lower Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. 2. the language of this people. • adj. of or relating to the Chinook or their language.

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chinook

chinook A warm, dry, westerly wind of the föhn type which blows on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. The quick onset of the wind and the sudden large rise in temperature is associated in spring with rapid melting of the snow.

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chinook

chinook Warm, dry, westerly wind of the Föhn type which blows on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. The quick onset of the wind and the sudden large rise in temperature is associated in spring with rapid melting of the snow.

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Chinook

Chinookbetook, book, brook, Brooke, Chinook, chook, Coke, cook, Cooke, crook, forsook, Gluck, hook, look, mistook, nook, partook, rook, schnook, schtuck, Shilluk, shook, Tobruk, took, undercook, undertook •handbook •chapbook, scrapbook •cash book • passbook • sketchbook •chequebook • textbook •daybook, playbook •casebook • phrase book • dybbuk •pocketbook • copybook • storybook •guidebook • logbook • songbook •scorebook • hornbook • sourcebook •notebook • cookbook • yearbook •picture book • wordbook • workbook •caoutchouc • Windhoek • billhook •fishhook • skyhook • buttonhook •tenterhook • wet look • outlook •Inuk • inglenook • Sihanouk •Pembroke • Innsbruck • donnybrook •Uruk • Osnabrück • Beaverbrook •nainsook

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Chinook

Chinook

Name

Chinook (pronounced shi-NOOK ). The name Chinook may have been taken from the Chehalis name cinuk for the people and the village on Baker Bay, Washington. Europeans sometimes called the tribe (and all the people who lived along the lower Columbia River) “Columbians” or “Flatheads” for their practice of flattening the skulls of babies, which they did because they thought it looked more attractive. A sea breeze is sometimes called a “chinook”; the term may have been used by early settlers because winds came from the coast, the direction of the Chinook territory.

Location

The Chinook formerly lived along the shore of the Columbia River in western Washington and Oregon. In modern times they are divided into three main groups: the Shoalwater Bay Chinook, who live on the Shoalwater Reservation in Pacific County, Washington; the Wahkiakum Chinook, who live on the Quinault Reservation in the southwest corner of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; and the Chinook Indian Tribe, who live in various towns and cities in Oregon and Washington.

Population

In 1825 there were approximately 720 Chinook. In 1840 there were only 280. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 813 people identified themselves as Chinook (32 identified themselves more specifically as Clatsop and 33 as members of other Chinook groups). The 2000 census showed 609 Chinook, and 1,682 people who had some Chinook heritage.

Language family

Penutian.

Origins and group affiliations

The Chinook have lived in their homeland for thousands of years. The Chinook Nation was made up of many tribes, including the Cathlapotle, the Kathlamet, the Clatsop, the Clackamas, the Multnomah, Wasco, Wishram, and the Chinook Tribe proper, also known as the Lower Chinook. Historically the Chinook provided a link between the Northwest and Plateau tribes. In the early twenty-first century they share reservations with the Chehalis, Quinault, Quieleute, Hoh, and Cowlitz tribes.

For thousands of years the Chinook tribe lived in Washington state along the northern shore of the Columbia River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Chinook carried out extensive trade with other Native tribes and European explorers who came to the region by sea and later by land. A special trade language known as the Chinook Jargon was used by more than one hundred thousand people throughout the West until around 1900. For more than one hundred years, the Chinook have been trying to establish a relationship with the U.S. government that would recognize them as a tribe.

History

Trading with whites

The first contact the Chinook had with non-Native peoples took place in the 1500s when European explorers arrived on the Pacific Coast by ship. By the early 1800s American and European trade ships regularly dropped anchor near Chinook territory to engage in trade. In 1805 American explorers Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) and William Clark (1770–1836) became the first whites to reach Chinook territory by land. By then the fur trade had become very profitable. In 1811 John Jacob Astor (1763–1848), the wealthy owner of the American Fur Company, constructed on Chinook land a trading post called Fort Astoria. At first the Chinook resisted this invasion of their territory. Later they began a productive trade relationship with the “Astorians,” as the residents of the fort were called.

Over the next thirty years many traders and settlers arrived and trespassed on the tribe’s lands. They brought diseases to which the Natives had little or no resistance. Between 1830 and 1840 nearly two-thirds of the Chinook tribe died of an illness they called the “cold sick,” probably a strain of Asian flu. Soon after the tribe struggled with this devastating epidemic, their lands were taken.

In 1851 the Chinook signed the Tansey Point Treaty, which would have assured the tribe of land and water rights in their ancestral territory. The U.S. Senate, however, failed to approve the treaty. The tribe refused another treaty that would have forced them to share a reservation in central Washington with the Quinault Indians, their traditional enemies. With their options dwindling and their land being taken over, however, most Chinook ended up living with other tribes on the Warm Springs, Yakama, Chehalis, Quinault, and Grand Ronde reservations in Washington and Oregon.

Important Dates

1792: Robert Gray and John Boit and, later, George Vancouver are the first to mention the Chinook.

1805: Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are the first whites to reach Chinook territory by land; they establish a trading relationship.

1811: Fort Astoria is built in Chinook territory.

1851: The Lower Chinook sign a treaty that is never ratified by the U.S. Senate. The tribe therefore loses its chance for federal recognition and its ability to collect money for lands wrongfully taken.

1897: The Chinook become one of the first tribes to bring a successful land claims lawsuit against the United States. They receive partial compensation for their claims in 1913.

1973: The U.S. government pays the tribes on Quinault Reservation more than $2 million for their loss of land in the 1800s.

1979: The Chinook Heritage Program launched to help establish legal status of tribe.

2001: The Chinook petition for federal recognition is accepted.

2002: The Chinook’s federal recognition status is revoked.

Legal battles

Around 1900 the Chinook undertook the first of what would become a long series of legal battles with state and federal governments seeking payment for their lost lands. The tribe became one of the first to gain the right to bring a land claims lawsuit against the United States. After a lengthy court battle, the Chinook received a token (insignificant) settlement of $20,000 for 213,815 acres of their homeland in 1913.

Later that year the tribe began fighting to secure allotments on an expanded Quinault Reservation that had been set aside for “fish-eating Indians.” Allotments were privately owned parcels (pieces) of land into which Native American reservations were divided. During their struggle to attain allotments the Chinook helped found an organization that involved many tribes called the Northwest Federation of American Indians.

Shoalwater Chinook gain recognition

The payments the Chinook received in legal settlements from the federal government during the twentieth century were a very small part of what they had requested to make up for the more than three-quarters of a million acres of land they had lost. Chinook people were finally granted allotments on the Quinault Reservation in 1932. The remaining Chinook lived with other Native groups or on their own in small towns and cities.

Only one of the three major groups of Chinook has gained recognition by the federal government. Without federal recognition, a tribe does not exist as far as the government is concerned, and is not entitled to financial or other help. The Chinook who share the Shoalwater Bay Reservation with Chehalis and Quinault people were federally recognized in 1979.

Recognition efforts continue

The Wahkiakum Chinook, who live on the Quinault Reservation, have not won recognition. They did, however, win a case against the U.S. government in 1974 that gave them the right to use their ancestors’ fishing areas. It also entitled them to one-half the fish caught by Native Americans and non-Native Americans at those sites.

The third group, which incorporated as the Chinook Indian Tribe, was recognized by the state of Washington in 1955. The federal government still refuses to acknowledge them as an American Indian nation. This is largely because of complications regarding their treaties that occurred in the last century.

The Chinook Indian Tribe, Inc. entered the Federal Acknowledgment Program in 1978 in an effort to attain recognition from the U.S. government. Tribal elders launched the Chinook Heritage Project in 1979 to collect historical and cultural data on the tribe to restore some of its traditions and establish its legal status as a tribe. In 2001 they received federal acknowledgement, but this was withdrawn in 2002 when the government disallowed some of the documentation supporting their claim. This lack of recognition prevents the tribe, who has since changed their name to the Chinook Indian Tribe/Chinook Nation, from settling land claims, having fishing and gambling rights, or receiving money from the U.S. government.

Religion

The Chinook were a religious people who believed in spiritual forces that guided individuals through life. Some “guardian spirits” took the form of animals while others came as invisible spirits that entered a human being’s soul. At about age ten a Chinook youngster was sent on a vision quest to meet his or her guardian spirit (see “Vision quest”).

The Chinook also believed that all objects contained powers. Christian missionaries tried to change the Chinook custom of worshipping sculptures and wooden objects. Both Catholic and Methodist missionaries eventually gave up their efforts to convert the Chinook.

Around 1900 many Chinook adopted the Indian Shaker religion, based on a combination of traditional Native and Christian beliefs. Its followers are called “Shakers” because when they experience the power of God they shake, groan, and cry. Many Shaker beliefs fit well with Native American traditions, and the religion was readily accepted. The Indian Shaker religion emphasized that people did not need Bibles or written materials, they could communicate directly with the Creator. Dancing and physical movement were important religious practices. In modern times some members of the tribe continue to participate in the Shaker religion.

Language

Use of the Chinook language declined around the mid-1800s after many tribe members died of fatal diseases. The remaining members mixed with other tribes on reservations and adopted their languages.

In the 1890s Franz Boas, an anthropologist (someone who studies ancient cultures), discovered two Chinook speakers living on Washington’s Wilapa Bay. He recorded their accounts of Chinook legends, customs, and the authentic language. By 1900 the last fluent speakers of the language had died. In the early twenty-first century Chinook people are working with the information collected by Boas and others to reconstruct their ancestral language.

Chinook Jargon

The Chinook language formed the basis for the special trade language known as the Chinook Jargon or the Oregon Trade Language. The language was widely used by traders during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It began as a mixture of Native languages spoken by tribes of the Northwest who gathered to trade with the Chinook near the Columbia River. Later, when the Chinook began large-scale trading with Europeans, the Chinook Jargon incorporated words from many other languages, including Japanese and Russian. Chinook Jargon became known and used throughout the Northwest from Alaska to California. In the early 1900s English replaced the language. Some Chinook still speak it today, but call it Wawa.

Some examples of Chinook Jargon are “Hootch,” meaning homemade liquor; “tzum SAM-mon,” meaning spotted salmon; “PAHT-lum man,” meaning drunkard; “BOS-ton il-LA-hee,” meaning United States; and “TUP-so KO-pa la-ta-TAY,” meaning hair. Some additional words are below:

  • illahee … “land”
  • cloish tillicum … “good friend”
  • chickamin … “money”
  • canim … “canoe”
  • chodups … “flea”
  • łixw … “three”

Government

Chiefs of Chinook villages were members of the tribe’s highest social class, and the position of chief passed from father to son. If a village did not think a chief’s son worthy of his position, they did not accept him, but took their problems to a male relative of his that they trusted. Chiefs took control of the game that hunters and fishermen brought back to the village and distributed it as they liked. Chiefs could also sell orphans into slavery. For the most part, though, a chief’s job was mainly advisory; he often helped to settled disputes. For difficult cases, the chief might call a group of elders together to give him advice.

In 1925 the tribe formed a business council to secure land allotments and protect fishing rights, electing William Garretson as the first council president. As of 2007 the Chinook Tribal Office in Chinook, Washington, was the site of the tribal government.

Economy

In the early years fish were so plentiful and easily caught that gathering food took little time or effort. The tribe had more than enough for their needs and to share, so the Chinook economy revolved around trade. They traded excess fish (especially salmon) to other Natives, some from as far away as the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. The people also scraped, stretched, and smoked skins of sea otter, beaver, elk, deer, and bear to make handsome hides. They bartered these hides, excess food, basket hats woven from cedar bark and spruce root, and other handmade objects. The Chinook also specialized in blubber and canoes. Both men and women acted as traders.

Items the Chinook obtained from the Europeans, such as iron and copper goods, teapots, swords, tobacco, pots, pans, cloth, blankets, and buckets, were packed into canoes. Chinook traders then sailed as far away as 200 miles (322 kilometers) to exchange these items with other tribes, usually for furs they could trade back to the Europeans. Over time the number of fur-bearing animals drastically declined because of over-hunting. Other items they traded included a type of shell called dentalium used as money, dugout canoes, cedar boards and bark, animal horns, copper, baskets, and slaves.

In modern times many Chinook make their living by fishing in the Columbia River and on the Pacific Ocean. Some make yearly trips to Alaska to fish or work in canneries there. For many years the timber industry also supplied jobs on the Quinault Reservation, but because the allotment policy (see “History”) divided the land into small plots and sold many of them to non-Natives, it is difficult for the people to maintain their timber reserves. Tribal government employs a large number of people, and tourism and casinos provide jobs and much needed income for the tribe. In spite of these and available opportunities in fisheries and service businesses, many people cannot find employment and must leave the reservation to find work.

Daily life

Families

Chinook children received a great deal of attention from their parents and grandparents and respected their elders for their wisdom. Once children learned to walk, their mothers no longer carried them about. Boys spent a lot of time swimming. Men did the fishing and hunting, while women took care of the children, sewed, wove baskets, gathered food, and made blankets. According to the accounts of Lewis and Clark, the women were “treated very badly”—they were bought, traded, or won by gambling and then put to work by their husbands so the men could purchase more wives.

Buildings

The Chinook usually lived in large, rectangular houses with cedar plank walls and steeply sloped roofs thatched with cedar bark. The houses stood about 8 feet (2.4 meters) high and were 20 to 60 feet (6 to 18 meters) long and 14 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) wide. Each house might shelter up to ten families. A Chinook village was usually made up of a long row of up to thirty houses.

The inside of each house featured an open living area with a fire in the center, surrounded by small rooms where the different families slept. The entrance and inner walls were decorated with colorful paintings. The floor of hard-packed earth was covered with woven mats, and beds were woven out of cedar bark or rushes.

When they left the village to hunt or trade, Chinook sometimes built temporary mat shelters to protect themselves from the rain. They also set up these mat shelters near fishing areas in summer villages. They constructed their temporary homes from two forked poles, which held up the roof pole, then covered them with matting. Sheds with cedar bark roofs stood nearby for drying fish. In very cold weather some Chinook people built underground rooms to stay warm.

Clothing and adornment

Early Chinook wore little to no clothing. When they did, both men and women used only a small apron. After the Europeans arrived, they began wearing more clothes. Men put on low-hanging collars of porcupine quills on deerskin. Later these covered their shirts. Women also wore collars; over the years these eventually became longer until they reached the knees.

Because of the constant dampness, the Chinook did not wear leather (it would soon be ruined). Instead they used plant material. Men wore mat robes and wide-brimmed hats made of bear grass or cedar bark. Women donned knee-length, fringed dresses made of silk grass or cedar bark.

In the winter they covered themselves with fur blankets and robes made from the skins of dogs, muskrats, wood rats, sea otters, beavers, raccoons, rabbits, or mountain sheep. Women sometimes twisted strips of fur together with feathers to make winter dresses. Body armor made of layered elkskin, called clamons, was a popular clothing item the Chinook received in trade.

Both men and women had tattoos and ear and nose rings made of teeth, beads, or copper. Some put bones through their nose holes. Nose decorations distinguished the wealthy from the slaves. The Chinook also covered their hair and skin with fish oil. A chief covered his hair with strips of deerskin decorated with dentalium shells and put two eagle feathers in his hair.

Food

Using dugout canoes up to 50 feet (15 meters) long, the Chinook caught fish and sea mammals near the mouth of the Columbia River. In the early spring, they used long, curved blades to rake thousands of tiny smelt into their boats. Later in the year, they probed the river bottom with sharp poles and caught sturgeon weighing hundreds of pounds. The highlight of the fishing season came in late spring, when the Chinook salmon made its yearly spawning run up the Columbia.

The Chinook viewed salmon as sacred, and the people offered the year’s first several salmon to the gods during special ceremonies. They caught many fish using nets and hooks and dried the meat for later use or for trade. Men used harpoons to hunt the sea lions and hair seals that sunned themselves near the mouth of the Columbia. The tribe also collected clams and oysters and ate the occasional whale that washed up on shore. They used bows and arrows to hunt deer and elk.

Women gathered edible plants and fruits including salmonberries, cranberries, currants, crab apples, cow parsnips, wild celery, cattails, skunk cabbage, and various roots.

Education

Children in Chinook families were taught the value of hard work. Girls helped their mothers gather food, water, and wood and learned to make baskets and weave mats out of cattails. They also learned how to dry fish on racks or hang them from the rafters to smoke. Boys were taught to hunt, fish, and build houses. They learned the arts of tool making, canoe building, and making nets for fishing.

Healing practices

The two types of Chinook shaman (medicine men; pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun ), were highly respected and sometimes feared by the people. Doctors called keelalles provided medical aid. Etaminuas helped the souls of dying people travel safely to the land of the spirits. Children learned during their vision quest if they were destined to be healers. The chosen few trained for about five years and then began to practice on their own.

Healers often used “power sticks” smeared with grease and decorated with feathers and paint to rid people of the evil spirits that were making them sick. Healers might spend several days chanting and beating the sticks on special diamond-shaped boards or on the frames of houses. Sometimes they discovered an object in a patient’s body, such as a piece of wood or a stone that represented the evil spirit. These objects were destroyed in a special ceremony.

Arts

The Chinook carved bowls and utensils from wood and animal horn. They decorated everyday items with designs of parallel lines made in wavelike or sawtooth patterns. Women created baskets from vegetation such as roots, bark, or rushes. They twined and bent several spruce root ropes into a shape, then wove in more ropes horizontally to create the sides of the basket. Designs might be animal shapes or geometric patterns. Men and women carved and painted crests (family symbols) on everyday objects, such as sticks, dance rattles, and boards.

Oral literature

Children were told to listen carefully when elders related stories about the ancient days of the tribe. Sometimes the children were asked to repeat a story exactly as it was told; no mistakes were permitted. This system ensured that the stories of Chinook life, which did not exist in written form, would be preserved accurately.

Coyote in the Cedar Tree

Many Chinook stories centered around Coyote, who often played the role of trickster. A trickster is an animal figure that appears in stories to teach lessons by presenting the problems that humans live with. Trickster stories show reality—that the world is not perfect. They also bring out the conflicting forces at work in the world: day and night, male and female, up and down, sky and earth.

Once Coyote was traveling from the country of the Tillamooks to the country of the Clatsops. Coyote passed the mountains and the headlands of the coast. Then he followed the trail through the deep woods. As he was traveling along Coyote saw an immense cedar. The inside was hollow. He could see it through a big gap which opened and closed as the tree swayed in the wind. Coyote cried, “Open, Cedar Tree!” Then the tree opened. Coyote jumped inside. He said, “Close, Cedar Tree!” Then the tree closed. Coyote was shut inside the tree.

After a while Coyote said, “Open, Cedar Tree!” Nothing happened. Once more Coyote said, “Open, Cedar Tree!” Again nothing happened. Coyote was angry. He called to the tree, he kicked it. Then Coyote remembered that he was Coyote, the wisest and most cunning of all animals. He began to think.

After he had thought, Coyote called the birds to help him. He told them to peck a hole through the Cedar Tree. The first to try was Wren. Wren pecked and pecked at the Cedar Tree until her bill was blunted. But Wren could not even make a dent. [Here, Coyote calls other birds, but they cannot help, either. Finally the big Yellow Woodpecker makes a hole, but it is not big enough for Coyote to escape.]

Coyote began to think hard. After he had thought, Coyote began to take himself apart. He took himself all apart and slipped each piece through Yellowhammer’s hole. First he slipped a leg through, then a paw, then his tail, then his ears, and his eyes, until he was all through the hole, and outside the Cedar Tree. Then Coyote began to put himself back together. He put his legs and paws together, then his tail, his nose, his ears, and then his body. At last Coyote had himself all together except for his eyes. He could not find his eyes. Raven had seen them on the ground and had stolen them. Coyote was blind.

But Coyote did not want the animals to know he was blind. He smelled a wild rose. He found the bush and picked two leaves. He put the rose leaves in place of his eyes. Then Coyote traveled on, feeling his way along the trail. Soon he met a squaw. The squaw began to jeer, “Oh ho, oh ho, you seem to be very blind!”

“Oh no,” said Coyote. “I am measuring the ground. I can see better than you can. I can see tamanawus [spirit] rays.”

The squaw was greatly ashamed. Coyote pretended to see wonderful things at a great distance.

The squaw said, “I wish I could see tamanawus rays!”

Coyote said, “Change eyes with me. Then you can see everything.”

So Coyote and the squaw traded eyes. Coyote took the squaw’s eyes and gave her the rose leaves. Then Coyote could see as well as ever. The squaw could see nothing. Coyote said, “For your foolishness you must always be a snail. You must creep. You must feel your way on the ground.”

Ramsey, Jarold. Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature in Oregon Country. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977.

Customs

Social classes

Chinook society was divided into three social classes: the upper class, commoners, and slaves. The small upper class included chiefs and their families, warriors, leading shaman, and traders. While the majority, the commoners, could become wealthy by working, they rarely rose above the class into which they were born. Sometimes, however, an outstanding person, such as a great healer, was permitted to join the upper class.

Slaves were usually women and children, and they worked at cooking, canoeing, gathering food, and cutting wood. They sometimes helped the men with hunting and fishing. Upper class Chinook purchased slaves from neighboring tribes, and seized others in raids on their enemies. Slaves could buy their freedom; some were only enslaved for a given number of years. Slaves were usually well-treated; they lived in the house with their owners and ate the same food as the rest of the household, but in a separate place. Ordinary households may have had two or three slaves, whereas wealthy ones might have had as many as ten.

Head flattening

The Chinook practiced head flattening of their children, but usually only upper class Chinook did so. Flattened heads were considered beautiful. An infant was placed in a cradle and a padded board was tied to its forehead to mold the head into the desired shape. The Chinook were skilled in this practice, and their children did not suffer any brain damage or health risks as a result.

Vision quest

At about age ten Chinook boys set out on a “vision quest” to find the guardian spirit who would help them get through life successfully. Taking along a special stick, a Chinook boy traveled alone to a sacred place several miles from the village. He would place the stick in the ground and fast for up to five days until his guardian spirit appeared in a vision. The guardian spirit, often in the form of an animal, told the boy what role he was expected to play as an adult member of the tribe. Sometimes the spirit taught the child a special dance or song that could be used to summon the spirit in the future. If a boy did poorly in his assigned task or career, it indicated that he had not been brave when his spirit first visited him.

War and hunting rituals

Although war was not an important aspect of Chinook life, the people occasionally used violence to respond to insults or injuries from other tribes. One description of a Chinook war dance tells of excited men shouting war threats and firing their rifles in the air. The Chinook men, wearing red, yellow, and black paint, danced in a circle, yelling loudly every two or three minutes. Those with knives swiped at the air. Battles rarely resulted in any widespread loss of life. Fighting sometimes began at an agreed-upon time and continued only until the first person was killed. Then the conflict was declared over as quickly as it had begun.

Courtship and marriage

Gifts were exchanged between the families of the Chinook bride and groom. Upper class families traded beads, axes, cloth, knives, and kettles. The exchange was followed by a festive meal. If the family could afford it, they repeated the exchanges and meals as many as five times. Each time the gifts had to be more expensive than the time before. At the final feast the couple decided where they would live. If they stayed with the bride’s family, the husband provided fuel. If they lived at his house, the bride cleaned and fetched water.

Wealthy men sometimes had more than one wife; some had as many as eight. Some Chinook encouraged their daughters to marry important Native American or white men so the family could benefit from their trading businesses.

A woman suspected of adultery was whipped or tied near a fire until she confessed. The man involved was killed, often by a hired assassin, or if the man was wealthy, he paid a price to the woman’s father-in-law.

Funerals

The night after a death everyone gathered at the house. Two men sat at the head and feet of the body. These men had special powers for communicating with the dead. The other relatives and friends sang and danced on the opposite side of the room, using the deceased’s special medicine-songs. Meanwhile the men near the body listened to find out how the dead person wanted to be dressed. Near the end of the night, they prepared the body and painted the face yellow while the crowd sang the proper songs for that ritual.

Both men and women had objects that were special to them, and these items were buried with them. Many times the wealthy also buried a slave with the deceased. Sometimes they placed bodies in a canoe and suspended it from a tree. Cremation and underground burial in wooden boxes became common after disease epidemics killed many Chinook.

Current tribal issues

In the early twenty-first century members of the Chinook Indian Tribe continue their efforts to gain recognition from the federal government. They have problems with recognition because the treaty signed by their people in 1851 never became legal and because they refused to sign a later treaty proposal. The tribe’s petition for federal recognition was placed on active review status in 1993. In 2001 the tribe received federal recognition, but it was withdrawn the following year. Unless new laws are passed, the only way the Chinook can now gain federal recognition is through a lengthy and expensive court case.

A 2005 excavation for highway improvements in the state of Washington uncovered remains that were later identified as Chinookan. The tribe guarded and protected the site while the bones were unearthed and saw that they were treated in accordance with proper Chinook practices. According to recent laws, all remains must be turned over to the tribes, who are responsible for their burial. The site where the bones were discovered was a Chinook settlement known as Middle Village, a place where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped for ten days before crossing the Columbia River to establish Fort Clatsop.

Other archaeological sites have also been discovered. One on Bachelor Island contains the remains of a Chinook village more than 2,300 years old. Another, a large settlement called Cathlapotle, once held 14 plankhouses, some of them more than 200 feet (61 meters) long. Homes that large had sleeping space for as many as 65 people. Studying these sites will give researchers more information about early Chinook life.

Notable people

Chief Comcomly (d. 1835) was a powerful Chinook leader who dominated trade along the Columbia River during the early nineteenth century. White traders held him in high regard, and Comcomly received a peace medal and American flag from explorers Lewis and Clark in 1805. After Comcomly’s death during the flu epidemic in 1835, a doctor named Meredith Gairdner robbed his grave. He removed Comcomly’s head and sent it to England for scientific study. After more than a century of protests by the Chinook, the head was returned to the Chinook people and reburied in 1972.

Brown, John A., and Robert H. Ruby. The Chinook Indians: Traders of the Lower Columbia River. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

———. John Slocum and the Indian Shaker Church. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Brown, Tricia. Children of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Books, 2006.

Gibbs, George. Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or Trade Language of Oregon. New York: Dodo Press, 2007.

Holton, Jim. Chinook Jargon: The Hidden Language of the Pacific Northwest. San Leandro, CA: Wawa Press, 2004.

Huntington, Karen. Jennie Michel: A Woman of the Clatsop Tribe of the Chinook Nation. Pomeroy, WA: Sweeney Gulch Press, 2003.

Ryan, Marla Felkins, and Linda Schmittroth. Tribes of Native America: Chinook. San Diego, CA: Blackbirch Press, 2003.

Chinook Indian Tribe/Chinook Nation. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

“Chinookan Family History.” Access Genealogy. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

“Lewis & Clark: Chinook Indians.” National Geographic. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

“Lewis and Clark: Native Americans: Chinook Indians.” PBS. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

“Lower Chinook and Clatsop: Language.” TrailTribes.org. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

Sanders, Angela. “Chinook Nation.” The University of Portland. (accessed on September 1, 2007).

Edward D. Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseño), Native American Studies Program, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

Laurie Edwards

Daniel Boxberger, Department of Anthropology, Western Washington University

Laurie Edwards

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