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Who are the Yakima Indians?

The Yakima, or Yakama, are a Native American tribe from the Pacific Northwest, guardians of rich cultural traditions and a deep connection to the land. Their history is a tapestry of resilience and respect for nature. Discover how their legacy continues to thrive and what lessons we can learn from their enduring spirit. What secrets does their heritage hold for us today?
Anna T.
Anna T.

The Yakima Indians are a Native American tribe from the northwestern part of the United States. Many of them live on a reservation in Washington State that covers parts of areas including Mt. Adams, Celilo Falls, Fort Simcoe, Columbia River, and the Yakima River. Most of the people now considered Yakima Indians are most likely descended from several different tribes of the same general area.

Long before cars or horses were used, Yakima Indians commonly traveled via birchbark canoes or by walking. Members of the tribe mostly lived in earth lodges, which were pits dug into the ground with dome-shaped roofs made of wood and packed dirt. The material used for clothing was generally buckskin, although they were also known to wear fur during the winter. Women of the tribe typically used beads to decorate their clothing. The men usually wore feathered war bonnets instead of headdresses.

Fishing was  important to the Yakima, especially salmon.
Fishing was important to the Yakima, especially salmon.

Wood carving and basket making are two of the crafts most commonly associated with the Yakima Indians. The Yakima often ate salmon caught with nets and wooden fish traps. A bow and arrow was the primary hunting weapon, although spears could have been used as well. The Yakima were not known to be particularly violent, but may have occasionally fought battles with the Shoshone Indians.

Women of the tribe mostly took care of the children, cooked, and gathered plants. Men typically fished, hunted, and fought in war when necessary. Children of the tribe frequently accompanied their fathers on hunting and fishing excursions and had chores for which they were responsible.

In 1855, 14 leaders of different Yakima tribes signed a treaty with the United States. The purpose of this treaty was to form the reservation and confederate the people of the Yakima Indian Nation. A chief called Kamaiakan is said to have been the leader of the Yakima Indians after the treaty was signed. In 1859, the Yakima Indian Agency was formed on an abandoned military base referred to as Fort Simcoe, and later renamed Simcoe Valley. The agency was eventually moved to Toppenish, Washington.

Most modern Yakima Indians speak English. It is not uncommon for some of the Yakima to speak their native language, particularly elders of the tribe. Yakima is the original name of the Yakima Indians, but they are also commonly referred to as the Yakama. There is a general uncertainty concerning the true meaning of Yakima. Some speculate that it may mean "pregnant women" or "family."

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Yakima Indians?

The Yakima, or Yakama, are a Native American tribe originally living in the region around the Yakima River in what is now Washington State. They are known for their rich cultural heritage, including traditional fishing, hunting, and gathering practices. The Yakama Nation today is a federally recognized tribe with a reservation established by the Treaty of 1855, covering approximately 1.2 million acres.

What is the historical significance of the Yakima Indians?

The Yakama people played a significant role in the history of the Pacific Northwest. They were part of the Plateau culture area and were influential in the trade networks that extended across the region. Their resistance to European-American settlement and the subsequent Yakima War (1855-1858) were pivotal in shaping the history of Native American and United States government relations.

What are some traditional practices of the Yakima Indians?

Traditional practices of the Yakama include salmon fishing, which is central to their culture and economy, as well as hunting game and gathering roots and berries. They are also known for their craftsmanship in basketry and beadwork. The Yakama continue to practice their cultural traditions and hold annual events such as the Treaty Days celebration to commemorate their history and treaty rights.

How does the Yakima Nation govern itself today?

Today, the Yakama Nation governs itself through a tribal council system, which is composed of representatives from the 14 confederated tribes and bands that make up the nation. The council oversees matters related to tribal sovereignty, economic development, education, and the welfare of its members, operating under their own legal system and government structures on the reservation.

What are the current challenges faced by the Yakima Indians?

The Yakama Nation, like many indigenous communities, faces challenges such as maintaining their cultural heritage, economic development, health disparities, and environmental issues. They are actively involved in efforts to protect their treaty rights, natural resources, and to provide opportunities for their members. The Yakama are also engaged in land and water rights disputes, aiming to preserve their traditional way of life while adapting to modern societal changes.

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Discussion Comments


@Bonij - I'm thinking that another reason why the tribes in the northwest weren't warlike is because the land is mountainous with lots of rivers and lots of bushes and trees. They could isolate themselves and weren't bothered by other tribes, except for some trading.

And I agree with you that since there was such an abundance of food sources, there was enough for all - no need to fight!


I find it curious that many of the Indian tribes that have lived in the northwest, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada, were not known to be very warlike.

I have wondered why that is so. The Plains Indians relied on a large area to provide enough wild animals for their food and hides for their clothes and housing. Maybe the arguments about territory caused the fights.

The Indians in the northwest had enough resources, like fish in the many rivers. They didn't have to compete for food. Any other ideas?

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    • Fishing was  important to the Yakima, especially salmon.
      By: dulsita
      Fishing was important to the Yakima, especially salmon.