Yakima Valley Museum

The information on this page has been taken from a former exhibit called Dark Times, Bright Visions. Although this exhibit is no longer on view, we welcome you to tour highlights of it online.

Traditional Life

For many generations before the first contact with white explorers, tribes of Native Americans inhabited the Central Plateau between the Cascade and Rocky Mountain Ranges.  Their cycle of living was closely tied to nature. 

Food was the major material concern and Native American households in this region migrated from place to place gathering various foods.  In early spring, they travelled to root grounds and dug for bitterroot, camas, and other edible root plants.  When the salmon came, they congregated at spots where the Creator had provided natural fish traps.  Major fishing spots were at Prosser Falls (Tapteil), the Wenatshapam fishery (near Wenatchee), Celilo Falls on the Columbia, Selah, Soo-nooks on the Tieton River where Rimrock Dam now stands, and on the upper reaches of Lake Cle Elum. 

Deer, elk, and game were sought in the higher country, and just before winter, fields of huckleberries that grew near the timber line were harvested.  In winter, the families gathered at traditional riverside sites, living off the foods which they had gathered and prepared throughout the year. Their diet was well-balanced, and peoples of the Central Plateau were healthy. 

The Central Plateau Peoples had acquired horses from Spanish explorers by the early 1700s, and they became highly skilled horsemen.  Horses allowed longer expeditions and led to increased contact with other peoples.

This way of life was in rhythm with nature.  Even the tools and utensils used in hunting, fishing, and gathering were made from materials borrowed from the earth.

Conflicting Views 
of Land Ownership

When settlers from other countries came to North America, they brought with them centuries-old traditions of land ownership.  These European views allowed individuals to fence, plow, and hold legal title to the land.
Native Americans believed that land had both spiritual and material value; it was to be used for the common good by all and held in trust for future generations.

This differing philosophy was one of the basic reasons Native Americans and the newly arrived settlers from Europe eventually came into serious conflict.  Native Americans were reluctant to surrender the land to people who plowed the soil, and the new white settlers were reluctant to allow Native Americans to hunt, fish, and roam anywhere they wished.

This conflict occurred throughout North America since the 1600s, but it did not come to a head in this area until the mid-1800s.  At that time, increasing waves of white settlement from the East pressured officials of the new Washington Territory to grant titles to land.  In the early 1850s, local tribes could no longer ignore the whites and negotiations began between Washington Territory representatives and Tribal leaders.



Native Flash


To tour the exhibit Dark Times,Bright Visions, click on the above image
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On June 9, 1855, the tribes of the Central Plateau ceded 16,920 square miles of their homeland in exchange for a 1,875 square mile reservation along the banks of the Yakima River in what is now Yakima County.  14 separate tribes, some of whom did not even speak the same language, were joined together on the new reservation to form the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation.

The Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Nation are:


Klikatat Klinquit  Kah-milt-pah Kow-was-say-ee Li-ay-was Orche-chotes Palouse
Pisquose (Wenatchi)  Se-ap-cat  Shyiks Skin-pah Wenatshapam Wishram Yakama (Upper and Lower Bands)

The Treaty of 1855 was ratified by the United States Senate on March 8, 1859, and proclaimed by President James Buchanan on April 18, 1859.

Reservation Life

The years 1880 to 1940 were dark times for American Indian peoples.  Even though treaties had resettled most Native Americans on reservations, Indians still made whites uncomfortable.  Their lives and values were different from those of the whites, who felt that Indians should live as they did.

To educate the Indian is to prepare him for abolishment of tribal relations, to take his land in severalty, and in the sweat of his brow and by the toil of hands to carve out, as his white brother has done,  a home for himself and family.
-U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1903

Beginning in the 1870s, Native American children were forced to attend often faraway U. S. Government operated boarding schools, where they were taught to reject their parents' ways.  Through a process called assimilation, the government deliberately labored to exterminate Indian culture and replace it with European culture.

However, traditional cultures did persist across the nation.  Deep rooted Yakama artistic traditions and technologies, which had been used for generations to make cooking utensils, storage containers, and clothing, were adapted to make items that were sold to the new white settlers.  Many of the objects in this exhibition illustrate the resilency of the Central Plateau American Indian peoples, who maintained and adapted their traditions through changing times.


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