Chinook Indian Nation


Last Updated: 3 years

 The Chinook Indian Nation consists of the western most Chinookan people. This tribe includes bands of Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Cathlamet. They have always resided in the lower Columbia River region.


Official Tribal Name: Chinook Indian Nation

Address: 3 E. Park Street, P.O. Box 368, Bay Center, WA 98527
Phone: 360-875-6670
Fax: 360-875-6680

Official Website:

Recognition Status:

Un-Recognized – The U.S. Department of the Interior initially recognized the Chinookan as a tribe in 2001. In 2002, they revoked this recognition.

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: 

Common Name: Chinook Tribe

Meaning of Common Name:

Chinook is pronounced “chih-nook.” This is an English pronunciation of the Salishan place name Tsinuk. 

Alternate names:

Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Cathlamet 

Flathead Indians – They were so called because of their practice of flattening the heads of babies from upper caste families.

Name in other languages:

Region: Pacific Northwest Coast

State(s) Today: Washington, Oregon

Alternate spellings / Mispellings: Kathlamet

Traditional Territory: The Chinook people have always lived in the lower Columbia River region.

Confederacy: Chinookian Confederacy



Today, most Chinooks live in the towns of Bay Center, Chinook, and Ilwaco in southwest Washington. They do not have a reservation. Tribal headquarters are in Bay Center.

Tribal Flag:

Tribal Emblem:

Population at Contact:

Registered Population Today: Over 2,000

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

To be eligible for enrollment with the Chinook Indian Nation, you must have established documentation that you are a descendant of ancestors listed on one of the following:

  • McChesney Roll
  • Roeblin Roll
  • Annuity Payment Roll of 1914

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body: Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 9, including the executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary


Language Classification:

The Chinookan languages are considered by most linguists to be part of the Penutian family of languages. Coastal or “Lower” Chinook, once spoken on the Washington coast by the powerful Chinook tribe at the mouth of the Columbia River, is the language that is generally referred to simply as “Chinook.”

The Chinook Indian tribe was one of the most important tribes of the west coast, but their language has not been spoken since the early 20th century and few records remain of it. Instead, the Chinook people are better-known for the widespread pidgin trade language, Chinook Jargon, that its speakers used to communicate with trading partners throughout the Pacific Northwest.  

Language Dialects:

Number of fluent Speakers:

There are no speakers of the Chinook dialects left. A few elders still speak Chinook Jargon, which was a trade language of the Northwest Coast that combined words and sounds from Chinook, Nootka, English, and other languages.


Alphabetical Vocabularies of the Clallam and Lummi & A Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon, or Trade Language of Oregon  


Bands, Gens, and Clans

Each Chinook village was led by its own local chief or headman, who was always a high-ranking clan leader.  Women could be clan leaders, but only men were allowed to be headman.

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Chinook Indian tribe made large dugout canoes by hollowing out cedar or fir logs. The Chinook tribe used these canoes to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare. 

The women made tightly woven baskets and hats from spruce roots and grasses.



Chinook men didn’t usually wear clothing at all, though some men wore a breech-clout. Women wore short skirts made of cedar bark or grass. In the rain, the Chinooks wore tule rush capes, and in colder weather, they wore fur robes and moccasins on their feet.

The Chinooks didn’t wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Instead, both men and women sometimes wore a basket hat made of finely woven spruce root. The Chinooks sometimes painted their faces, using different designs for war, religious ceremonies, and mourning, and women also wore tribal tattoos in geometric designs.

Most Chinook people wore their hair long and loose, though some women adopted other fashions like braids from neighboring tribes. Chinook men kept their faces free from facial hair.


The Chinook lived in  rectangular cedar-plank houses with a bark roof called long houses. Usually these houses were large (up to 70 feet long) with as many as fifty people from one extended family living in one long house. Villages were made up of people who were mostly relatives. They would not easily give in to violent behavior. Instead, challenging ritual events were used to resolve conflicts.


The Chinook lived in stationary villages primarily along the middle and lower Columbia River and near the Pacific Ocean in what is now the states of Washington and Oregon. Some Chinook tribes lived in what is now British Columbia, Canada, and along the Columbia River tributaries all the way to the Pacific Ocean. They hunted, fished, and gathered other foods near their villages, but did not practice seasonal migrations. They were also skilled traders who traveled in canoes. 

Chinook men were skilled elk hunters and fishermen. Salmon was the primary fish harvested. Chinook men also caught many other kinds of fish and sea mammals from their canoes using nets and harpoons, and hunted elk, deer, birds, and small game on land. Chinook women gathered clams and shellfish, seaweed, berries, and roots.

After the horse was acquired, young Chinook men would occasionally go to the Plains to hunt buffalo. However, this was considered more an adventure and rite of passage into manhood,  than a primary subsistence activity.

Economy Today: 

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs

Education and Media:

Tribal College:

Historical Leaders:

  • Chief Comcomly –  Principal chief of the Chinook Confederacy
  • Chief Tumulth  – Signed the treaty that created the Grand Ronde Reservation and was later killed by General Philip Sheridan





Drum Groups:


Other Famous Contemporary People:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

The video below gives a brief historical overview of the history of the Chinook tribe starting just before their first encounters with Europeans.

The Chinook Indians had a number of distinct social castes. Upper castes included shamans, warriors, and successful traders and were a minority of the community population compared to common members of the tribal group. 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.

Some Chinookan peoples practiced slavery and encouraged their slaves to practice thievery on behalf of their masters, who excluded themselves from such practices as unworthy of their high status.

Some Chinookan tribes would flatten their children’s heads by binding the head under pressure between boards when the infant was about 3 months old until the child was about a year old. This served as a means of marking social hierarchy that placed flat-headed community members above those with round heads. Those with flattened and deformed skulls additionally refused to enslave others with a similar condition, thereby reinforcing the association of a round head with servility. Such tribes were known by early white explorers in the region as “Flathead Indians.”

In the News:

Further Reading: