The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have lived in Central and South Central Washington since time immemorial. The lands of the Yakama extended in all directions along the Cascade Mountain Range to the Columbia River and beyond. Tribal elders say their distance of travel sometimes took them as far north as Canada and as far south as California.
The Yakama, formerly spelled Yakima, self-name Waptailmim (“People of the Narrow River”), are the primary band of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. A North American Indian tribe that lived along the Columbia, Yakima, and Wenatchee rivers in what is now the south-central region of the U.S. state of Washington, the Yakama were hunters, fishermen, and gatherers who relied on the land for their livelihoods.
The Yakama people have a long and complex history that includes both conflict and cooperation with European settlers.
Official Tribal Name: Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation
Address: 401 Fort Road, PO BOX 151, Toppenish, WA 98948
Phone: (509) 865-5121
Email: Contact Form
Official Website: https://www.yakama.com/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Yakama (pronounced YAYK-uh-muh or YAYK-uh-maw). Some sources say the tribe’s name originated from E-yak-ma, meaning “a growing family,” or from the Sahaptin word, iyakima, which translates to “pregnant ones.” Others say the name may have come from yákama (“black bear”) or Ya-ki-ná (“runaway”).
Common Name: Yakama Tribe (formerly Yakima Tribe)
Meaning of Common Name: They have also been referred to as the Waptailnsim, “people of the narrow river,” and Pa’kiut’lĕma, “people of the gap,” which describes the tribe’s location along the Yakima River. The Yakama identify as the Mamachatpam.
Alternate names: Yakima Nation, Toppenish
Alternate spellings / Misspellings:
In the mid-1990s the Yakima Nation renamed itself to “YAKAMA ” more closely reflecting the proper pronunciation in their native tongue.
Name in other languages:
Region: Plateau Region
State(s) Today: Washington
The Yakamas have lived in Central and South Central Washington since time immemorial. The lands of the Yakama extended in all directions along the Cascade Mountain Range to the Columbia River and beyond. Tribal elders say their distance of travel sometimes took them as far north as Canada and as far south as California. Their original territory covered in excess of 5 million acres.
The Treaty of 1855 was ratified on March 8, 1859 by the U.S. Senate and proclaimed law by the President on April 18, 1859. Although the treaty called for a period of two years to allow the various tribes to migrate to and resettle on, their new reservations, Govenor Stevens declared the Indian lands open to white settlers only twelve days after the treaty was signed.
Reservations: Celilo Village, Yakama Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land
The Yakama Nation Reservation is located in south central Washington State, a two and a half hour drive or half hour flight from the City of Seattle. The northern boundary of the reservation neighbors with the cities of Yakima and Union Gap.
At the present time (2010) there are believed to be over 12,000 wild horses on the reservation.
Land Area: 1.3 million acres
Tribal Headquarters: Topenish, WA
Time Zone: Pacific
The Yakama Nation flag shows the borders of the reservation in white against a sky blue background. Within the map is a depiction of Mount Adams, which is sacred to the Yakama. Soaring above the mountain is an eagle depicted in full color. Not only is the eagle sacred, but it shares a lifestyle with many Yakama who earn their living fishing for salmon in the waters of the Columbia River and its tributaries.
Above the eagle is the “morning star,” a symbol of guidance and leadership. Surrounding Mount Adams are fourteen gold stars and fourteen eagle feathers honoring the bands of the Yakama Nation. The feathers represent the fourteen chiefs that signed the treaty of 1855, while the fourteen stars represent the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nations. The tribe’s name and the date of the treaty complete the design.
Population at Contact:
Registered Population Today: The population in 2000 was 31,799.
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
Ph. (509) 865-5121 Ext. 4447
Name of Governing Body: Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 10, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Sargent at Arms
Reservation: The Yakama reservation is located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in southern Washington state. The eastern portion of Mount Adams lies within this territory. According to the United States Census Bureau, the reservation covers 2,185.94 square miles (5,661.56 km²).
Language Classification: Yakima (or Yakama) Sahaptin, or Ichishkíin S í nwit (literally, “(in) this language”), is a Plateau Penutian language spoken in and around the Yakama Indian reservation in central Washington State, USA, south-central Washington and northern Oregon.
Language Dialects: Yakama
Number of fluent Speakers:
The Yakima language is now close to extinct. Only a handful of fluent speakers remain, although there is growing interest in teaching and preserving the language.
This Sahaptin dictionary documents the dialect of Sahaptin that is spoken by the Yakama people.
The Yakama oral history says they have been in their present location since time immemorial. Prior to the reservation era, they roamed about 5 million acres between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia river, traveling as far north as British Columbia, Canada, and as far south as northern California.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
The tribe is composed of 14 bands, each with its own history and unique cultural traditions.
The 14 bands that make up the Yakama Nation are:
Kanaskat: The Kanaskat band was located in the Cascade Mountains of western Washington. They were known for their use of horses and their participation in the fur trade
Klickitat: The Klickitat band was originally located along the Klickitat River in south-central Washington. They were known for their skill as horsemen and their participation in the fur trade.
Klinquit: The Klinquit band was located in the southern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their fishing practices, particularly their use of platforms to catch salmon.
Kow-was-say-ee: The Kow-was-say-ee band was located in the southeastern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their horse breeding and trading practices.
Li-ay-was: The Li-ay-was band was located in the southern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their fishing practices, particularly their use of fish weirs to catch salmon.
Palouse: The Palouse band was located in the Palouse region of southeastern Washington. They were known for their farming and fishing practices, as well as their use of horses.
Pisquouse: The Pisquouse band, also known as the “Northern Yakama,” were located in the northern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their hunting and fishing practices, as well as their participation in the fur trade.
Se-ap-cat: The Se-ap-cat band was located in the southeastern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their horse breeding and trading practices.
Shyiks: The Shyiks band was located in the northern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their hunting, fishing, and gathering practices.
Skin-pah: The Skin-pah band was located in the southeastern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their horse breeding and trading practices.
Sokulk: The Sokulk band was located in the eastern part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory. They were known for their horse breeding and trading practices.
Wenatchapam: The Wenatchapam band was located in the Wenatchee Valley in central Washington. They were known for their agricultural practices, including the cultivation of apples and other fruits.
Wishram band: This band was located along the Columbia River and its tributaries in southern Washington. They were known for their fishing practices, particularly their use of dip nets to catch salmon.
Yakama: The Yakama band is the largest and most prominent within the Yakama Nation. They were located in the central part of the Yakama Nation’s traditional territory and were known for their hunting, fishing, and gathering practices.
Each band had its own clans, which were groups of families who claimed descent from a common ancestor. However, information on the specific clans of each band is limited.
Related Tribes: See above.
Ceremonies / Dances: (Bison) Soup Dance
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
The Yakama Nation Library is a part of the Yakama Nation Tribal School and is a public library located at the Cultural Heritage Center in Toppenish, Washington.
Annual Frybread Contest, held in Topinish on 4th Saturday in April.
The Yakama Nation Mt. Adams Recreation Area is a unique area of the Yakama Reservation. It is the only area within the Yakama Reservation forested boundary that is open to non-Yakama tribal members. The recreation area has scenic hiking trails and basic campsites available to the public. Day use and overnight permits are issued on site.
Legends / Oral Stories:
The story of the origin of the Yakama tribe tells of the Great Chief Above who lived all alone. When he made the world, he went down to shallow places in the water and created land out of mud. He piled some of this mud so high it froze and became the mountains.
Art & Crafts:
Women from the Yakama Native American tribe used strings of hemp as personal diaries. Each major event in their life was represented by a knot, a bead or a shell. This mnemonic device is called an Ititamat, or counting-the-days ball, or simply a Yakima time ball.
Animals that can be seen in this region include the great blue heron, osprey, big horn sheep, deer and elk, and wild horses.
Villages were located on or near waterways, in places where a variety of resources could be obtained. In winter they lived in homes called lodges. They built their lodges by covering a wooden frame with mats woven from leaves. In spring the Yakama camped in places where they could gather wild plants to eat. In summer they moved to the Columbia River area to fish for salmon.
In the 1700s the Yakama acquired horses from other tribes, enabling them to travel east onto the Great Plains to hunt bison (buffalo). At this time the tribe began using tepees covered with bison skin for temporary shelter, as the Plains Indians did, while away on these hunts.
They camped in one place for the winter months, then followed the plant harvests and animals for the remainder of the year. The Yakamas have lived in Central and South Central Washington since time immemorial. The lands of the Yakama extended in all directions along the Cascade Mountain Range to the Columbia River and beyond. Tribal elders say their distance of travel sometimes took them as far north as Canada and as far south as California.
The Yakama Indians were fishing people. Their staple food was salmon. Yakama men also hunted for deer, elk, and small game. Yakama women gathered nuts, roots, and berries to add to their diet.
Under the Treaty of 1855, the Yakama Nation reserved the right to fish, hunt and gather and other rights at all usual and accustomed places. This includes the preservation of fish habitat at all usual and accustomed fishing places.
Today, the Yakama Nation Fisheries manages resources to ensure continued access by Yakama members to fulfill their ceremonial, subsistence and commercial needs.
Yakama Nation projects developed on land of the Yakama Nation Land Enterprise (YNLE) include fruit orchards and farm operations, a forest mill, timber sales, Legends casino and Event Center, RV Park Resort, sports complex, industrial park, as well as regular and controlled atmosphere (CA) cold storage facilities and a fruit and produce stand. They also have a museum and cultural center that is open to the public.
The Yakama Nation public hunting and fishing program manages the hunting activities of non-enrolled hunters. The Yakama Nation opens a portion of the reservation for hunting of birds and small game for non-enrolled hunters. Each year, seasons are developed, lands are posted, and hunting is allowed according to the rules and regulations of the Yakama Nation. Hunting is allowed for upland game birds including: pheasants, quail, and partridge; waterfowl including: ducks and geese; and rabbits and other small game. To hunt on the Yakama Nation Reservation, non-enrolled hunters, over the age of 12, are required to purchase a Yakama Nation Hunting & Fishing Permit.
They also have Yakama Power, which relies on wind, water, sun, bio-mass or geo-thermal to obtain electricity.
Yakama Nation Networks is dedicated to providing secure and stable high-speed Internet services to residents and businesses located on the Yakama Nation Reservation.
Twelve “Tsoo-thlum,” or Bison were reintroduced to the reservation in 1991, and the tribe now has over 125 head. The Bison Project has over 150 acres of land to manage the herd, utilizes over 150 tons of winter feed per year and produces 25-30 young calves every spring.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
Yakima Indians believed in a creator and supreme God called Wheemeemeowah, as well as the existence of animal spirits. The latter could be helpful in life and were sought in remote places by adolescent boys on journeys called Visio Quests. Shamans’ powerful spirits allowed them to cure illness. The most important ceremonies had to do with first food (salmon, root, berry) feasts.
Marriage practices varied among the different bands, but generally involved a period of courtship and negotiation between families. Polygamy was practiced by some members of the tribe, but not all.
Famous Yakama Chiefs and Leaders:
- Chief Spencer (Tah pa shah, meaning Sharp Shooter) – He was Chief of the Klickitats and appointed the 1st chief of the Confederated Yakama Nation.
- Chief Kamiakin – (ca.1800-1877)Head Chief of the Yakama, Palouse, and Klickitat peoples east of the Cascade Mountains in what is now southeastern Washington state. In 1855, he was disturbed by threats from the Territorial Governor, Isaac Stevens, against the tribes of the Columbia Plateau. After being forced to sign a treaty of land cessions, Kamiakin organized alliances with 14 other tribes and leaders, and led the Yakima War of 1855-1858. Kamiakin had vast herds of horses and cattle and dug the first irrigation ditch in the Yakima Valley.
- Yakama Chief Owhi – one of the signers of the treaty
- Kittitas Chief Teias –
- Klickitat Chief Tenax –
- Palouse Chief Tilcoax –
- Nipo Tach Num Strongheart– Wild west show performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and Major Lillie’s Pawnee Bill Shows, and later Hollywood actor, one of the first Native Americans in film.
The Yakama signed a treaty in 1855 with Govenor Isaac Stevens of the Washington Territory, along with representatives of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Wallawalla, and Nez Perce tribes.
Although the treaty called for a period of two years to allow the various tribes to migrate to and resettle on their new reservations, Govenor Stevens declared the Indian lands open to white settlers only twelve days after the treaty was signed.
Yakama Chief Kamiakin called upon the tribes that had been duped to forcefully oppose this declaration, but not before they had built up their strength to oppose the military.
Things move too quickly and shortly thereafter a series of raids, counter raids and reciprocal atrocities began. This uprising became known as the Yakima War. The war continued until 1859, when the last phase, known as the Couer d’Alene War ended. Yakama Nation History Timeline
In the News:
Nch’i-Wána, “The Big River”: Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land
John Slocum and the Indian Shaker Church
A Little War of Destiny: The Yakima/Walla Walla Indian War of 1855-56
A Song to the Creator: Traditional Arts of Native American Women of the Plateau