Columbia River/Plateau Region

The Columbia River separates the states of Washington and Oregon and flows into the Pacific Ocean. Its watershed, however, reaches into Canada, Idaho, and Oregon. Until the early twentieth century, salmon migrated to all the upper reaches and tributaries of the watershed , providing nutrition and trade staples for Native peoples of the region.

Native Nations of the Pacific Northwest define themselves as Salmon People. They consider salmon to be an extremely important gift of food from the Creator, and each year they honor the salmon's sacrifice in special ceremonies. There are many geographic regions that distinguish Native Nations or language groups from one another in the Pacific Northwest; three major geographic regions are presented here: the Pacific Coast, Puget Sound, and the Columbia River/Plateau. Despite physical distance and cultural diversity, salmon is a unifying factor for Native People and Nations across the Pacific Northwest.

Celilo means "echo of water on rocks" in the Sahaptin language. At the falls, fish were so abundant that people said you could walk across the river on their backs. Many Native Nations, travelling from as far away as the Dakotas, Alaska, and Northern California, gathered at Celilo Falls to trade goods and fish.

Indians fishing at Celilo Falls, ca. 1900. NMAI P23273.
Leonard Dave, of the Yakama Nation fishes on the Klickitat, a tributary of the Columbia River. The Klickitat , a tributary of the Columbia River, is one of the few places in Washington State where Yakama tribal members still fish for salmon with dip nets on platforms.

Photograph by Jonathan Modie, 2007, courtesy of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC).
Set nets like this one were used to catch salmon. When salmon swim through the hoop, they are trapped in the net.

Tutuni (Confederated Tribes of Siletz ) fish trap, 1900–1910. Siletz Reservation, Oregon. NMAI 047528.
"Salmon has always been essential to our life. We all had jobs to do and most of them centered around salmon. . . . [Salmon] provided everything they needed to live. . . . All their religion and food was salmon. It was the basis for everything."
Michael Marchand (Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation), NMAI Interview, July 2016

Michael Marchand is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. He and his family have fished along the Columbia River for generations.

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Puget Sound Region Case Study
Pacific Coast Region Case Study
Celilo Fishing
Klickitat Fishing
Set Net