The Spokane Tribe, “The Children of the Sun,” is in eastern Washington. The ancestral homeland covered about three million acres but through treaties it now covers just over 157,000 acres. The river, now called the Spokane River, crossed their lands from east to providing not only food and medicine but was also considered a sacred place.
Before colonization and prior to the prior to construction of both Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams, salmon could migrate all the way from the Pacific Ocean to Spokane Falls.
Spokane Falls is now in the middle of the city of Spokane. It had been a gathering place for not only Spokane tribal members but others as well, a place to reunite and celebrate, a place to fish for salmon when the salmon chief gave the okay. The tribe was composed of three bands and in 1887, when the General Allotment Act passed, the lower band moved to its present location while the middle and upper bands moved farther east to the Coeur d’Alene Reservation or into Montana.
The last accurate population survey was in 2010 and at that time the total population within reservation boundaries was about 2100. American Indians made up 80% of the population. Tribal headquarters are in Wellpinit, about fifty miles northwest of Spokane.
The Spokane tribal council determined the list of 10 items others should know about the tribe. Chairperson, Carol Evans, spoke about each of the 10 items.
War of 1858
“We had several wars. We defeated Colonel Steptoe in the Steptoe Battle and then Colonel Wright came in after that and our tribe, plus several others, had the Plains and Four Lakes Wars. That ended with Colonel Wright killing close to 900 tribal horses, burning the villages and hanging several warriors.”
“1951 was when we adopted our constitution and represents us having self-governance and continuing to maintain our sovereign identity and move on as a nation.”
Education, Religion, and Skill Training
“Education and religion were used to assimilate the Spokane Tribe. Children were sent to boarding schools. As time passed those two things were used, rather ironically, to advance and assist in maintaining our identity as a sovereign. They helped educate our people to live in today’s world as a distinct tribe with proper education and skill training with traditional religious practices and introduced religion which now stand together.”
The Grand Coulee Dam ended Salmon migration to Spokane territories.
“We have a superfund reclamation site, a uranium mine, and that continues to show us being stewards of the land and environment. We need to continue to be vigilant about taking care of our environment.”
Belief and Value System
“We’re bringing back our language through immersion schools and continue to bring our history back through the school districts. We’re continuing to bring back traditional practices to help with the healing process.”
Sockeye salmon jumping up falls during the annual migration.
“We were a river people. It was sacred to us and brought the salmon to us. Salmon made it all the way to the falls. We had salmon chiefs that regulated the commerce and salmon were one of the most important parts of our diet. Since construction of Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams we haven’t had salmon. It’s been very devastating to our people. We continue to look at reintroduction of salmon and continue to fight the battle to get salmon reintroduced beyond Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.”
Artists and Craftspeople
“We’re an oral and visual people. We have a lot of stories, creation stories, and we teach through stories about the animals, the bird people, and the fish people. That has continued to be part of our history and we continue to have artists and crafts people who continue to tell the story of the Spokane tribal people.”
“Land is sacred. Our ancestors knew they were stewards of the land. We continue to be partners, even beyond our reservation boundary, to assist whether it’s river cleanup in Spokane or anything involving protection of the environment. We collaborate with the city of Spokane and the county to take care of the environment.”
“We’ve been a reservation with high unemployment. Recently we’re trying to develop our economy to become self-sufficient and able to provide jobs for our people. We’re doing this through gaming and through the Spokane Tribe Economic Project (STEP). We also have the promise zone designation to help leverage funds and help build our economy.”
Tribal business north of Spokane.
“Our families and community continue to be sacred to us. We value that and know we were here in the beginning and will be here forever.”