Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Homelands
Village Life
Inter-Village Relations
Seasonal Round
Leadership
"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
Intertribal Trade Network
Canoe People
References Cited
  Contemporary Culture
  Language
Sovereignty
Environmental History
Cultural History
Recommended Websites
  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
Strangers Arrive
Maritime Fur Trade
Fort Clatsop Winter
Overland Fur Trade
Disease and Burial Customs
Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Shrinking Land Base
Making Treaties
Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited


 
  Oral Histories
 

A Folk Tale


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"Our mother was a Chinook Indian, and my grandmother was a full-blood Chinook Indian, and my Grandpa was descended from Chief Comcomly" (Bea Disney interview: 2002).
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Raccoon
Photo courtesy the
National Wildlife Federation.
Fort Clatsop > Culture > Since Time Immemorial
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Saddle Mountain, from painting by George Lagergren. Used with permission.
 

Oral History

Reckoning Time - Geneology


Archaeology
 
Oral History
 

As far back as anyone knows or can imagine, Chinook people have lived at the mouth of the Columbia. As told in “The Legend of the Surf", their beginnings there date back to a time when animals still talked to the people. A version of this story was recorded by Silas B. Smith, grandson of Chief Comowol and son of Celiast.

“In the long ago there dwelt an Indian on the Columbia River at or near Point Adams with no companion other than his faithful dog. This was in the time when all animals possessed the faculty of speech, and ofttimes the dog and master would hold sweet communion together…" (Smith 1901:262).

The creation of the waterways and bays are part of their oral tradition, reaching back into the mists of time. Their origin story is rooted in place, unlike some tribes who carry stories of a great migration. In their story, they identify Saddle Mountain as their place of origin.

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Dick Basch

Much that was precious was lost to the Chinooks within a century of the arrival of Lewis and Clark. Uncountable numbers of people died from epidemics and many of their stories were carried to the grave.

By the time anthropologist, Franz Boas, arrived in 1890, he learned that most of the remaining Clatsops had adopted the Nehelem language and most of the Lower Chinooks had adopted the Chehalis language. They had been driven off of the river and were living in small settlements out of the way of the busy life of Astoria and the fishing villages of new settlers. At Bay Center, which is still a Chinook town today, Boas met Charles Cultee, a native speaker of the Chinook language (not to be confused with Chinook Jargon).

Mr. Cultee shared with Mr. Boas stories of mythic heroes, of the salmon, the raven and the gull, the coyote and the crane, the skunk and the crow, of robin and blue-jay and the panther. He also talked of beliefs, customs and traditions as he knew them through the oral history of his people. (Boas 1894)

“The god who made the Columbia river, and all the fish in it, they call Italupus. He taught their ancestors how to procure fire, make nets, and catch fish. The first salmon caught are all tabooed, and they dare not sell them; they must all be cut up and cooked the day they are caught. A dog must never be permitted to eat the heart of a salmon; and in order to prevent this, they cut the heart of the fish out before they sell it.

“Italupus is supposed to nourish the salmon, and cause them to be abundant during the whole summer, that they may lay up their store of it for the winter" (Wilkes 1845:119).

 

"Italapas, talapas, etalapas, etc. is not a 'god'. That is misinformation that has continued down through time. It likely happened from people trying to find out about our god and asking 'who made you' or 'who made things the way they are'. In that case the answer is definitely it'alap'as (the coyote)" (Tony Johnson, 2003).

 

Reckoning Time — Genealogy
 

Some American Indian tribes keep track of time through winter counts and some with the aid of a string marked with objects to represent important events. The Chinook people relate to the past through their ancestors. A person works his way back in time by recounting his or her genealogy.

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Gary Johnson

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"I am a descendent of Chief Concomly, who was a great Chinook chief at the mouth of the Columbia River, and all of my family grew up down there. I am also related to Chief Selowish, who was a Skomakoway" (Chief Cliff Snider: 2002).
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Chief Cliff Snider

 

 
 
Archaeology
 

The Middle Chinook village of Cathlapotl has been studied by archaeologists. To learn more about their findings, visit The Archaeology of Cathlapotle.


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Chief Cliff Snider
"The Chinook Indians lived here, we figure by carbon dating over ten thousand years, and possibly eleven thousand years ago the Missoula Floods came down from Montana. And we feel that all of our tribes were living here even prior to that" (Chief Cliff Snyder interview: 2002).
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Chief Cliff Snider

Archaeological evidence from the Lower Columbia documents 10,000 years of occupation. These stone hunting implements, from a private collection, are arranged in order of age, with the oldest on the lower left and the most recent on the upper right. All of these tools were found eroding from a beach within the homeland of the Lower Chinook.
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Photo from project files
 
Background: Sunset from Leadbetter State Park; K. Lugthart photo.