Published on October 12, 2013 by Amy
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is a federally recognized confederation of three Sahaptin-speaking Native American tribes who traditionally inhabited the Columbia River Plateau region: the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla.
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When the leaders of the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla peoples signed the Treaty of Point Elliott with the United States in 1855, they ceded 6.4 million acres of homeland in what is now northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington in exchange for a reservation and the promise of annuities in the form of goods and supplies.
The tribes share the Reservation, which has 271.047 sq mi (702.009 km²) in Umatilla County, in central Oregon state. They have created a joint governmental structure as part of their confederation. The tribal offices are just east of Pendleton, Oregon. Almost half of the reservation land is owned by non-Indians, and the reservation includes significant portions of the Umatilla River watershed. In 2013 the three-tribe confederation numbers 2,916. Roughly half of the tribal population live on or near the reservation.
It is also home to about 300 Indians enrolled with other Tribes, such as the Yakama, Tenino (Warm Springs), and Nez Percé. 1,500 non-Indians also reside within the reservation boundaries.
After ceding their territories, the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse relocated to what was called the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). In exchange for ceding most of their territories, they received supplies and annuities from the federal government, which tried to encourage them to take up subsistence farming. Many times the supplies were late in coming or were inadequate for the population.
In 1887 under the Allotment Act, communal land was distributed to households. This and other legislation made it possible for the members to sell their lands, and they were preyed on by speculators and swindlers. Gradually the tribe took back communal control of its land, and has regained more than 14,000 acres of what was lost.
In addition, in the 20th century it pursued a major land claim case against the federal government, saying that the three tribes had traditionally controlled one million more acres of land than they had been compensated for following the 1855 treaty. The Indian Claims Commission awarded the confederated tribes several million dollars in a negotiated settlement. They used some of that money in economic development efforts, and paid per capita claims to tribal members for another part of it.
The tribe re-established its government in 1949, writing a constitution that provided for election of members to the General Council. It is governed by a nine-member council, known as the Board of Trustees, elected by the General Council. They serve two-year terms and are elected on staggered terms. This Board replaced the rule by hereditary chiefs.
The tribe have been working for nearly three decades since the late twentieth century to restore fish habitats and runs of the Umatilla and Grande Ronde rivers. It is buying back land in watersheds of the Umatilla on its reservation, to preserve habitat.
In the early 1980s, under the tribe’s leadership, salmon were reintroduced in the Umatilla River. The tribe, along with the state of Oregon, operate egg-taking, spawning, and other propagation facilities that are helping restore salmon runs. In 1984, the first fall Chinook salmon in some 70 years returned to the Umatilla River. As a member of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the CTUIR also shares management of the Columbia, Snake, Walla Walla, Tucannon, John Day, and Imnaha river basins. “In recent times, tribal fisheries have occurred only on the Umatilla and Columbia rivers.”
The Confederated Tribes opened the Wildhorse Resort & Casino, which now has a hotel and seven restaurants, located four miles east of Pendleton. It also has a golf course. The Wildhorse Casino opened in 1995. The revenues generated from gaming have multiplied the tribe’s budget by sevenfold, making money available for health, education, housing and economic development. Unemployment on the reservation has been cut by half. Several hundred people work for the resort, and 300 work for the tribe’s Cayuse Technologies, which opened in 2006 to provide services in software development, a call center, and word processing.
The CTUIR publishes the monthly newspaper, Confederated Umatilla Journal. It also operates a radio station: KCUW.
The traditional religion practiced by some tribal members is called Seven Drums (Washat). The majority belong to various Christian denominations.
The confederated tribes established Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, operating in Pendleton, Oregon, as a museum to represent its people. It tells traditional stories of the Natítyat (Indian people), has exhibits of traditional clothing and tools, as well as art and crafts by contemporary people, and exhibits representing the contemporary world.
As an aspect of contemporary culture, basketball is the most popular sport played on the reservation. Kids start playing from a young age, and many families install basketball hoops at their homes. In 2013 two sisters from CUITR, students and basketball players at University of Louisville, played in the NCAA’s Final Four tournament.
In July 1996, ancient remains of a man were found near Kennewick, Washington. He has been called Kennewick Man or the “Ancient One” (by Native Americans). CUITR joined with the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Wanapum Band in seeking to have the remains reburied as required by traditional tribal law and according to the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The remains were estimated to be 9,000 years old and scientists wanted to study them. A series of court cases followed; in 2004 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to allow more studies before releasing the remains to the tribes. CUITR decided not to pursue any more legal action, but is seeking to strengthen NAGPRA.
The tribe has developed schools and language curricula to teach and preserve its native languages. These are endangered, as the tribe has only about five native speakers of Walla Walla language and about 50 native speakers of Umatilla, both of the Sahaptin family. It is concentrating on the more widely shared languages, as Cayuse became extinct by the end of the 19th century. Because some Cayuse learned Nez Perce, it is one of the languages being taught on the reservation.
Today six language teachers are running programs at the Nixyaawii Community School, which has offered Umatilla, Walla Walla and Nez Perce language classes for the last decade. The tribe is developing Cay-Uma-Wa, a Head Start program to include teaching native languages. In addition, the tribe has developed online video resources and the Tamaluut immersion school, designed for 3- to 5-year-olds. At the Pendleton Round-up in September 2013, a young CTUIR woman sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in Umatilla, a first at that event.