Identity, territory and place: Insights from the Warm Springs Reservation (Oregon)

Margaret Ann Knox
Dept. of Geography, University of Oregon
July, 2005


The forced relocation of Indians in North America onto reservations in the 19th century by the United States government ignored the spiritual, social and cultural connections Indians developed with their ancestral homelands. Thus, the location of reservations was based on political boundaries drawn by the United States government, with little knowledge of intertribal territorial boundaries. The distinctiveness of Indian peoples was minimized during relocation; as a result Indian cultures struggled with loss of lands and loss of cultural identity.
In Oregon, Sahpatin and Chinook tribes signed 'The Treaty with the Tribes of Middle Oregon, 1855,' which in part, ceded their occupied homelands along the Columbia River to Euro-American settlers, while maintaining control over the area designated as the 'Warm Springs Reservation,' which they identified as part of their ancestral lands. Thirty years later, after intense warfare between the Euro-Americans and the Northern Paiute, the Paiute were also relocated to the Warm Springs Reservation. At various times prior to removal, the Northern Paiute engaged the Sahaptin and Chinook in warfare, which both groups instigated. Some skirmishes were resolved with the exchange of gifts to satisfy the injured party, but at other times the battles were intense, resulting in casualties for all three groups. Territorial disputes over the land south of the Columbia River often precipitated these conflicts, which at times resulted in the Paiutes forcing the Sahaptins and Chinooks to relocate their villages to the north side of the river.
Thus, the bartered treaty between the Euro-Americans and the Sahaptins and Chinooks in 1855, ceded lands the Paiute claimed as theirs, and gave lands to the Sahaptins and Chinooks which the Paiute also claimed as ancestral homelands. Through a comparative study of the Sahaptin, Chinook and Paiute, this research explores the extent to which territorial articulation affected the cultural identities of each tribe. This work also illuminates the complex relation within identity, culture, and territory, and adds to a growing body of scholarship that highlights Indian agency and cultural persistence throughout periods of oppression.