While the Chinook and Makah are very different tribes, through potlatch ceremonies and sacred art, these tribes of the Pacific Northwest had much in common. These tribes expressed their status and whimsy through art, such as their carved wooden canoes, elegant boxes, woven baskets and blankets. These items were exchanged in elaborate potlatch ceremonies. Then, there was the mystical totem pole.
One of the most striking features of the Northwest Coast is the presence of totem poles. These totem poles are painstakingly crafted by skilled artisans using beaver-incisor tools. It is said that the poles are inhabited by spirits, and that these spirits may bless or curse you. As such, totem poles are always treated with respect. (Sutton, 131)
Both the Chinook and Makah inhabited a small coastal section of the Northwest Coast, which extends along the Pacific Coast of North America from southern Alaska over 1,500 miles south to far southern Oregon. The region is long and narrow, with little inland territory. (Sutton, 120) The Chinook tribe resided in the lower Columbia River region, around southwest Washington and northwest Oregon. (Wu, International Examiner) The Makah lived around Cape Flattery on the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula. (Pritzker, 254) Looking at a map of the area, the Makah are just slightly north of the Chinook, with some small number of other tribal territories in between along the coast.
The main staples of the Chinook were fish (particularly salmon), roots, and berries. (Columbia Encyclopedia, Hutchinson Encyclopedia) “Fish, especially salmon, was the most important food for most Northwest Coast tribes. Since transportation for most of these groups was by canoe, they were great builders of canoes as well as other finely constructed and carved wooden objects. Trees, especially the red cedar, were the raw materials for everything from canoes to clothing to plank houses.” (Pritzker, 223-24) Through their art and their crafts, the Makah and Chinook both were able to trade, cultivate wealth and status, and decorate their homes and sacred spaces.
The Makah hunted whales. As the numbers of whales began to decrease in the early 1900s, the Makah ceased the tradition. Approximately 70 years later, they returned to the practice. Makah are the only tribe to hunt whales in recent history, winning the right to hunt them once again in the 1990s. (Pritzker, 255) This return to whale-hunting caused a division within the tribe and in their public relations as whales have become creatures to protect in the eyes of most people. Piatote wrote in Fighting for Native Rites: Renewal of the Makah Whale Hunt that the repercussions of those hunters’ actions had repercussions for the tribe all around the globe.
The Chinook were known to be good traders, and like the Makah they were skilled with canoes. (Columbia Encyclopedia) Both tribes were known trade furs, oils, shells, and other items with the Russians and others who came through. The sea and land both provided sustenance to these groups. Salmon and shellfish could be dried and traded further inland, or stored for winter.
Most of the year, the tribes lived in permanent winter villages, however they would move to seasonal villages or campsites as the warmer months began. They lived in large rectangular plank houses along the Northwest Coast. Several families would live in a house together. Temporary seasonal shelters were built of mats, planks, or bark. (Pritzker, 228) Their rectangular homes, made of cedar planks, were dug halfway into the ground. (Hutchinson Encyclopedia) These communal housing structures allowed for close-knit family groups.
In general, there was a predictable rhythm to the year in the lives of the tribes of the Northwest Coast. Northwest Coast Indian people fished for eulachon in late winter; gathered seaweed, cedar bark, and herring spawn and fished for halibut in early spring (May); moved to their summer camps around June, where they gathered sea bird eggs and caught salmon; fished and gathered berries, roots, and shoots throughout the summer; preserved the fish and hunted in the fall; and gathered shellfish, hunted sporadically, observed their ceremonies, gambled, told stories, wove, and carved in winter. (Pritzker, 226) In some ways, it was an idyllic life.
The village was the main social unit, and a rich chief may control several villages. (Columbia Encyclopedia) Typically, four groups existed: nobility, upper class free, lower class free, and slaves. (Pritzker, 226) Warfare was common, but generally small in scale and usually for revenge or slaves. (Sutton, 126) Social status was very important to the Northwest Coast groups, as were the potlatches. Rank even followed members of the tribe into the afterlife, and Chinook slaves were sometimes killed to serve as a servant in the afterlife. (Pritzker, 236) It was pretty good to be a Chinook noble, not so much a slave.
The women of the Northwest Coast tribes were skilled as well, creating art, gathering roots and shoots and berries, and raising the children. Chinook custom was to flatten the heads of nonslave infants for aesthetic reasons. (Pritzker, 236) Having a flattened head made one more attractive and helped with rank. “Most Northwest Coast families were ranked according to social status. Status was inherited and carried rights and obligations. Chiefs tended to be wealthy and of high birth. Marriage was a function more of social organization than of life cycle.” (Pritzker, 226) With their matter-of-fact approach to marriage and rank, the Chinook and Makah both seem to be a forthright and common sense sort of people, although perhaps their social structure was somewhat oppressive. The children of slaves were also slaves, for instance, reinforcing their low rank and status within the tribe.
The Makah and Chinook tribes were greatly skilled artists and creators. They decorated everything, their clothes, canoes, homes. Clothing and jewelry were decorated with tusk-like dentalium shells, harvested off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. (Native American Almanac, 332) Makah typically created baskets and wooden carvings, including canoes. (Pritzker. 256) Meanwhile, notable arts of the Chinook people include carved wooden boxes, house framework, totem poles, baskets, sheep horn bowls, and canoes. (Pritzker, 237)
Art bled into religion. The Makah used carved wooden masks in a four-day Wolf ritual, during which members were initiated into the secret klukwalle society. (Pritzker, 255) The region’s classic ceremonial activity, the potlatch, was both a reflection of and a means to perpetuate this system of social inequality. (Pritzker, 224) As stated previously, the social constructs of the region were oppressive, and the potlatch, while a beautiful ceremony, was often a way to raise your rank or make up for previous grievances, but it did nothing to help the slaves. Potlatch ceremonies sometimes lasted for days, accompanied by feasting, singing, and dancing. The Chinook also celebrated the first salmon run, and adolescent males and females had to undertake a spirit quest by which they believed they would acquire skills in hunting and curing. (Hutchinson Encyclopedia)
Northwest Coast religion centered around guardian spirits. These spirits were in animate and inanimate objects and could be acquired or inherited or even uninvited. Shamans received special spirits that enabled them to cure or harm people. (Pritzker, 228) Somewhat typical of other tribes in other regions, the vision quests and guardian spirits were very important to the Chinook and the Makah. However, despite the totem poles and guardian spirits, these tribes did not have a supremely organized or oppressive form of religion. Shamans were treated with respect and held a high rank, but overall the tribes operated without a severe focus on religion.
There were several language families represented on the Northwest Coast. Chinook were of the Penutian linguistic stock. (Columbia Encyclopedia) The name “Chinook” comes from a Chehalis word for the inhabitants of a particular village on Baker Bay. (Pritzker, 235) Most pervasive was the “Chinook Jargon” as it was spoken all along the West Coast. Chinook Jargon was a mix of several languages, including elements of Chinookan, Nootkan, French, and English languages. (Native American Almanac)
The Makah, who have lived on the Northwest tip of Washington along the Pacific Ocean for thousands of years, call themselves “Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx,” translated as “People who Live by the Rocks and Seagulls” or “People of the Cape.” (Piatote, Native Americas)
Today, the Chinook and Makah tribes are treated very differently and live very differently. While the Makah are a federally recognized tribe that has retained their own language, identity, and to an extent, their lands, the Chinook were moved onto reservations with their enemies and are no longer recognized federally as a tribe. “The BIA removed federal recognition in 1954, probably for reasons of government efficiency and to reduce bureaucracy according to Beckman. The Chinook applied for federal re-recognition in 1981. It would take another 22 years for the Chinook to be in official existence again. Today there are 2,050 members that live along a portion of the Columbia River that stretches and winds up the Washington coast.” (Craig, News from Indian Country)
The U.S. Department of the Interior again recognized the Chinook Tribe in 2001, then suddenly revoked that status in 2002. The Chinook became one of dozens of tribes which became “unrecognized” as a distinct people in the eyes of the U.S. government. That means that as far as the federal government is concerned, the Chinook people are not entitled to federal dollars to build a tribal center, health programs for seniors, and cultural programs for youngsters. These monies would be some compensation for the lands they lost. (Native American Almanac)
Many Chinookans live on the Chehalis Reservation in Washington or the Shoalwater Reservation, also in Washington. Chinook descendants also live on the Grand Ronde and Siletz Reservations. Chinookans have largely integrated into mainstream and the language is no longer spoken, although Chinook Jargon sometimes is. (Pritzker, 238)
There are an estimated 1,000 Makah citizens living today on the Makah Reservation, which is the most northwesterly point of the contiguous United States. (Harjo, Indian Country Today) The Makah Tribe ceded hundreds of thousands of acres of the Olympic Peninsula to the United States in the Treaty of 1855 in exchange for recognition of Makah whaling and ocean rights. It is the only treaty the United States made with an Indian nation that carries a whaling guarantee. (Harjo, Indian Country Today) The Makah live on the Makah Reservation in Clallam County, Washington, within their aboriginal lands. (Pritzker, 254)
The Chinook and Makah differ in current times in that the Makah have recognized sovereignty and the Chinook do not. Despite struggling for years to regain their rightful status, the Chinook have been officially “forgotten” by the US Government. Meanwhile, the Makah have faced challenges of their own. They regained the right to hunt whales, and faced a racist backlash when they proceeded to do so. Traditionally, both tribes existed in similar ways. They ate the same foods, they created art in parallel ways, they lived off the sea and land both. Both the Chinook and the Makah acquired guardian spirits and had shamans with powers.
In conclusion, while the Chinook and Makah are unique tribes in their own right, through potlatch ceremonies and sacred art, these Pacific Northwest tribes had many similarities. They excelled at carving and manning canoes using red cedar. Both the Chinook and Makah had potlatches and elaborate social and economic structures. Despite only living a few miles apart on the coast, the tribes also differed greatly. The Makah hunted whales and wove beautiful blankets were the Chinook traded and created totem poles. Overall, these tribes are far more alike than they are different, but it would be incorrect to assume that since they are both Northwest Coast tribes that they are the same, for they are distinctly unique and beautiful people.
Chinook, indigenous people of North America. (2018). In P. Lagasse, & Columbia University, The Columbia encyclopedia (8th ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/columency/chinook_indigenous_people_of_north_america/0?institutionId=5324
Chinook. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson unabridged encyclopedia with atlas and weather guide. Abington, UK: Helicon. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/heliconhe/chinook/1?institutionId=5324
Chinook. (2017). In Encyclopaedia Britannica, Britannica concise encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Britannica Digital Learning. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ebconcise/chinook/0?institutionId=5324
Craig, C. (2002, Jul 31). Feds flip-flop on decision: Chinook; extinct, recognized, sovereign? News from Indian Country Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.palomar.edu/docview/367656580?accountid=35685
Dennis, Y. W., Hirschfelder, A., & Flynn, S. R. (2016). Native American almanac: more than 50,000 years of the cultures and histories of indigenous peoples. Canton, ME: Visible Ink Press.
Harjo, S. S. (2007, Sep 19). Whale-killing incident revives anti-Indian racism. Indian Country Today Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.palomar.edu/docview/362646405?accountid=35685
Piatote, B. H. (1998). Fighting for native rites: Renewal of the Makah whale hunt. Native Americas, Xv(3), 39. Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.palomar.edu/docview/224783909?accountid=35685
Pritzker, B. M. (1998). Native Americans: an encyclopedia of history, culture, and peoples (Vol. 1). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Sutton, M. Q. (2017). An introduction to native North America (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Wu, J. (2017, Jan). From standing rock to the pacific northwest: The national fight for indigenous rights. International Examiner Retrieved from https://login.ezproxy.palomar.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.palomar.edu/docview/1861356370?accountid=35685