History & Culture

Our way of life

Before European contact, the members of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla people were 8,000 members strong. Our people lived in the Columbia River region for more than 10,000 years, moving in a large circle from the lowlands along the Columbia River to the highlands in the Blue Mountains to fish, hunt and gather food.

Until the early 1900’s, our ancestors moved in a yearly cycle, from hunting camps to fishing spots, to celebration and trading camps. The three tribes spent most of their time in the area that is now northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, subsisting on salmon, roots, berries, deer and elk.

In 1855, the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes and the U.S. Government negotiated a treaty in which 6.4 million acres were ceded in exchange for a reservation homeland of 250,000 acres. As a result of federal legislation in the late 1800s that reduced its size, the Umatilla Reservation is now 172,000 acres -- 158,000 acres just east of Pendleton, Oregon plus 14,000 acres in the McKay, Johnson, and McCoy Creek areas southeast of Pilot Rock, Oregon.

In Article I of the Treaty of 1855, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) also reserved perpetual off-reservation rights to fish at usual and accustomed sites and to hunt, gather medicines such as roots and berries, and pasture livestock on unclaimed lands.  Tribal Members continue to exercise these rights throughout the CTUIR’s area of traditional use, which extends to and beyond harvesting fish at Willamette Falls in Western Oregon to hunting buffalo in hunting buffalo in the Greater Yellowstone Area, as they have since time immemorial.

While our lands and way of life have changed in the years since European contact, we hold strong to our ancestry and culture. Our traditional religion Washat, or Seven Drums, is still practiced by some tribal members. In the way of our elders who came before us, we worship, dance, drum, sing and continue to gather foods, treading along some of the same paths they did to find food for our families and tap into our rich heritage.

Our Language

Another movement is underway to a key part of our history.  Our language program is underway to help preserve and revive the languages of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse. We’re working to build and strengthen resources to make our traditional languages available to students at all levels.