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Who are the Yakima Indians?

Anna T.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Yakima Indians are a Native American tribe from the northwestern part of the United States. Many of them live on a reservation in Washington State that covers parts of areas including Mt. Adams, Celilo Falls, Fort Simcoe, Columbia River, and the Yakima River. Most of the people now considered Yakima Indians are most likely descended from several different tribes of the same general area.

Long before cars or horses were used, Yakima Indians commonly traveled via birchbark canoes or by walking. Members of the tribe mostly lived in earth lodges, which were pits dug into the ground with dome-shaped roofs made of wood and packed dirt. The material used for clothing was generally buckskin, although they were also known to wear fur during the winter. Women of the tribe typically used beads to decorate their clothing. The men usually wore feathered war bonnets instead of headdresses.

Wood carving and basket making are two of the crafts most commonly associated with the Yakima Indians. The Yakima often ate salmon caught with nets and wooden fish traps. A bow and arrow was the primary hunting weapon, although spears could have been used as well. The Yakima were not known to be particularly violent, but may have occasionally fought battles with the Shoshone Indians.

Women of the tribe mostly took care of the children, cooked, and gathered plants. Men typically fished, hunted, and fought in war when necessary. Children of the tribe frequently accompanied their fathers on hunting and fishing excursions and had chores for which they were responsible.

In 1855, 14 leaders of different Yakima tribes signed a treaty with the United States. The purpose of this treaty was to form the reservation and confederate the people of the Yakima Indian Nation. A chief called Kamaiakan is said to have been the leader of the Yakima Indians after the treaty was signed. In 1859, the Yakima Indian Agency was formed on an abandoned military base referred to as Fort Simcoe, and later renamed Simcoe Valley. The agency was eventually moved to Toppenish, Washington.

Most modern Yakima Indians speak English. It is not uncommon for some of the Yakima to speak their native language, particularly elders of the tribe. Yakima is the original name of the Yakima Indians, but they are also commonly referred to as the Yakama. There is a general uncertainty concerning the true meaning of Yakima. Some speculate that it may mean "pregnant women" or "family."

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to America Explained. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By Clairdelune — On Oct 02, 2011

@Bonij - I'm thinking that another reason why the tribes in the northwest weren't warlike is because the land is mountainous with lots of rivers and lots of bushes and trees. They could isolate themselves and weren't bothered by other tribes, except for some trading.

And I agree with you that since there was such an abundance of food sources, there was enough for all - no need to fight!

By BoniJ — On Oct 02, 2011

I find it curious that many of the Indian tribes that have lived in the northwest, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada, were not known to be very warlike.

I have wondered why that is so. The Plains Indians relied on a large area to provide enough wild animals for their food and hides for their clothes and housing. Maybe the arguments about territory caused the fights.

The Indians in the northwest had enough resources, like fish in the many rivers. They didn't have to compete for food. Any other ideas?

Anna T.
Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to America Explained. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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