Photo: Tyler Roemer.

Indigenous Peoples of Central Oregon

Jan 10, 2020 by Deschutes Land Trust
As we look forward to our upcoming Nature Night, we offer this introduction to the Native American tribes of Central Oregon.

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The mountains we know had different names.
The rivers we paddle flowed in different ways.
These trails we walk, have been walked for centuries.

Before the earth beneath our feet was called the Oregon Territory, before there was a Bend, Prineville, or Sisters, thousands of years of life went on in the forests, along the rivers, and across this high desert.
Eight tribal groups regularly and customarily belonged to this region.

Columbia River Tribes (Wasco [Chinookan], Tenino, Tygh, Wyam, and John Day [Sahaptin]) came south from the Columbia River on seasonal rounds to gather, hunt, and fish. These lands were also the traditional lands of the Wascoes, the Warm Springs, and the Paiutes. Today, Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute peoples live on in our region and are recognized as The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

According to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, each of these bands are related to this region, but traditionally they observed very different ways of life:

"The Wasco bands on the Columbia River were the eastern-most group of Chinookan-speaking Indians. Although they were principally fishermen, their frequent contact with other Indians throughout the region provided for abundant trade of root bread, salmon meal, and bear grass.

The Warm Springs bands lived along the Columbia’s tributaries speaking Sahaptin. Unlike the Wascoes, the Warm Springs bands moved between winter and summer villages, and depended more on game, roots and berries. However, salmon was also an important staple for the Warm Springs people. Though they spoke different languages and observed different customs, the Warm Springs and Wasco bands interacted frequently.

The Paiutes lived in southeastern Oregon and spoke a Shoshonean dialect. The lifestyle of the Paiutes was considerably different from that of the Wasco and Warm Springs bands. Their high-plains existence required that they migrate further and more frequently for game. The Paiute language was foreign to the Wasco and Warm Springs bands, and commerce among them was infrequent. In early times, contact between them often resulted in skirmishes." Learn more from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute ways of life were radically upset as immigrants made their way West. Eventually, colonizers forced the Tribes off their ancestral home and apart from their customs. Central Oregon’s Indigenous People were made to struggle on a fraction of their traditional land against the arid soil, less abundant streams, and ideals of their colonizers. With them, each band brought their different languages, different beliefs, and different ideas. Today, the Tribes continue balancing their differences as the federally recognized and self-governing Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute are resilient peoples. Through historical trauma and change, their leaders and people have held tightly and continue to hold many traditions and practices that make life rich. Creeds and ceremonial codes call on a relationship with the world as an interconnected place where people and the environment cannot be separated. Indigenous Peoples shaped, created and protected much of what we love so much about this region. Indigenous People continue to shape, create, and protect these lands.

Continue learning from the Tribes of Central Oregon at the Land Trust's January Nature Night: Long Memory of the Land. Elizabeth Woody, Executive Director of The Museum at Warm Springs, will share some of the long-lived creeds and ceremonial codes the Warm Springs people hold in relation to the land. 

Learn More

There are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations in the US, nine of which are located in Oregon. Many more tribes are fighting for recognition. Many recognized tribes continue to fight to protect their ways of life, their people, and their land.

Central Oregon is the traditional territory of Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute peoples.