Chehalis (people)

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Traditional territory of the Chehalis and today's reservation in the northwest of the USA

The Chehalis (gespr. Schàheiliss) include firstly to as Native Americans called Indians in the United States . They live in northwest Washington state , on the south bank of the Chehalis and around Grays Harbor . While the Humptulips , Wynoochee and Quinault are close to the Upper Chehalis , the Satsop are close to the Lower Chehalis . On the other hand, there is the Chehalis First Nation, which calls itself Sts'a'i: les First Nation, in the Canadian province of British Columbia , more precisely at Harrison Lake in the catchment area of ​​the Fraser River . They form a dialect group of the southwest coastal Salish . At the same time, Chehalis was a collective name for surrounding and related groups for a long time.

The groups closely related to the Chehalis included the tribes of the Hoquiam, the Hooshkal, the Humptulip and the Klimmin, then the Nooskhom, the Satsop , and finally the Whiskah and the Wynoochee . The Satsop may have been a division of the Chehalis.

The Upper Chehalis or Kwaiailk lived predominantly above the Satsop River , saying a different dialect, the Lower Chehalis lived on the other side.

The name is derived from tshels , which means sand , at the same time a place at Hanson's Point , at the entrance to Grays Harbor (near Westport ), had this name .


- see also History of the Coastal Salish and Kwaiailk

For a long time the Chehalis lived on the lower reaches of the river of the same name, mainly on the south bank and on the south side of Grays Bay. They had got there by the pressure of the Chinooks pulling the Columbia downhill. Later the Chehalis headed for Willapa Bay , which in turn belonged to the Chinook. These had fallen victim to a smallpox epidemic in the 1830s .

While the Lower Chehalis lived mainly on the resources of the sea, the Upper Chehalis were more dependent on the river. A large village called Aqaygt can be found on the Grand Mound. The village of Tewtn was about 2 km above the mouth of the Skookumchuck . At the confluence of the Black River and Chehalis (near Oakville ), there was Sacelt , whose name suggests an artificial lake. Further downstream were other villages at the mouth of Cedar Creek and below Porter . Near Malone was Nsxakwm , where wild carrots grew.

The village was the largest political unit. The Lower Chehalis acted as middlemen, bringing mussels, fish and seal fat to the villages further east.

Epidemics, Americans

James Mooney (1928) estimated the Chehalis population in 1780 at 1,000 for the Lower and Upper Chehalis, the Cowlitz, the Humptulips and related tribes. Epidemics, poor living conditions, and emigration reduced their number to around 170 registered Indians by 1907, a number that was 282 in 1912, not counting the Cowlitz. In 1923 the Indian Office counted 89 Chehalis, in 1937 again 131. These numbers should obviously be treated with caution.

In 1792 the Chehalis met the American Robert Gray , who sailed with his ship into their bay, which was named after him.

When Lewis and Clark wintered at Fort Clatsop from November 1805 to March 1806 , they registered the surrounding tribes. William Lewis wrote on November 21, 1805: "the Chiltz Nation who reside on the Sea Coast near Point Lewis". By this time, however, their numbers must have fallen sharply due to one of the worst smallpox epidemics and measles . The Lower Chehalis established trade contacts both with the members of the expedition and with the men whom John Jacob Astor and his Pacific Fur Company had sent to Fort Astoria .

They also established contacts with the British North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), but a rumor circulated in 1824 that the British wanted to attack the Chehalis. John Work, an employee of the HBC, was able to convince the otherwise friendly Lower Chehalis of his peaceful intentions and distributed tobacco to them.

In 1858 the ethnologist George Gibbs estimated the number of the Lower Chehalis in Grays Harbor and on the Lower Chehalis to be only one hundred.

Reserve without a contract

In 1855 negotiations began between Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens and the Upper and Lower Chehalis, the Lower Chinook, Cowlitz and Quinault. However, no result was reached, with the result that the southwest of Washington State remained without a treaty to this day. Nevertheless, the government acted as if a treaty existed to the Chehalis Confederation of Tribes .

During the Puget Sound War from 1855 onwards, several hundred Lower Chehalis lived on Sidney Ford Seniors Land at the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck. Like many Indian groups, the Chehalis tried to act as middlemen, which in 1858 led to an Indian agent complaining about their trade in spirits from Shoalwater Bay to the Quinault area.

Only from the July 8, 1864 was a 4,224.63 acre large reserve for Chehalis to Oakville in Chehalis County, later Grays Harbor County . Two years later, 230 Chehalis lived in the area. But by no means all of the Chehalis moved to the reserve. In 1855 a total of around 5,000 Indians lived here, in 1875 there were only 1,200. This collapse was caused by epidemics such as smallpox , measles and flu . In 1906 there were only 149 of these Indians left.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862 , which declared land to be "homesteads" and thus released the Chehalis' land for privatization from 1866 onwards. White settlers and members of the tribes could compete for the land, and the whites' funds were so extensive that the vast majority of the land went to them.

The aforementioned homestead program of 1866 lost 3,753.63 acres . There were also 471 acres for schools. 36 Indians received homesteads. In 1868 around 40 families lived within the reserve, with more in the vicinity. When in 1873 the responsible commissioner asked to enlarge the reserve, he was informed that the land had already been assigned to the Northern Pacific Railroad . At that time, the Humptulip still refused to leave their land and move to the reservation. In 1879 the 164 Lower Chehalis who lived along the creeks around Gray Harbor and on the Pacific coast also refused to go there. Many of them moved to the Quinault reservation , some lived on the Shoalwater reservation. Some Kwaialk even refused to enter the reserve, even though it was in their traditional territory; instead they moved to the Cowlitz and Nisqually .

In 1909 other parts of the reserve were withdrawn for public purposes. The Chehalis had 149 members in 1906, but again 382 in 1984.

In 1906, the tribe filed several petitions with the federal government for compensation for the lost land. However , they were all dismissed with claims that the Chehalis had signed the Tansey Point Treaty of 1851. It turned out that these contracts were drawn up by Oregon Superintendent of Indian Affairs Anson Dart without their presence.

In 1926/27 Franz Boas and his students Thelma Adamson and Melville Jacobs (1902–1971) studied the music and singing of the Chehalis. In the 1940s, John Marr recorded music from the Lower Chehalis and other tribes on Puget Sound .

Since 1939 the tribe has had its own government, the Chehalis Community Council . He had refused to organize under the terms of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 .

In 1951 the Lower and Upper Chehalis and other tribes sued against the expropriation of their territory. They succeeded in recognizing the Confederate tribes of the Chehalis as the legal successors of the earlier tribes, whose fate is very difficult to reconstruct in detail, especially since the official documents always claimed that all Indians lived in the designated reservation. In 1963 the Indian Claims Commission ruled that the Kwaialk are entitled to 320,500 acres and the Lower Chehalis to 517,700 acres ( totaling approximately 3,400 km²). The compensation to the Confederated Tribes Chehalis was 754,380 dollars .

The reservations

The Chehalis Reservation is located in southeast Grays Harbor County and extends to Thurston County . However, it only consists of a narrow strip of land between Highway 12 and the Chehalis, extending from Oakville to Interstate 5 . Its circumference is approx. 17 km² (exactly 4,224.63 acres ), of which only half a percent (24 acres ) is owned by the tribe, and another 7.1 km² is privately owned by Native Americans. The Chehalis Confederated Tribes , which are made up of the Lower and Upper Chehalis, the Cowlitz, the Satsop and the Wahkiakum, live in the reservation today . In 2000, 691 people lived in the reservation.

Current situation

In keeping with the traditional lifestyle, the tribe has built up a fish processing industry and a fish farm for salmon . At the same time he tries to preserve the culture and the language.

The Indian Shaker Church, founded by John Slocum in 1882/92, is particularly deeply rooted in the Lower Chehalis. Their influence extends beyond that to the Klallam , Quinault , Yakama and Hoopa , and to British Columbia . It was strictly prohibited and numerous members were imprisoned. The first Shaker Church was built at Shaker Point across from the Squaxin Island Indian Reservation in southern Puget Sound . From 1883 to 1932, the movement expanded into the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada . It was not recognized in Washington until 1910. In 1927 there was a schism , triggered by the question of whether scriptures, especially the Bible , should be accepted. This is how the Indian Shaker Church and the Indian Full Gospel Church came into being . In 1996, the Church had approximately 3,000 members in Washington, Oregon , northern California, and British Columbia.

Around 1975 a tribal center was built with offices, a library and classrooms, as well as a meeting place for the elderly (Elders).

The first house building program was carried out from 1976 to 1978, and a second followed in 1980.

In 1980 the Supreme Court banned the sale of tax-free cigarettes to non-Native American buyers in on-site smoking stores. In the 1990s, the tribe joined the Association of Native American Gambling Operators , the Northwest Coalition of Gaming Tribes .


  • Robert H. Ruby / John A. Brown: A Guide to the Indian Tribes of the Pacific Northwest , University of Oklahoma Press 1992, pp. 105–106 (Lower Chehalis), 39–42 (Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation)
  • Wayne Suttles (Ed.): Handbook of North American Indians . Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC 1990. ISBN 0-87474-187-4
  • Franz Boas : A Chehalis Text. In: International Journal of American Linguistics, Volume VIII, No. December 2, 1934.

Web links

See also


  1. Jennifer Ott, Secretary of the Interior JP Usher creates the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation on July 8, 1864 ,, May 3, 2008
  2. ^ David Wilma: Lewis County - Thumbnail History,, Sept. 1, 2005
  3. ^ Peter Bleche: Song-Catchers: Documenting the Music of Northwest Indians , December 22, 2005