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Yakama Nation History

First Chief of the Yakama Nation 1856-1861

Chief Spencer's tribal name was "Tah pa shah" and interpreted to Sharp Shooter. He was Chief of the Klickitats and appointed at the original Yakama Agency in White Swan, Washington. He was confirmed by J.W. Nesmith, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Washington-Oregon Territory in 1856.

He was also appointed by U.S. officials since Chief Kamiakin refused to come onto the reservation. Chief Spencer was paid $500 per year and at the end of his appointment was given an officer's sword.

The Land

Upon central Washington's plateau and along the Columbia River reside tribal people called the Yakama's. The Cascade mountains shelter this central portion from marine showers. The rolling foothills and Yakima River are the eastern border.

Due west in majestic glory is Pahto, 12,307 feet high. It is one of five Cascade volcanoes that dot the landscape from California to Washington. Her snow melts through canyons, forests, meadows and valleys to provide gifts to our people.

The tribal people comprising the Yakama Nation have lived in this area since the beginning of time. They used the entire land base, from the lowlands around the Columbia River to the snow-peaked Cascade Mountains.

Yakama people spent the coldest months in winter villages generally located on the valley floor, a place with a relatively moderate climate. A reliable source of wood and water, and protection from cold winds could be found there. Villages were located on or near waterways, in places where a variety of resources could be obtained including deer, elk, fish, riparian and desert plants, and animal resources.

In the springtime, as soon as the first edible greens appeared above the ground, tribal people began moving across the countryside for fresh food resources. The melting snows would be followed upland, and edible roots collected as they matured. Some tribal people would go to the rivers to fish. Others would remain in the mountains, following the maturing plants upslope, ending with the huckleberry harvest in the fall. At that time, foods would be either stored or transported back to the winter village from both the mountains and the rivers, and people would settle in, once more living on stored foods and occasional fresh meat until the next spring.

Bordering the reservation, the Yakima River flows southward from the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River. Along the river there is a pass, a gap in Ahtanum Ridge called Union Gap. The Yakima River flowed through this area before the ridges existed. The Toppenish Basin is shaped like a scoop that is open to the east. The higher sides of the scoop are Ahtanum Ridge to the North, Toppenish ridge to the south and the Lost Horse Plateau to the west. Located along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range, the Yakama Nation forest consists of 600,000 acres of timbered lands.

All this for future generations yet unborn according to teachings by our elders.