What is the Yakima Reservation?

JP Moor

The Yakima Reservation was established in 1855 for members of the Yakama Nation and other Native Americans in the area. The property is located in southern Washington state on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. It covers about 1.3 million of the original 12.3 million acres that they claimed as their original territory. In 1994, the Yakama Nation officially changed the spelling of its name from "Yakima" to "Yakama" to be true to its real pronunciation, but many place names in the area still use the former spelling. Thus, the proper name of the reservation is the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Fishing was  important to the Yakima, especially salmon.
Fishing was important to the Yakima, especially salmon.

The treaty that created the reservation allowed the Yakama two years to move onto the reservation. In violation of the treaty, however, the governor of Washington, Isaac Stevens, opened the Yakama lands to settlement less than two weeks after the treaty was signed. This led to the Yakima War, which lasted until 1858.

People of the Yakima Reservation value modern education.
People of the Yakima Reservation value modern education.

A Yakama Chief, Kamiakin, convinced many Yakama and members of other tribes involved in the treaty to revolt. After three years of war, the tribes were defeated and finally settled on the Yakima Reservation. Kamiakin escaped to Canada, but many other tribal chieftains were executed.

The Yakima Reservation was not intended for just the Yakama. Thirteen other related tribes were included in the treaty and the move to the reservation. Together, these tribes ceded about 11.5 million acres to the U.S. government. Not all tribes have entered the reservation, however. The Paloos tribe, also spelled Palouse or Palus, and others refused to recognize the treaty that others had signed for them.

The treaty establishing the Yakima Reservation also granted the tribes fishing rights over much of their original territory. Fishing was an important source of food for these Native Americans, especially the salmon runs that occur on the west side of the Cascades. White settlers in the area soon began to try to limit Yakama access to fishing areas, so that by time a 1974 court decision was handed down, the Yakama had been severely restricted.

The historic Boldt Decision in 1974 fully restored all Yakama fishing rights. This decision also made the Yakama tribe co-manager of Washington state's fishery resources. The Columbia and eight other rivers are now co-managed by the tribe.

People of the Yakima Reservation value modern education. Scholarship funds are available for exceptional students. They also value their heritage. Classes in the Yakama dialect are available in their public schools and adult education courses. The tribe's Cultural Heritage Center supports traditional crafts, Yakama history and literature.

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