What is the Yakima Tribe?

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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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The Yakima tribe is a group of Native American people who have about 10,000 enrolled members in south central Washington state. More properly known as the Yakama tribe or the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, has a reservation of about 1.2 million acres (485,622 hectares) along the Yakima River. The Yakama Nation is governed by the Yakama Tribal Council, which is made up of 14 tribes and bands.

Many members of the Yakima tribe participate in the fishing of salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon from the Columbia River and its tributaries. This fishing can be ceremonial, subsistence, or commercial, and the right of the Yakima tribe to fish the waters is protected by treaties and various court cases. Two of the best known cases involving the Yakama’s right to fish their traditional waters are United States v. Washington and United States v. Oregon.

The Yakima tribe operates a fisheries program that employees 40 people. The tribe also co-manages several rivers, including the Columbia, Yakima, and Okanogan. The tribe has the Yakama Nation Land Enterprise, Wapato Industrial Park, and Mount Adams Furniture Factory, among other enterprises.

The traditional language of the Yakima tribe is a dialect of Sahaptin. The Yakima call themselves Waptailnsim, which translates to “people of the narrow river.” The name Yakima was likely given to the people by Europeans, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation resolved in 1994 to spell the name of the tribe Yakama.


The people originally lived on both sides of the Columbia River and the northern branches of the Yakima River. Traditionally, members of the Yakima tribe were hunters and gatherers. The tribe met the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 or 1806. The Walla Walla Council of 1855 and the Yakima War of 1855 led to the tribe being forced onto the reservation.

In traditional Yakama culture, women were responsible for gathering plants and herbs, caring for children, and cooking. Men were responsible for fishing, hunting, and war. Both men and women had roles in storytelling, artwork, and medicine.

The people of the Yakima tribe traditionally lived in earth lodges known as pit houses. These homes had an underground living area with a dome-shaped wooden frame over the pit. The pit houses were about 15 feet (4.5 meters) across, and the homes were entered and exited by a ladder in the center of the roof. A single pit house was home to only one family.


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