The origins of our Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians is a complex subject in itself. The ancestors of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz spoke at least 10 different base languages. 11 if you include a few Sahaptin speaking Klickitat people who were living in the Willamette and Umpqua Valleys when the reservation was created – and so found themselves being removed to Siletz along with the original people of those valleys. Many of these separate languages have so many strong dialectic divisions even within the same language, that from one end of the same language group’s territory to the other, it was sometimes impossible for fellow speakers to understand each other.
From region to region too, ways of living and different cultural practices were in use. The coastal people’s diet and economy was quite different than that of the inland valley people. Sea lion, whale, shellfish, ocean fishes, salmon, etc. being staples for the coast, while some inland people found deer and elk (along with salmon and acorn soup) to be their common food. The north coast and many of the Willamette Valley people practiced intentional head shaping (pressing a padded board, which was attached to the cradle board, against a baby’s forehead – eventually forcing it to slope back & upwards). It was considered a distinguishing mark of beauty and status among the tribes who practiced it, but was usually not so admired by others.
Generally, villages operated with complete local autonomy. Sometimes, though, it is said that there was a recognized headman for an entire region consisting of many individual villages. Headmen were not considered (for the most part) a substitute for the kings of Europe. Headmen were mostly planners, organizers of work parties, and mediators – often being responsible for paying fines for poor villagers who had offended someone. Such responsibilities needed to be carried out in order to maintain peace & friendly relationships around the area. In the old days, just about any infraction (including murder) could be taken care of with a fine established in a negotiated settlement, though a person was considered to be stained by blood for life and could not be active in certain ceremonies after causing wrongful death.
The peoples houses for almost the entire region was primarily a cedar or sugar pine plank structure with the hearth area at least slightly below ground level. Although sometimes the people lived parts of the year practically under the open sky as they traveled from one seasonal camp to the next. In the northern area along the Columbia River and the north coast, these plank houses were sometimes well over 100 feet long, and sometimes had several hearths and separate family areas partitioned off within the structure. Lewis and Clark in 1805 spoke of villages along the Columbia River with several hundred inhabitants (even though the epidemics of the 1770’s had made dramatic reductions in the populations there).
Compiling a list of tribal groups that became incorporated into the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians as a tribe, or who had individual members who became incorporated into the Confederated Tribes is in itself a daunting task. The easiest way to accomplish it is to mention only the more general term for the language group or larger tribal affiliation, rather than getting down into the specifics of village based identity. However most of the old time people and many tribal members even today prefer to identify their tribal ancestry with as much detail as possible. Some examples of more general terms would be “Tillamook Tribe” rather than “Salmon River, Siletz, Nestucca or Nehalem Band of the Tillamook Tribe” or “Kalapuya Tribe” rather than the “Yamhill, Yoncalla or Luckimute Band of the Kalapuya Tribe.”
Going by the preferred method stated above, the following is what I generally consider to be an inclusive list of “our tribes”: Clatsop, Chinook, Klickitat, Molala, Kalapuya, Tillamook, Alsea, Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua, Coos, Coquelle, Upper Umpqua, Tututni (including all the lower Rogue River Bands and those extending up the coast to Floras Creek and down to Whales Head), Chetco (including all of the villages from Whales Head to the Winchuck River), Tolowa, Takelma (including the Illinois Valley/mid-Rogue River and Cow Creek peoples), Galice/Applegate, and Shasta. Each of these tribes has a unique individual history, culture and legal relationship with the federal government, which was brought to be incorporated into the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. These unique relationships through treaties, laws, agreements and executive orders will begin to be dealt with the future articles.