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Definition: Yakama or Yakima from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1838) 1 : a member of a group of Sahaptin peoples of the lower Yakima River valley, south central Washington 2 : the language of the Yakama people


Summary Article: Yakama from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an American Indian people who lived along the Columbia River valley on the Great Columbia Plateau, Washington. They speak a Penutian-Sahaptin language, and are closely related to the Nez Percé. Salmon-fishing provided their main staple, and is still central to their economy and culture. In 1855 they agreed to affiliate with 13 other peoples on a joint reservation, but the treaty was broken by the USA, sparking the Yakima War 1855–59. They now live on a 520,000-ha/1,300,000-acre reservation in the Yakima Valley, southwest Washington, and number some 8,500 (2000). The name Yakama, adopted in the mid-1990s, reflects its Sahaptin pronunciation.

The Yakama originally led a seminomadic lifestyle, migrating to different areas to follow the seasonal supply of fish, wild plants, roots, nuts, berries, and game. In the winter they lived in permanent independent villages in longhouses covered in bark and skin. The rest of the year was spent in portable tepees covered in tule-reed mats. They also visited trading centres with the season's surplus and to collect winter supplies. Hunting and gathering grounds were shared, but some land around each settlement was considered village territory. First-food feasts and ceremonies were held to celebrate each season's foods, such as the first plant growth after the thaw and the salmon runs.

The US explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met the Yakama on the Columbia River in 1804. In 1855 the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Indian Nation were granted a reservation in the Yakima Valley. The 14 affiliated members included the Yakama, Kah-milt-pah, Klickatat, Klinquit, Kow-was-say-ee, Li-ay-was, Oche-chotes, Palouse, Pisquose, Se-ap-cat, Shyiks, Skinpah, Wenatshapam, and Wish-ham. The treaty allowed a two-year period for the various peoples to resettle, but within 12 days their lands were declared open for white settlement by the governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens. The Yakima War erupted soon after, led by Chief Kamiakan of the Yakama, but by 1859 the uprising had been put down and the treaty was ratified. Although over 4 million ha/10 million acres of ancestral lands were ceded by the confederation, they reserved their right to hunt, fish, gather wild plants, and use traditional sites within this area.

In 1935 self-government was re-established under a tribal council, with representation from each of the 14 affiliated peoples.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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