People of the River

For thousands of years, people lived in the Columbia River Gorge, which cuts through the Cascade Range. The River People are the Northwest Klickitat and the Eastern-speaking Chinookan Kiksht. They are the Wascos, the Cascades, the Wíshxams, the Clackamas, the Multnomahs, the Hood Rivers, the Skamanias, the Skilootts, and others who lived in villages on both sides of the Columbia River. Linguists call the people of this area the Eastern Kiksht speakers. Further east were the western Walla Wallas: the Teninos, Wyampams, Tukspushes, and the Tyighs, and Ski’ins. Two hundred and fifty years ago, the River People were the most powerful nation in the region.

The Three Tribes 

The Warm Springs Reservation is home to the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Northern Paiute Tribes. Prior to 1855, the three tribes lived in different places.  Traditionally, the Warm Springs people, comprised of Teninos, Wyams, Tukspushes, and Tyighs, have spoken a Sahaptin dialect known as Ichishkiin, and formerly lived primarily along two tributaries of the Columbia River, the Deschutes and John Day Rivers.  They depended upon game, roots, berries, and to a lesser degree, salmon.

The Wasco people, the easternmost band of Chinook speakers, lived on the Columbia River around Hood River and the Dalles, primarily as fishers, traders, and farmers. Their language is known as Kiksht.  They lived primarily in plank houses, and their culture resembled that of Northwest Coast people. Through marriage ties, the River and Coast peoples had many of the same customs and a similar social structure. The Wascos derived power from their position along a key stretch of the Columbia River, where they were the foremost traders of among the Upper Chinookan peoples.

The Northern Paiutes spoke a Shoshonean dialect, Numu, and lived in the Northern Great Basin of southeastern Oregon. Paiutes migrated further and more frequently than the other two tribes, hunting, gathering, and fishing, though fish was not an important part of their diet. The Northern Paiute’s pre-contact lifestyle was well adapted to the harsh desert environment in which they lived. Each tribe or band occupied a specific territory, generally centered on a lake or wetland that supplied fish and water-fowl. Individuals and families appear to have moved freely between bands. The name of each band came from a characteristic food source. Many of the Paiutes who reside on the modern-day Warm Springs Reservation are from the Wadatika Band, the “Wada Root and Grass-seed Eaters.”

While the Wasco and Warm Springs peoples had traditionally peaceful relations with one another, neither had peaceful relations with the Paiutes.


19th century

During the 19th century, waves of settlers began to travel through and settle in the territory of the tribes, bringing disease and an unquenchable thirst for land and resources. Diseases brought by European American settlers struck with such intensity that by some estimates, 80% to 90% of the Native People in the ancestral area of the Wasco and Warm Springs people died. Small pox first arrived in the late 1770s or early 1780s. A malaria-like disease in the 1830s and 1840s claimed almost 90% of the people on the Columbia River. In 1844 came scarlet fever, whooping cough, dysentery, and typhoid, and in 1847-1848, the measles.

In 1855, Joel Palmer, superintendent for the Oregon Territory, was ordered to clear Indians from their lands. In that year, under pressure from Palmer, the Wasco and Warm Springs Indians ceded approximately 10 million acres to the US government in exchange for 464,000 acres (about 1/20 of their original land base), and for the rights to self-govern, fish, and, and gather foods in the ceded lands. The Treaty of 1855, signed on June 25 of that year and ratified on March 8, 1859, set the stage for the arrival of an increasing number of settlers into the ancestral territory of the tribes.

Although the Wasco and Warm Springs Tribes signed the Treaty of 1855 in peace, the Northern Paiute Tribe did not. In 1859, the Wascos and Warm Springs people on the new reservation were subjected to Northern Paiute raids, which continued until 1866 when the US Army began a campaign to subdue the Paiutes. The Paiutes rose up against the US Army in the Bannock War of 1878, and were defeated. After their defeat, they were first moved to the Yakama Reservation, and then, between 1879 and 1884, to the Warm Springs Reservation. The first 38 Paiutes brought to Warm Springs came from the Vancouver Barracks in Washington Territory, where they had been imprisoned as early as 1866 after being captured in the US Army campaign of that year.

Traditional ways of life changed greatly after the tribes came to the reservation. People had to adjust to new land resources, and there was a boundary dispute (which was not resolved until 1972, when the Tribes increased their official holdings to 644,000 acres). The reservation could not provide enough salmon, and having poor land and a harsh climate, was also difficult to farm.  Indian children were taken from their parents and put into boarding schools, forbidden to speak their own languages, and not allowed to leave school to help their parents participate in traditional activities. The curriculum they were taught promoted an assimilationist program aimed at replacing the children’s indigenous cultural practices, language, and religious traditions with those of American society. In this way, much of the language and culture was lost, as was much of the people’s sense of identity and purpose. People were able to hunt and fish in ancestral lands, and a large number of tribal members tried to subsist by fishing along the Columbia River. However, fishing became more tenuous each year, and the number of tribal members who made a living from fishing steadily declined.

19th Century



20th Century to Present

Until 1924, Native Americans living in the United States, including the people of the Warm Springs Reservation, were not granted full US citizenship. With citizenship came new rights, including the right to vote in elections. In the ensuing years, tribal leaders pushed to gain greater sovereignty for the tribe and its members. After adopting the Indian Reorganization Act in 1937, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (CTWS) incorporated itself in 1938 with a constitution giving it self-management while retaining the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in an advisory capacity. The tribal government now has a tribal council comprised of 11 members, including eight elected representatives and the chiefs of the three tribes in the confederation.

In 1929, a US government act set aside Celilo Village, a traditional fishing site on the Columbia near Celilo Falls that survives to this day as Oregon’s oldest continuously inhabited town, to a small band assigned to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. For thousands of years, Pacific Northwest Indians had fished, bartered, socialized, and honored their ancestors in this place, located on a nine-mile stretch of the Long Narrows on the Columbia. In 1957, however, with the construction of the Dalles Dam, the traditional uses of the river at Celilo were catastrophically interrupted. While most non-Indians celebrated the new generation of hydroelectricity and the easier navigability of the river created by the dam, the Indians lost a sustaining center of their lives. For the inundation of these ancient fishing grounds, the Confederated Tribes received a $4 million indemnity.

In the early 1940s, Warm Springs became less isolated with the completion of Oregon Highway 26. Construction through Warm Springs followed the same route as an ancient trail that was part of an extensive Indian trade network linking peoples of the northern Great Basin and Columbia Plateau to those living west of the Cascade Range. Other important infrastructure soon followed, through it was not until the early 1960s that the Indian Health Service begin installing water lines and wells in rural areas of the reservation (such as Sidwalter and Simnasho), and not until the early 1970s that electrical lines were brought into these places.

Due to World War Two demand for lumber, the CTWS entered into its first contract for the sale of timber, which was logged along the western edge of the reservation. Revenues derived from these sales raised per capita payments to individual tribal members. In 1967, the CTWS purchased a privately-owned sawmill on the reservation and a plywood plan operating under the name of Warm Springs Forest Products Industries. This plant operated a provided jobs for hundreds of tribal members until its closing in May 2016. In the early 1970s, the Tribes opened a resort and convention center, Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge, and later added a casino, camping, RV parking, pools, a health and beauty spa, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, horseback riding, hiking, and rafting. For many decades, the resort generated millions in annual profits. In 2013, the casino at Kah-Nee-Ta was closed, and a new casino built on State Highway 26, near the reservation’s southern border.

In the late 1970s, the Tribes authorized the building of the Pelton Dam by the Department of the Interior on the Deschutes River and shared in some of the expenses. On July 16, 1982, the $30 million Pelton Reregulating Dam hydroelectric project was dedicated. Its license was the first issued to an Indian tribe by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the dam was the first low-rise hydroelectric project ever built by an Indian tribe.

For most of the period from the early 1970s to 2017, the largest economic drivers in Warm Springs were Forest Products Industries, Kah-Nee-Ta, and Warm Springs Power and Electric. In 2017, however, the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Forest Products Industries were closed, resulting in the loss of nearly 300 jobs. Over the years and through the present day, the tribal government, BIA, and Indian Health Service have also provided a significant number of jobs, with the CTWS Natural Resources Department providing the largest number of jobs of any tribal department – up to 250 jobs per year. Since 2006, the CTWS has built a modern administrative and tribal center, with offices for tribal administrators, staff, and the Tribal Council, a housing center, a new Tribal Credit Enterprise building, and a $5.5 million trout and salmon hatchery. The CTWS administers its own laws for fish and game management, and tribal members maintain fisheries and fishing sites along a number of rivers for ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial purposes.

Through its economic development arm, Warm Springs Ventures, the CTWS has started several new tribal businesses since 1995. These include the Warm Springs Tribal Credit Enterprise, Warm Springs Construction Enterprise, Warm Springs Composite Products, Warm Springs Telco, Warm Springs Geo Visions, the Warm Springs Plaza, and Eagle-Tech Systems, which provides management of the Warm Springs UAS Test Range. These tribally-owned businesses provide significantly more jobs than privately-owned business on the reservation. In a survey of private business owners in April 2016, WSCAT determined that there are only 14 retail businesses and no more than 50 privately-owned registered businesses on the reservation. These private businesses provide no more than 200 jobs, well short of the estimated 1,000 small business jobs needed to produce full employment on the reservation.

Warm Springs Ventures is also involved in projects such as the Warm Springs Carbon Sequestration Project and Warm Springs Hemp Project.