July 13, 2012

Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation


Two Salish speaking groups, the Upper and Lower Chehalis, are the principle tribes that make up today’s Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. Some Klallam, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, and Quinault peoples are also members of this federally recognized tribe.

Official Tribal Name: Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

Address: 420 Howanut Rd, Oakville, WA 98568
Phone: (360) 273-5911
Fax: (360) 273-5914

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Chi-ke-lis, meaning “shifting sands,” probably referring to an old native village near today’s Westport.

Common Name: Chehalis is a collective name for several tribes that lived on the Chehalis River.

Meaning of Common Name:

Alternate names:

Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Name in other languages:

Region: Northwest Coast

State(s) Today: Washington

Traditional Territory:

The Confederated Tribes’ traditional territories were along the Black, Chehalis, Cowlitz, Elk, Johns, Newaukum, Satsop, Shookumchuck, and Wynoochee Rivers, and near Grays Harbor and on the lower Puget Sound of Washington State. The Chehalis River watershed, which extends from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in southwest Washington State, was home to bands of Salish-speaking Indians for numerous generations before the advent of pioneers.

Two main tribes, the Lower Chehalis and the Upper Chehalis, inhabited that area between Grays Harbor in the west and the headwaters of the Chehalis River to the southeast. They communicated with similar Salish languages and kept close relations through frequent contact, bartering and intermarriage.

Confederacy: Salish


Rejecting the unacceptable terms of the treaties offered by the US Government, the Chehalis were regarded as a “non-treaty” tribe. This meant financial aid from the government would be limited and unpredictable. The Chehalis did not sign a treaty but by executive order in 1864 land was set aside for a Chehalis Reservation. The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation was formed and approved by the federal government in 1939 and its constitution was amended in 1973.

Reservations: Chehalis Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land

The Chehalis Reservation is situated approximately 26 miles southwest of Olympia and 6 miles northwest of Centralia. The City of Oakville is adjacent to the northwest corner of the reservation.

The Chehalis Reservation was first established in 1860 for the Lower and Upper Chehalis people. Originally 4,224.63-acres, 3,753.63 acres of this land was distributed to non-native settlers through an 1866 Executive Order.Thirty-six people received homesteads. A third executive order took another section of the reservation for public domain in November 11, 1909, when an additional 471 acres were given to schools, leaving them without any land. In 1906, only 149 Chehalis people remained on the reservation, and only 382 lived there in 1984.

Land Area: 4,438 acres today
Tribal Headquarters: Oakville, WA
Time Zone: Pacific

Population at Contact:

The Native American population in the region during those years is impossible to ascertain, but one report suggests that an 1855 gathering of the Upper Chehalis at Ford’s Prairie numbered up to 5,000. Two decades later, an Indian agent and settler named Sydney Ford estimated that the native population in western Washington below the Puget Sound had dwindled to only 1,200. The flu, measles, small pox, and other white-borne diseases and alcohol-related health problems had reduced the previously flourishing river village populations by nearly 75%.

Registered Population Today: Total enrolled population in 2010 was 833. The Chehalis Reservation was home to 661 individuals, most of which were members of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


The Chehalis Tribe provides a wide variety of public services to the community including Law Enforcement, Corrections, a Tribal court system, Medical/Dental Services, Head Start/Early Head Start, Elders meals and center, Vocational Rehabilitation, Education, Planning, Natural Resources, cultural and heritage programs and mental and behavioral health services including substance abuse counseling.

Charter: They ratified their constitution and bylaws on July 15, 1939.
Name of Governing Body: The Chehalis tribal governing body is the General Council, which is comprised of all enrolled members 18 years of age and older. The Elected Business Committee members govern the Reservation and all trust lands belonging to the tribe’s members. This body is the equivalent of a tribal council at other reservations.
Number of Council members: 5 – Fifth Council Member, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: Chairman, Vice Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary

Elections: A five-member General Council is elected for two-year terms.

Language Classification: Salishian -> Central Coast Salish ->Tsamosan -> Quinault

Language Dialects: Upper Chehalis and Lower Chehalis

Number of fluent Speakers: The last native speaker of the Upper Chehalis language died in 2001.



Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts: The Chehalis people made fine baskets which they used to store food.





For many centuries, two large groups of Salish-speaking people lived along the Chehalis River in cedar plank longhouses with one end open to the water from which they received a bounty of salmon and other river-based sustenance.


In the old days, the Chehalis gathered sacred roots and berries. They fished the Chehalis, Black, Cowlitz, Satsop, Wynoochee, Elk, Johns, Skookumchuck, and Newaukum rivers. The Chehalis people fished and hunted from the mountains, across the prairies, to Grays Harbor and in the lower Puget Sound.

Both tribes were river-oriented out to the sea. They relied upon the rivers for salmon, their principal staple. The natives were expert fishers, and paddlers of shallow shovel-nose canoes. In addition, there was an abundance of steelhead, eels, freshwater clams and crayfish.

The rivers also served as trading routes. The Chehalis peoples’ economy went beyond hand to mouth. They traded fish, clams, oysters and furs. Dried salmon was a popular export to inland tribes. The Chehalis had developed an elaborate trading network among the several bands that comprised their tribes, and with other peoples at a considerable distance.

Their trading route went from the Chehalis river system to the Cowlitz river system. This canoe highway with its negotiable portages was utilized well into the 1900s, not only by tribes, but increasingly by non-natives as well.

Economy Today:

Chehalis Tribal Enterprises (also known as CTE) is the enterprise arm of the Chehalis Tribal Government. Tribal businesses include the Great Wolf Lodge, Lucky Eagle Casino, Eagle Landing Hotel, three End of the Trail Convenience Stores, Burger Claim Fast Food Restaurant, Eagle RV Park and Confederated Construction Company, among others.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Honne, the spirit of the Chehalis, was the creator of animals and people. He gave names to various species important to the Chehalis.

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs


Historical Leaders:





Drum Groups:


Other Famous Contemporary People:

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In the News:

Further Reading:

US Tribes C to D
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