July 10, 2012

Spokane Tribe of the Spokane Reservation


Spokane Indians  lived along the Spokane River in three bands known as the Upper, Middle and Lower Spokane Indians . They fished the Spokane River and used the grand Spokane Falls as a gathering place, as well as roaming 3 million acres in the Plateau Culture Region.

Official Tribal Name: Spokane Tribe of the Spokane Reservation

Address:  P.O. Box 100,  Wellpinit, WA 99040
Phone: (509) 458-6500

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Sqeliz – “The People”

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Spokane Indians

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

Children of the Sun. Spokan

Originally, the tribe was spelled Spokan, without the e on the end 

Name in other languages:

Region: Plateau 

State(s) Today: Washington 

Traditional Territory:

The Spokane Tribe of Indians are an Interior Salish tribe, which has inhabited northeast Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana for many centuries, utilizing over 3 million acres of land. They traveled east to Idaho, south to the Columbia River, as far west as the Cascades, and north to Canada. They shared this land and the resources with the many tribes of the Plateau region and beyond.

Confederacy: Salish 


Reservation: Spokane Reservation

While the Spokane Indians have lived in their current reservation location since 1877, in January 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes formally declared the Spokane Indian Reservation officially the new and smaller home of the Spokane Indians. The Spokane Indians were split up and some found new homes on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the Colville Indian Reservation. The rest are on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Land Area:  159,000 acres
Tribal Headquarters:  Wellpinit, Washington, (approximately 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA)
Time Zone:  Pacific

Population at Contact:

According to Lewis and Clark, in the early 19th century they lived in the vicinity of the Spokane River and numbered around 600.

Registered Population Today:

 As of January 2006, tribal membership includes 2,441 people.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body:  Spokane Tribal Business Council
Number of Council members:   2 council members plus Executive Officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers:   Tribal Chairman, Vice Chairman, Tribal Secretary


Language Classification:

Salish -> Interior Salish -> Southern -> Montana Salish -> Spokane-Kalispel-Flathead, Kalispel–Pend d’Oreille, and Spokane–Kalispel–Bitterroot Salish–Upper Pend d’Oreille

Language Dialects:

The Interior Salish languages are one of the two main branches of the Salishan language family, the other being Coast Salish. It can be further divided into Northern and Southern sub-branches. Spokane-Kalispel-Flathead is one of three dialects of Montana Salish, and while it is related to others in the language family, it is unique in many ways.  

Number of fluent Speakers:

All Salish languages are endangered and most fluent speakers are over sixty years old. The Spokane tribe does have a language revitalization program, including an immersion program for grade school children, and has the highest concentration of Salish speakers of all the Salish tribes.


Online Salish Picture/Dictionary – with audio recordings. 


The Spokanes say they have lived on the Spokane River for thousands of years. 

Bands, Gens, and Clans

The Spokane Tribe is comprised of five bands: sntu/t/uliz, snzmeme/, scqesciOni, sl/otewsi, hu sDmqeni.

Related Tribes:

In 1887 the Upper and Middle Spokane agreed to move to the Colville Reservation,  Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, and the Flathead Reservation. They are now members of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation.

Traditional Allies:

 Coeur d’Alenes, Flatheads, Colvilles

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

100th Annual Labor Day Celebration and Pow Wow (2014) – Labor Day weekend.

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Spokane tribe was known for its copper jewelry in ancient times.


At the turn of the 18th century, other influences on the Spokane came from Plains Indians residing east of the Rockies — the major one being the horse. The Spokane probably started using horses in 1730 when they were brought into the Palouse region of present-day eastern Washington.



By the 13th century, the Spokane had developed permanent winter villages typically situated on rivers, especially along rapids and other places where fish were plentiful. Those dwellings were elongated and semi-subterranean. To hunt and gather roots and berries in the summer, they lived in camps on mountain valley meadows. Those shelters were cone-shaped huts covered with mats.

From the 13th to 17th centuries, gradual changes to the Spokan culture appear to have arrived from the west. The Plateau peoples became influenced by the rich and intricate Northwest Coast culture of Washington and Oregon’s Pacific coasts. A few of the influences included plank houses, and wood and bone carvings depicting animals.

Social Organization:

The typical Spokane kinship unit was the nuclear family, plus the father’s and mother’s nearest relatives. Polygamy was acceptable, but uncommon.


The Spokane Indians were hunter gatherers who primarly fished in the Columbia River and Spokane River for their sustenance. The Spokane Falls were the tribe’s center of trade and fishing. They also made seasonal trips to Montana to hunt buffalo, and hunted other large land animals such as deer, elk and bear, as well as smaller animals and birds. They also harvested plant foods such as camas root, huckleberries, chokecherries, wild turnips, carrots and onions, and a variety of medicinal plants.

Economy Today

Today, many of the same fishing and hunting practices are used, just as the same roots and berries are collected by modern Spokane Tribal families.

The modern Spokane Tribal Enterprises include 2 casinos, a houseboat rental service, 5 gas stations, 4 fast food restuarants, a credit union, construction company, a laboratory that does drug and water testing, and a trading post. Many individual members on the reservation are ranchers, raising cattle and horses. The reservation is also only 50 miles from the large urban area of Spokane, which also provides many jobs.

Uranium was discovered on the reservation and mined from an open pit 1956-1962 and 1969–1982, at the Midnite Mine. The now inactive mine is on the list of Superfund cleanup sites with contaminates including metals, radionuclides and acidic drainage.

Religion Today:

Roman Catholic, Protestant, Tradtional Religion 

Traditional Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The spiritual life of the Spokane was closely interwoven with the land and living things. The beliefs of all Plateau Indians held many commonalities with religions of other North American Indians. The Spokane believed in a Great Spirit. There also were such atmospheric spirits as the wind and thunder, and numerous supportive animal spirits that people sought for personal guardians. Firstling rites were celebrated for the first-caught salmon, or the first berries, roots and fruits harvested during the summer season.

Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries entered the region to convert the Native Americans and improve their lot. Missionaries usually meant well, but they deliberately sought to extinguish the natives’ religion as well as many of their customs.

Burial Customs:

Wedding Customs

Tribal College:

Spokane Tribal College (STC) is accredited under Salish Kootenai College of Pablo, Montana through the The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). STC currently offers two-year Associates Degrees and one-year Certificates of Completion. Courses include Associate’s Degrees in Business Management, Liberal Arts, Business Technology, Media Design, and Native American Studies, and one-year Certificate programs in Office Professions and Native Studies.


Newspapers:  The Rawhide Press is a monthly community paper.  This publication is free to Spokane Tribal Members 18 +.  The cost is $20.00 in-state for a yearly subscription and the fee for out-of-state is $25.00. 

Spokane Chiefs & Famous People:

Chief Spokan Garry – 19th-century tribal leader and diplomat.

Charlene Teters – Artist and activist, of the Spokane Nation. Teeter has been referred to as the “Rosa Parks” of the American Indians. She campaigned against her alma mater, the University of Illinois, for using a Native American-looking effigy – Chief Illiniwek – dresses in feathers and war paint, as their school mascot. Chief Illinewek would dance to a drumbeat at local football games, humiliating and offending Teeters and others. She began protesting against the Indian mascot at the University of Illinois, then created an 1994 exhibit called “It Was Only an Indian: Native American Stereotypes” which identified Native American racism and stereotypes in the media and corporation advertising. She eventually became the subject of the highly acclaimed documentary, “In Whose Honor” of which Brenda Farnell, Professor of Antropology from the University of Illinois said, “It is an important piece of work, perfect for waking students up to contemporary issues facing Native peoples today.” 

Sherman Alexie (Spokane-Coeur d’Alene), author and filmmaker.

Gloria Bird, poet and scholar.

Catastrophic Events:

 Smallpox epedemic

Tribe History:

Early in the 19th century, Indian and white fur trappers out of the east came into the northern Columbia Plateau forests. They were friendly with the native people they encountered. They often lived with them, took on their customs, and intermarriage was not uncommon.

In 1810, the Spokane commenced major trading with white men. The Northwest Company’s Spokane House was established on their lands; it was moved to Fort Colville in 1826.

However, smallpox, syphilis, influenza and other diseases, unwittingly introduced by the white man, proved to be disastrous to native peoples, including the Spokane. Entire villages were wiped out.

Following the 1849 Gold Rush in California, prospectors looked for gold elsewhere in the West. Gold seekers arrived in Washington territory in the 1850s and ’60s. They were frequently unruly, caring little about Indians and their rights. If a white man was killed, U.S. soldiers would get involved — regardless of what he had done. Indian wars in the inland Northwest erupted as a result. Native veterans of the wars were assumed to be murderers and were killed.

From 1860 onward, the Spokane shared the fate of numerous other tribes in the Northwest and elsewhere. Land-hungry homesteaders poured into the Plateau region and forced off the original inhabitants. Indians from disparate tribes were concentrated onto reservations, which compromised their tribal identity. The Prophet Dance of the 19th century seems to have been a reaction against the increasing compromise of ancestral culture by the new influences.

Natural resources that Native Americans had depended upon were exploited to the point of destruction. Off-reservation burial grounds and ancient villages were often disrupted and destroyed by earthmoving and house construction.

The Indian agent (federal reservation supervisor), imposed regulations and restrictions on his native charges. There was an open effort to suppress the Indians’ language and culture; for example, they were assigned English names. Indians endured the prejudice of the dominant white society. Alcoholism and other diseases exacted an awful toll.

In the latter part of the 19th century, there occurred two major agreements between the Spokane and the federal government:

In August 1877, the Lower Spokane agreed to relocate to what would be the Spokane Reservation by November 1. In January 1881, President Hayes formally declared the territory a reservation by executive order.

Then in March 1887, the Upper and Middle Spokane agreed to move to the Colville, Flathead or Coeur d’Alene reservation.

In 1906, 651 members of the Spokane tribe were allotted 64,750 acres to be divided into individual plots.

In August 1951, the tribe filed significant claims:

The first concerned land ceded to the federal government in the mid-19th century; the tribe argued that the amount of monetary compensation the federal government offered then had been negligently paltry.

The other was that the government had mismanaged some of the tribe’s funds and properties held in trust.

The foregoing were combined, and the Indian Claims Commission sanctioned a settlement of $6.7 million. The tribe accepted the offer in December 1966. Half of the funds were distributed among 1,600 members; minors’ shares were placed in trust. The other half was disbursed for various tribal programs.

The tribe filed another claim in the Court of Claims for the mismanagement of commission judgment funds as well as other monies. The tribe was compensated in the amount of $271,431 in 1981.

Following the construction of Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in central Washington (1939), salmon were prevented from migrating, thus disrupting the Spokane fishery. In addition, the waters behind the dam rose nearly 400 feet, which flooded numerous tribal lands and cultural sites. The tribe struggled for years to win compensation from the federal government, which culminated in H.R. 1753, submitted by U.S. Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr. and two co-sponsors in April 2003.

The bill would provide for equitable compensation of the Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation in settlement of claims of the Tribe concerning the contribution [sacrifice made] of the Tribe to the production of hydropower by the Grand Coulee Dam, and for other purposes.”

In October 2003, the bill was scheduled for subcommittee hearings. In 2004, the Spokane Settlement Bill was passed by the U.S. Senate, but died in the House. In 2005, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced and supported passage of settlement legislation in the House, but the bill died in the Senate.

The Colville Tribe received a one-time payment of $53 million to compensate for its loss of land after Congress passed legislation in 1994 to provide the tribe a share of hydroelectric power revenue. Attempts by the Spokane Tribe to gain similar compensation have fizzled, with both chambers failing to act on two separate occasions in the last eight years.

Today, the “Spokane Tribe of Indians of the Spokane Reservation Grand Coulee Dam Equitable Compensation Settlement Act” has been introduced in Congress under bill numbers S. 1388 and H.R. 3097.

In the News:

Spokane Tribal Business Council may oust Vice-Chairman 

Further Reading:


US Tribes Q-S
About nativelady

Leave a Reply