3 Yakama Women


A photo of 3 Yakama women in regalia (1911).

Cultural Narrative: 

3 Yakama Women: These three ladies are in a traditional plateau camp during a celebration. The ladies are all wearing buckskin dresses more reserved for dancing and ceremonies. Their dresses are somewhat longer in length so this tells me that they are not Cayuse, Umatilla or Walla Walla. Two of the ladies are not married in this picture, one with the beaded headband the other with the headband and one eagle feather. The lady on the end wearing two feathers in her headband would draw the conclusion she is married in my beliefs and customs. I have a strong feeling that the first lady is Virginia Beavert/Yakama. Jolena Tillequots, Yakama

Traditional Knowledge: 


Young woman would wear these during the feast time with their hats (patlupah) and serve their traditional foods of roots and berries.  If they were participating in a funeral it would be a sign of respect for the individual that had passed.  Jolena Tillequots, Yakama

Today, in an effort to bring back themore strict ceremonial traditions, many Plateau longhouses are reviving the tradition of women wearing their woven basket hats during Waashat gatherings.  Contemporary wing dresses still replace the hide dresses, which are worn only at the most sacred or most important events. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Oral Tradition Lessons

The ladies in this picture are all very unique in their style of dress.  They may have helped in the creation of their dresses'.  With the skinning and tanning of the buckskin, to the beadwork to their dress and accessories.  The wampum necklaces were usually passed down to young woman as part of their dowry.  As you see the first lady on the left has many strands of wampum while the third has one but has the two eagle feathers.  Jolena Tillequots, Yakama

Tribal Histories

Historically, hide dresses were worn daily, many undecorated because they were "work" clothes, although some form of decoration might be added.  More highly decorated hide dresses were made to be used in rite-of-passage ceremonies including important family or tribal gathering events.

Hide dresses were once decorated with natural  color-dyed porcupine quills and when beads were introduced circa early 1800s, they were much easier to use in curilinear designs and became plentiful as fur traders and settlers began moving westward and trades increased with them.  Dresses still use shells, elk teeth, hide fringes, wampum bone beads, tiny bells or coins and whatever else may add to the aesthetics of the dress.

The hide dresses these young ladies wear don't seem to have the original animal tail as part of the neck decoration.  The tail was often used not only as an aesthetic enhabcement but also as a show of respect and thanks to the animal for giving its life for the hide dress, food and utility tools made from its remains.  The dresses do have beaded geometrical motifs which stand in place of the animal tails and these are beaded center front and back of the dress, so the form of thanks and respect is still given in this newer method of decoration.  Vivian Adams, yakama

 In later times, because of the availability and less labor intense work to make a dress with cotton material, wing dresses were designed for daily wear.  Wing dresses were probably also in keeping with the change of appearance to meet the white peoples' acceptance of Indians.  Appearance was all a part of changing the Indian to look more like a white person in order to civilize them.  In the 1920s through the 1940s Indian woman wore cotton dresses, with head scarfs (which replaced the woven basket hat) but some older women still wore high-top moccasins and they all seemed to own a pair of low-cut rubber golashes for the wet/cold seasons.  I remember my "grandmothers " (we had several because we called every elderly woman grandmother) dressing in this manner.

The ladies in this image are participants in a social gathering, probably one of the northwest's large rodeo/pow wows; and their families are camped at tipi villages set up along side the rodeo grounds.


Daily task and group songs were sung by women as they did their chores or gathered to sew or just to have fun.  There's a wonderful recording of these kinds of songs made by the Warm Springs women.  I believe it is still sold at The Museum at Warm Springs, in Warm Springs, Oregon.  Vivian Adams, Yakama

Daily Life

In a young womans' daily life she would wear a cotton wingdress. By wearing the fully beaded buckskin dresses they are at a celebration where dancing is involved. 

Curing and tanning an animal hide is very labor intensive and very few people perform this task.  It is one of the Yakama Nation Library's goals to begin hide tanning classes, and record the process for access by those native people wishing to reclaim some of their cultural life ways. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Rites of Passage

Young woman would wear their cotton dresses daily.  Giving the buckskin dress to a young woman is important; She would wear these only for ceremonies or celebration.  Jolena Tillequots, Yakama


Some of the dresses would be quite heavy so to wear a dress for a majority of the day was an accomplishment.  Learning the art of tanning hides was difficult with stretching, scraping and the  working of the hides was very strenous often taking many hours to accomplish. 


During gatherings young woman would show their dresses and accessories to visiting friends and relatives.  They would show the design distinguishing what area they were from.  Helping their mothers and grandmothers was essential to show others of their dowry.   


While not all children were taught the basics of education, they were able to help in putting the designs on their materials.  Most woman today draw out their design and color scheme.  I was always told that mothers and grandmothers would just bead and envision their final project.