Remnants of underground or winter house


A photo of three Yakama men.  One man in a depression holding up an item in the center of the image (1918).

Cultural Narrative: 

Remnants of underground or winter house: If this is an earth lodge, it would be located in the flat, open areas of what is now Yakama Reservation. There are just a handfull of these sites remaining. Semi-permanent dwellings, these homes were built for families to pass the cold season away and into early spring. The earth lodge would be dug into the ground with enough "standing up" room to use the sapce. The lodges would hold family life needs used in any home. Some research info can be found in the book by Morris Ubelacker titled "The Time Ball," an anthropological research of "use" lands on the Yakama Reservation. Vivan Adams, Yakama

Traditional Knowledge: 


Ceremonies are for special events and waking up to a new sun each day is a special event.  Many native people still address the east each morning with a prayer song.  Spirituality is an inherent part of Plateau people.  Religion was never a word used in Indian Country, but spirituality has always been in the daily greetings, rites-of-passage, memorial and social celebrations and feast of thanks, honor and respect.

All of us beings come from Mother Earth and we must continue to take care of each other in order to fulfill the laws of the Creator.  We must give thanks and respect to those other beings that provide for us.

Each ceremony has its own site, its own event or activity and its own resources whether it be for social or medicinal purposes; we are obligated to give thanks throughout our day as we meet up with all these.  Vivian Adams, Yakama

Oral Tradition Lessons

Some oral tradition stories mention the earth lodges, the sweat lodges (commonly called sweat houses by the native people), and other dwellings like the tule mat tipis or larger-longer tule mat winter lodges.

This style of dwelling is ancient and if mentioned in stories told by the Animal People or the Human People, we can judge how long these have been in use. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Tribal Histories

In early reservation days, homes were built on the pieces of lands families were allotted.  Some homes were so distant, it was a two-day trip to go after groceries or seek medical help.  Homes built in this area were once located near the agency when it was at Fort Simcoe, before the agency headquarters were moved to Toppenish.  (Toppenish is a name taken from the Ft. Simcoe area; it's what the hill slides were called on the ridges coming down from the foothills of the Cascade mountains.  Toppenish Creek flowed near this ridge and the name was taken east to where the agency is located today. Later, circa 1930s, homes were beginning to be built in one location bringing people closer to one another as well as living closer to marketing and medical offices. These places became small reservation towns like White Swan.   Vivian Adams, Yakama


Songs can also be individual and personal or shared for a specific purpose.  People used them for daily prayers throughout the day and while performing a variety of tasks. You might have a sweat lodge song different from the prayer song you sing to greet each morning and the sweat lodge song would be more sacred than secular and individual to its singer.  Although you need to keep in mind that spirituality was a day-long practice for all Plateau people, prayers of thanks or respect were given throughout a day.  The Sun shined down on you and watched your good work, so your morning song-prayer was dedicated to the Sun.  Healing songs would be shared to pull in more healing power for the ill and family and friends can sing the song(s) to help in the healing process. Or  burial songs would also be considered as honor songs used again and again as a special song dedicated to a person as a farewell, a memorial, as a "toast" to the person, or to identify an occasion as special dedicated to a number of deserving people.  Today, songs are shared by many tribes thoughout the U.S. at social gatherings called pow wows.  There are many contemporary songs for many new dances at social gatherings.  Before pow wows, societies (usually men only) gathered for meetings, to socialize but to also conduct business and many of the songs used were used only by that particular society. Tribal songs today are still recognized by tribes as originating from a specific tribe just as different "drums" of singers are recognizable by their particular tribal style of singing and drumming. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Daily Life

During historical times... early reservation times, Plateau people still went to the accustomed gathering places (if these were still located within their individual reservations). Sometimes that part of their gathering round was deterred because the lands were under private white ownership  and not open for use. Therefore, the hunting and fishing, the gathering of materials for manufacturing artifcts and dwellings were not as available as before and were being extinguised because the lands were being cleared for farming. Many traditional families still sing the morning prayer song to the Sun and begin their day in the spiritually-minded Plateau way.  Some tribes were cut off from their usual accustomed gathering areas, like the high mountain huckleberry patches.  Tribes also become more propriatary in holding onto just their enrollment gathering in their reservation sites and not allowing neighboring reservation populations to come onto these lands to use for their own gathering purposes.  So it became a kind of "everyman for himself" kind of property-ownership thing learned from the white man.

Many Yakama people work at "the agency" or the cultural center, or tribal enterprises like the casino or the timber factory.  Indian students go to public schools or the tribal school in Toppenish.  There are several rural towns throughout the reservation that students attend.

Sports like basketball and baseball have tournaments throughout their seasons.  Rodeos and stick games are held throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Tribal business attempts to watchdog public laws that may infringe on treaty rights and reservation lands.  Tribal people elect tribal council officials who serve  graduated terms.  Tribal government makes laws intended to protect, serve and continue its human and natural resources in good health and growth.

Native American art is popular throughout the world and native artists include their heritage inherently in their works be it through spirituality or aesthetics.

Technology is popularly followed by the young who teach their elders and integrate its usefulness into tribal operations.  Hopefully, technology can be used to entice our communities back to minding the laws of good stewardship given to us by the Creator.  This means relearning or reviving our native language and using it constantly.  These learning tools and materials are still being developed but funding to purchase required technology is aways an issue and program development is a slow process in its attempt to draw back the native people to their native language.

"Indian Country" still remains somewhat exotic to its non-Indian neighbors.  Tribal societies are still trying to introduce their culture by inviting visitors to be guided through their cultural centers, museums and traditional events; saving the sacred for themselves. Public schools and non-Indian visitors are slowing learning to understand what our native world view is and our hope to share good stewardship of our earth in cooperation while stamping out negative stereotypes fostered by cultural misunderstanding. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Rites of Passage

Many of the customs Plateau people performed that showed they were maturing from one generation to the next became difficult to continue.  The men could no longer hunt or fish in the usual places and there was no need to be trained in protective combat practices to secure villages or gathering sites. Their rites of passage quickly became practiced less in contemporary-reservation society unless their reservation lands contained the natural resources for them to prove themselves as good providers and protectors.  If gathering sites remained, girls were able to prove their worthiness as caretakers and homemakers as gatherers and mastering the manufacture of utility items made of natural materials.  As time passed, the natural resources became less and less because of "progress," agriculture, population growth, home building and roads.  Vivian Adams, Yakama


Gaming in Plateau life has always been for fun, and sometimes as trade.  Games included one's animals, one's physical strength, ability to sing a good song to call in good luck and the ability to watch hand-eye coordination!  Thus there were horse races, foot races, and stick game players, two opposing teams.  Some guessing games have become extinct, although sometimes the tools (and/or accessorices) for guessing games can be found in museums but game rules have been lost.  In contemporary times, stick games continue and by teams have grown into tournaments, most of the time held at Indian casinos! Horse racing has moved into the mainstream at modern race tracks, as has other forms of contemporary gambling.  The  older card game of Waluksha (card guessing) and dice are still attracting players at pow wows and other tribal events.

Contemporary sports, which include pow wow dancers and stick game players, are held for monetary prizes.  It was inevitable that native societies join the cash economy in order to enjoy long distance competition with their native friends and families.

Sports like basketball and baseball are favorite pasttimes on our reservation.  Golf is also becoming very popular.  Many of these athletes only strive for participation on reservation teams but don't seem to enter into the high competition of national sports in the U.S.  The reason for this is unknown and speculation would not pose answers.

Native Americans participate in all-Indian rodeos and belong to regional organizations who meet up at Indian national finals as they strive for championship.  My dad started the first local all-Indian rodeo in White Swan in 1957, which became a part of the Western States Indian Rodeo Association with winners in this region attending the finals for championship held annually.  This final competition is  called the Indian National Finals Rodeo, held today at SouthPoint Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vivian Adams, Yakama


Medicine in Plateau country used to involve the whole being of an individual: mental and physical health. Prayer songs were made for healing and the more people who helped an Indian doctor sing the prayer, strengthened the healing process. Indian Shakers came into being in the early 1880s and they were and are strong healers. Plateau people looked towards them to help bring a health balance back into an ill person's life.  There are bad spirits and good spirits and because Mother Earth made Human People to share with other beings, we all have our own spirits... even a lowly rock has its own spirit. For example: some where in your daily life, you may have offended one of these other spirits and that spirit is doing something to cause you to be ill, either physically or mentally.  At such a time a doctor with the capabilities of intervening and communicating with these other spirits would be called to help bring a balance back to your health and to cure your affliction.

"Indian" doctors (many times called shamans, by those who study us) did not mix well with contemporary whiteman physicians; both of whom were at odds with their practician.  Native people were at first hesitent to trust the whiteman's medical treatment for fear of death because of greed, exploytation, and other cultural misunderstandings.

Introduced diseases like smallpox and measels actually wiped out whole villages or left only a handful of people living.  Native people had no immunity built up to these "new" diseases and angry spirits or a doctor's bad medicine may have caused great sickness.  I believe this was the misunderstanding created by the forceful missionaries who preached devil worship as a cause of illness to native people; who in turn believed the whiteman used bad spirits to cause sickness; and conflicts arose.

Modern medicine won out and Indian people attend to their medical needs at Indian Health Service clinics, medical help promised to the Indian people as part of the federal governments agreement for caring for Indians for "giving" up their lands and residing on landbases called reservations.  Indian doctors are still used to help heal holistically and the powerful Indian Shakers continue to help to drive out bad spirits that may be causing sickness.

Introduced foods like startch and sugar have had a medical impact on native people causing diabetes, obesity and pastimes that include alcohol take native people from their heritage.  The past couple of decades have found tribal nations working to wipe out alcoholism and drug abuse, some of which ultimately led to domestic and elder abuse.  Great healing and cooperative efforts to bring about good health in Indian Country is taking place.  Tribes must utilize all their resources to bring their people back to their ancient customs which forbid such conduct and the social and health sickness caused by it.  Vivian Adams, Yakama


These lands look like the flatlands on the Yakama Reservation called Medicine Valley.  In the early reservation days many homes were built in this area which is near the foothills leading into the high mountain area of the west side of the Reservation.  Homes at that time were isolated and one had to travel far distances to pick up foods or go to the agency doctors.  Later, in the early 1930s, homes were being built in small towns that brought people closer together.