Yakamas the day after the close of round-up


A photo of a group of Yakamas sitting toward the background of the photo with brush as a backdrop (1917)

Cultural Narrative: 

Yakamas the day after the close of round-up: Farming and ranching began to be practiced in early reservation times. The Federal government wanted native people to "develop" their lands and become businessmen of a needed commodity.

Ths "round up" may have been to gather cattle that grazed in one of the many association regions of the Yakama Reservation. Or, the round up may have been to gather wild horses, some to tame and use for work on the farms/ranches and some to sell. The Yakama Reservation has always been a resource for wild horses and they wander throughout the desert and high mountain areas. Vivian Adams, Yakama

Traditional Knowledge: 

Original Territory

 Much of the original lands for gathering food and animals was lost to reservation bounderies and white settlement.  If you look at the ceded areas kept by reservation cultural centers on maps, you can see the reduction of the landbase from which the Plateau people lived and "worked."  On many Plateau reservations, only "enrolled members of that tribe" can enter the ancient gathering areas that used to be shared by many, but are now open to reservation tribal members only.  

Gathering in all its forms was also rite-of-passage for youngsters.  If a girl learned how to gather the plant materials and process them, then construct a bag or a basket filled with the roots she had dug or the berries she had picked; that was her passage from a child to maturity.  She would be considered a good provider and ready for marriage. 

 The same for a young man who could fish or hunt and process the animal's body and bones for other uses; he became a provider also, able to care for a wife and children.  Reduced areas for hunting and fishing left minimal lands for use by a young man who by law could only utilize the lands of the reservation boundaries.  The same is true of girls with a depleted land base for tules, cattailes, cedar, berries, etc.  However, contemporary lifestyles by Plateau people strive to maintain this tradition for their children and rites-of-passage ceremonies are still practiced. 

The sagebrushed lower valleys and the high mountain areas of the Yakama Reservation have historically been the traveling grounds for wild horses.  Many claim that the horse, our helper brother, has been here as part of the Animal People since Earth was created.  Anthropoligists and archaeologists tell us the horse made it to our area in the 1600s; having escaped from the Spanish explorers-conquerers.

After land allotments on Plateau reservations (circa mid-1800s), a few owners became ranchers/farmers and also raised cattle.  They ran their cattle for feed throughout the foothills and the high mountain area of the lands the cattle association to which they belonged had claimed as grazing for cattle. Preservation of tradition gathering areas, however, stopped the free-range high mountain grazing of cattle and lower valley pastures are used now to feed/raise cattle.   Vivian Adams, Yakama


Plants have always been a part of Plateau life in foods, clothing, and personal grooming and dwellings.  Roots, leaves, bark, flowers, petals, stems and other plant life help sustain us as medicine and food, and also help color our makings, such as our woven basket hats, cedar huckleberry baskets, twined root bags, horse and dog gear, storage bags, and mats for all kinds of uses.

They are so important in Plateau life that they have their own prayer songs of thanks sung to them before the gathering tasks begom. And they are used as design motifs when decorating clothing, utility items and "accessories" like tobacco or pipe bags, or horse martingales. 


Hunting has been a traditional subsistence task since the Earth was made.  Several of the Animal People gave their lives to the Human People to ensure their survival.  In return, they were to be given thanks at a feast and shown respect in many ways.  A couple of the respect practices are using the sweat lodge for cleansing and putting your mind on a positive track.

Another example of showing respect for "using" an animal to benefit survival is the Plateau woman's hide dress.  A dressyoke  made from a deer hide was constructed so that the deer's tail was centered on the dress front and also centered on the back yoke.  Not only was this a form of showing respect, but the deer's tail was also an aesthetic choice of decoration. 

Root Digging

Root digging has been practiced by Plateau women since Coyote taught the Human People what and how to gather and prepare their "medicine" foods.  There is an oral tradition story about Coyote and how the root feast came into being.  There are many surviving oral tradition stories about the Animal People's teaching.  A good place to get a list of these sources is the Yakama Nation Library in Toppenish, Washington. 

Roots, berries, choke cherries, various plants and trees were given respect by being used as decorative motifs on woven hats, bags and baskets and quilled or beaded onto clothing or utility items.  Vivian Adams, Yakama


Berry picking and choke cherry picking are the two main tasks for seasonal gathering.  Many tribes lost their ancient areas for this gathering when reservation bounderies excluded these from the land base by the federal government.

This gathering also includes the plants which were used for building their homes (tule mat tipis), baskets, and many utilitarian or aesthetic organics.  The reduced gathering areas of reservations have contributed to the reduction or loss of natural materials.  Of course, mass manufactured material was easy to get and many chose use of these newer materials rather than the labor intensive gathering and processing plants they used to manage.  Economics and land base changed living customs greatly.  Vivian Adams, Yakama