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[Detail] Chilkat dancers, Alaska, 1895

Collection Overview

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest integrates over 2,300 photographs and 7,700 pages of text relating to the American Indians in two cultural areas of this region, the Northwest Coast and Plateau. These resources illustrate many aspects of life and work, including housing, clothing, crafts, transportation, education, and employment.

Special Features

These online presentations provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
  • The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject Index, Geographic Location, or Author/Photographer.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest includes primary and secondary text sources, over 2,000 photographs, and a special presentation of ten essays. Together, these materials tell the story of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, from their first contact with European explorers in the 18th century to life on reservations in the 20th century. Primary sources include six treaties and over 3,800 pages from the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Secondary sources include over 100 scholarly articles that can assist in understanding this complex chapter in United States history.

Native-American Cultures of the Pacific Northwest

Ethnographers are people who study and record cultures. By the time the discipline of ethnography was established in the United States, Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest "had come under white influence," writes Marion Pearsall on the first page of her article, "Contributions of Early Explorers and Traders to the Ethnography of the Northwest".

"They had been decimated by epidemics, converted by missionaries, pushed off their lands by settlers, and finally herded onto reservations by the government. Little of the Indian culture remains today."

There are few historical records of what Native-American cultures were like before "white influence." However, many aspects of these cultures have endured to some extent in the cultures of subsequent generations. The collection's photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries provide rich first-hand evidence of Native-American cultures, while secondary texts by scholars provide context and guidance for understanding this evidence.

Begin a study of Native-American cultures with the Special Presentation (external link). The introductory essay (external link) provides an orientation to the collection and presents the inherent challenges in studying these cultures. The other essays provide an overview of the region and its diverse cultures, focusing on individual tribal groups as well as cross-cultural topics.

Search the collection for photographs of objects and activities that you think would manifest Native-American cultures, such as baskets, blankets, clothing, canoes, longhouses, hunting, games, cooking, and dancing. Browse the Subject Index for images organized by over 100 tribes under headings such as Tahltan Indians--Clothing & dress and Makah Indians--Subsistence activities. There are also countless texts written by explorers, Indian agents, missionaries, and other Euro-American contemporaries, which describe Indian cultures. Search on Pacific Northwest Quarterly and Publications in Anthropology for scholarly articles with in-depth information, such as "The Dog's Hair Blankets of the Coast Salish" and "A Prism of Carved Rock: Dalles Area Rock Art as an Insight into Native American Cultures."

  • Note the date and location of the texts and images and consider to what extent the object or activity portrayed might have been influenced by Euro-American culture or a blending of native cultures.
  • What are the similarities and differences between the crafts, religious practices, and subsistence activities of different tribes?
  • What can you learn from this information about different tribes' values and beliefs?
  • What must be taken into consideration when reading accounts of Native-American cultures written by Euro-American explorers, fur traders, missionaries, and Indian agents? How do you judge the validity of these documents?


Early Exploration and the Fur Trade

The earliest explorers of the Pacific Northwest came to its coasts in the 18th century. Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and American explorers sought to claim land and establish trade routes in the New World.

In 1803, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead an overland expedition to the western territories. In his letter to Lewis, Jefferson instructed that information should be gathered on the indigenous peoples they would encounter. The letter is excerpted in Pearsall's "Contributions of Early Explorers and Traders to the Ethnography of the Northwest".

Except for the Lewis and Clark expedition, however, all of the early exploration was done on behalf of the fur trade. The Northwest Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others commissioned explorers to search for new hunting grounds and establish trading posts, resulting in fierce commercial competition for control over the Pacific Northwest. Search on fur trade to learn more about the business that shaped the future of the Pacific Northwest.

Pearsall's article describes the expeditions of the earliest explorers and their interactions with Native Americans who supplied furs and provided information about the region. The Subject Index heading, Indians of North America--First contact with Europeans, provides access to other scholarly articles that often excerpt primary source materials. For example, "Nootka Sound in 1789: Joseph Ingraham's Account" includes Ingraham's letter in its entirety. In it, herecounts the Nootka Indians' story about the first European ship to arrive at the Nootka Sound. Ingraham, an American, identifies the ship as belonging to Spain, a rival in the fur trade:

They said she was a larger ship than they had ever seen since, that she was coppered . . . (this I suppose to have been gilt or painted yellow), that she had a great many guns and men, that the officers wore blue laced coats, and that most of the men wore handkerchiefs about their heads. They made them presents of large pearl shells . . . knives with crooked blades and black handles. The natives sold them fish and their garments but no furs. When they first saw this ship, they said they were exceedingly terrified and but few of them ever ventured alongside.

(Page 163, "Nootka Sound in 1789: Joseph Ingraham's Account")

  • How did the fur trade work? Who supplied, sold, and bought furs?
  • What kinds of interactions did early explorers and fur traders have with Native American groups? What interest did they have in each other?
  • What were some of the challenges facing early explorers of the Pacific Northwest? How did these challenges affect interactions between explorers and Native Americans?
  • How do you think that Native Americans might have felt about the appearance of explorers and fur traders in their homelands? How and why might those feelings have changed over time?
  • How do you think that explorers and fur traders might have felt about the Native Americans living in the foreign lands that they hoped to exploit?
  • How did the national and commercial competition of the fur trade affect relations with Native Americans and developments in the region?


Missionaries in the Pacific Northwest

Once the fur companies made inroads into the region, missionaries were eager to bring Christianity to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The Subject Index heading, Christianity, and a search on missionaries provide many images, primary texts by Indian agents and missionaries, and secondary texts such as "Anglicanism Among the Indians of Washington Territory," which includes excerpts from the Church of England Missionary Society Proceedings, 1819-1820:

It has been suggested ... that the western parts of British America, lying between the high ridge called the Rocky Mountains and the North Pacific Ocean, and extending from about the 42d to the 57th degree of North Latitude, offer a more promising and practicable field for Missionary Labours than any other in that quarter of the Globe. The people are not savage, ferocious, and wandering; but settled in villages, and in several respects somewhat civilized, though still in the hunter state; with few arts, no letters, no general knowledge, but a great desire to be taught by White Men, whose superiority they clearly discern... .

(Pages 224-25, "Anglicanism Among the Indians of Washington Territory")

  • Why would the Church of England want to establish missions among Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest? What attracts them to this particular region?
  • Why do you think that the Missionary Society described the people of the Northwest as having a "great desire to be taught by White Men, whose superiority they clearly discern"?
  • What attitudes did missionaries have towards Native Americans? Can you identify differences among missionaries' attitudes?

In the first half of the 19th century, several denominations established missions throughout the Northwest. Protestant missions were established in 1834 and 1836 in the Oregon Territory. Jesuit missions were established in Oregon in 1840. Catholics established missions at Fort Vancouver in 1838, and on Idaho's St. Joe River around 1842. Subject Index headings such as Catholic, Catechists, church, nuns, Jesuit, Methodist, Presbyterian, and priests provide narrower selections of materials such as this 1859 photograph of Jesuit Pierre-Jean de Smet with a delegation of chiefs on a peace mission in Vancouver.

  • What does the photograph of Father De Smet and the Indian delegation suggest about the success of his efforts?
  • What else can you learn about missionary work from this photograph?

Missionary work was supported by the U.S. government as a means of assimilating, or "civilizing," Native Americans and has been seen as something forced upon indigenous people. However, in her article, "Christianity, a Matter of Choice: The Historic Role of Indian Catechists in Oregon Territory and British Columbia," Margaret Whitehead makes the point that Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest "displayed . . . selectivity when proffered white culture. They could and did deal intelligently and profitably with the intrusive society." Her article focuses on the free choice many Native Americans made to accept Christianity, while "Lawyer of the Nez Perces" describes how in 1831, the Nez Perces and Flatheads sent a delegation to St. Louis seeking information about Christianity.

Missionaries were not always successful in converting Indians. "The Spokane Indian Mission at Tshimakain, 1838-1848" and "Lawyer of the Nez Perces" describe the problems of a group of Presbyterian missionaries in the Northwest, culminating in the 1847 massacre of Marcus Whitman, a medical doctor at the Waiilatpu Mission. The massacre ultimately led to the Cayuse War, which set back missionary work in the region for a decade.

Photograph of Sahale Stick

Photograph of
Sahale Stick.
Page 100 of “Christianity, a Matter of Choice”

  • What was the relationship between the fur trade and missionary work? What interactions occurred between individuals of each group?
  • What did missionaries hope to accomplish in the Pacific Northwest? Did their goals change over time?
  • What techniques and activities did they use to achieve their goals? How successful were they?
  • How did Native Americans respond to missionaries and to Christianity?
  • According to their reports, what did Indian agents and superintendents think of missionary work? What value did they see in it? What problems did they see?
  • What roles did missionaries play in establishing and enforcing government policies towards Native Americans?
  • How did the introduction of Christianity impact Native-American cultures and the way history unfolded in the Pacific Northwest?
  • What other missionary work was going on in North America during the 19th century, and how did it compare to the work in the Pacific Northwest?


Conflict and Violence

Hot on the heels of the missionaries came wagonloads of people eager to settle in Oregon Territory. The United States and Great Britain were both determined to claim the Northwest and made rapid strides towards settlement. President Tyler appointed an Indian sub-agent to Oregon Country in 1842. With him, the sub-agent brought 100 settlers, and led the way for countless others to cross the Oregon Trail. The following year, almost 1000 settlers entered Oregon Territory.

Part of the success of the effort was due to agreements reached with Native Americans that they wouldn't harm the immigrants. Nevertheless, the presence of settlers in the Pacific Northwest resulted in conflict and violence that only increased as ever more settlers, ambitious for land and gold, poured into the region in the following decades.

The Subject Index heading, Indians of North America--First contact with Europeans, provides articles such as "Captain James Colnett and the Tsimshian Indians, 1787," that describe some of the earliest conflicts. Materials found under the Subject Index heading, Frontier and pioneer life, pertain to 19th century conflicts. The article, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," describes and analyzes the atmosphere of violence and racial hatred that prevailed in certain quarters:

"The exasperation of the southern Idaho communities, under continual Indian harassment, became extreme. This was especially true in Owyhee. A meeting of citizens offered rewards for scalps; one hundred dollars for that of a buck, fifty dollars for that of a squaw and twenty-five dollars for 'everything in the shape of an Indian under ten.' When fifty-five Indians were reported killed in Humboldt, the local paper in Owyhee rejoiced that these were made 'permanently friendly'..."

(Page 36, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest")

  • What were the causes of conflict between Native Americans and early explorers?
  • What were the causes of conflict between Native Americans and settlers in places such as Owyhee, Idaho?
  • According to the author of "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," what were some of the causes of the violence of this era?
  • How did some people rationalize the extermination of native populations?
  • How might conflict and violence have been avoided?


Major acts of war emerged from this background of tension and conflict. Subject Index heading, Indians of North America--Wars, and a search on war and hostilities locate items such as an 1856 letter by Joel Palmer, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Oregon Territory, discussing the conflicts between settlers and Native Americans that culminated in the Rogue River War. John Cain, reporting from the Washington Territory, predicted the outbreak of a major war following the killing of eight miners traveling through Yakima territory. The article, "Lawyer of the Nez Perces," includes a detailed account of the events leading up to the Whitman massacre.

  • According to Superintendent Palmer, why are normally peaceful Native Americans in Oregon supporting warring Native Americans?
  • What problems does Palmer identify in the strategy of "armed parties?"
  • According to Superintendent Cain, what caused the outbreak among the Yakimas and Clickatats?
  • What events at the Wai-i-lat-pu mission led up to the Whitman massacre?
  • What were the feared and actual consequences of the massacre?
  • What attempts were made to ease tension and avoid conflict? Who made these efforts? Were they successful? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think that single incidents of violence posed such a threat to incite more violence?
  • How do you think that news was conveyed in the region in the 19th century?

A newspaper reporter identified simply as correspondent "B" used several letters of combatants to report on the fight with Native Americans near the Pelouse River south of Spokane in eastern Washington.

"...Towards evening our ammunition began to give out, and our men suffering so much from thirst and fatigue required all our attention to keep them up. To move from one point to another, we had to crawl on our hands and knees amid the howling of the Indians, the groans of the dying, and the whistling of balls and arrows. We were kept in this position until 8 o'clock p.m.; when as night came on, it became apparent that on the morrow we must "go under," and that not one of us would escape. ...Therefore it was determined to run the gauntlet, so that if possible some might escape..."

(Pages 273-74, "No. 98: Copy of newspaper correspondent 'B'")

The Modoc War of 1873 is discussed in the correspondence of Indian agents. Search on Modoc for these reports as well as photographs of Modocs in the post-war period, including those who sided with the military in the war against Captain Jack (Chief Kintpuash).

In 1877, the Nez Perces engaged in what would become the most celebrated of the conflicts between Euro Americans and Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Search on Nez Perce war for images and articles such as "The Nez Perce and Their War," synopsizing the conflict and reevaluating Chief Joseph's fame as a military strategist. "The Last Stand of the Nez Perces" and "The Nez Perces in Exile" provide insight into the aftermath of the war. The collection also includes the reminiscences of Francis Redfield, a sub-agent on the Nez Perce Reservation in 1876. For more on the Nez Perce war, refer to the Critical Thinking section.


"The Indian Problem": Euro-American Attitudes

In 1816, the American Colonization Society was founded to help relocate free African Americans to a colony in Liberia, Africa. For, while some felt that African Americans should be integrated into Euro-American society, even some abolitionists doubted the transition could be made.

"The Indian Problem" entailed a similar ambivalence. Francis Haines defines "The Indian Problem" in her article, "Problems of Indian Policy":

"The Indian Problem of the Pacific Northwest is an integral part of a national problem inherited from the colonial period. From the landing of the first colonists on the Atlantic Coast, the dominant white invaders have debated over the handling of the primitive native people who occupied the country... Some groups have worked to exterminate the Indian people, while others have tried to assimilate them. Some say we should teach them to be like white men; others want to keep the remnants of the tribes as separate cultural entities. Much confusion has resulted from the clash of these two fundamentally different schools of thought regarding the Indian."

(Page 203, "Problems of Indian Policy")

Other secondary as well as primary sources pertaining to “The Indian Problem” can be found by searching on race relations or by using Subject Index headings, Indians of North America--Colonization, Indians of North America--Cultural assimilation, and Indians of North America--Legal status.

Primary sources reveal contemporary attitudes and illustrate the ongoing debate over "The Indian Problem." For example, a newspaper report expresses many settlers' belief in the inevitability of extermination:

"'... the purposes of the red man's creation in the economy of nature are well nigh accomplished, and no human hand can avert his early extermination from the face of the North American continent. Silently but irresistibly the purposes of Providence take their way through the ages...'"

(Page 32, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest")

In his 1866 report, Dennis Cooley, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, expresses an equally fatalistic, but less drastic view of the situation, while John Smith reveals his own views in a report from the Warm Springs agency:

" ... the large amount of iron which was used by former agents to make handcuffs to iron prisoners with has been used by me in the manufacture of plows and wagons. The guard-house likewise has fallen, and is in ruins. The Bible and the plow are the great causes of all this. Compare the cost that this agency has been to the cost of one month's extermination policy, and no other argument need be produced in favor of the humane and Christian policy of our President. I am confident that a like result may be obtained with any tribe of Indians, by a kind and patient treatment. They should be regarded and treated as children -- with firmness and kindness."

(Page 320, "No. 72: Annual report of Warm Springs agency")

George P. Castille, the author of "Edwin Eells, U. S. Indian Agent, 1871-1895," intended his article to provide a portrait of an assimilationist.

  • What opinions did Euro Americans have about what ought to happen to the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest?
  • What concepts and factors entered into these positions?
  • What does the language of some of these documents reveal about how Euro Americans regarded and treated Native Americans?
  • What positions would you expect missionaries, settlers, and Indian agents to take? Are there variations of attitudes and opinions within each group?
  • How did different opinions play out over time as Native American populations were decimated and moved onto reservations?


Native-American Attitudes

Native Americans' attitudes and opinions are more difficult to determine because they are generally recorded second-hand by agents, missionaries, and other Euro Americans.

Some first-person statements are available in minutes from treaty councils and other meetings with government officials. Minutes are included in items found by searching on council as well as in the article, "The Indian Treaty of Point No Point." Minutes were often recorded by a clerk who sat by an interpreter. As Native Americans became more savvy about official meetings, they demanded the right to chose their own interpreters and recorders. In a council held in 1871 at the Warm Spring Reservation, Ta-se-nick of the Wascoe tribe is recorded as saying:

"How can you expect the children to learn if they go to school in blankets, and if girls are naked, how can you teach them to knit. They are still like Indians. Your coming is like the rising of the sun, it brings daylight to us. I think now my children will grow up like white people."

(Page 126, Appendix A d., No. 1: Warm Spring Reservation: Minutes of a council held at Warm Spring Reservation, Oregon Territory)

The article, "Lawyer of the Nez Perces" shows Nez Perce leaders, Lawyer and Looking Glass, taking opposing views on the signing of an 1855 treaty, with Looking Glass admonishing," 'My people, what have you done? While I was gone, you have sold my country.' " Other materials describing the trials of the Nez Perces, such as "The Nez Perces in Exile" show the tribe divided on how to co-exist with Euro Americans over the course of three decades.

Some agents' reports, such as E.C. Chirouse’s "Annual report of Tulalip agency," reflect Native-American attitudes, while David Buerge's essay, "Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons," (external link) in the Special Presentation (external link), discusses the points of view of these two historical leaders.

  • Is there evidence of what Native Americans thought were the best ways to deal with the presence of Euro-American people and culture?
  • What objections did Native Americans have to a reservation policy?
  • What sorts of attitudes did Native Americans have towards Euro Americans? Were they as varied as Euro-American attitudes towards Native Americans?
  • Do you think that Native Americans' debate over what to do about Euro Americans was as fierce as the debate over "The Indian Problem?" Why or why not?
  • Were Native Americans receptive to any aspects of Euro-American culture? If so, which ones?
  • Is there any reason to question the authenticity of statements recorded in council minutes?



Various opinions about how to deal with "The Indian Problem" resulted in the violence that decimated native populations. In the end, the United States' official strategy for dealing with "The Indian Problem" was to create reservations through treaties.

The collection provides a unique opportunity to closely examine treaties. A search on treaty provides seven examples, one of which is included in the article, "The Indian Treaty of Point No Point." All but one of the treaties were negotiated by Washington Territory's Governor Isaac I. Stevens in 1855. Articles such as "Lawyer of the Nez Perces," and "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest" provide a context for Stevens's "campaign of treaty-making."

  • Why were so many treaties made in the same year? What factors precipitated this "campaign of treaty-making?"
  • What events provided a precedent or basis for negotiating treaties?
  • Why did some people object to the idea of negotiating treaties with Native Americans?
  • What did the treaties provide and guarantee Native Americans?
  • What did Native Americans agree to by signing the treaties?
  • What relationship do the treaties establish between Native Americans and the United States government?
  • How much control did the treaties give Native Americans over their own land and lives? Who else was given this control?
  • How do you think treaties were meant to solve "The Indian Problem?" Who would have objected to this solution?

Various documents, including the reports of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and Indian Agents, indicate that problems persisted and complications arose after the establishment of treaties and reservations. Search on report, treaty, council, and reservation for pertinent materials.

  • What problems do Indian agents complain of? To what do they attribute these problems and what remedies do they suggest?
  • How did Native Americans feel about the reservation policy?
  • Did the use of treaties solve "The Indian Problem"? Why or why not?

Documents found under the Subject Index heading, Indians of North America – Legal status, laws, such as "Rights of the Puget Sound Indians to Game and Fish" indicate that further legislation was made to clarify the meaning and implementation of treaties. Changes and adjustments continued well into the 20th century. In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed, providing for self-government on reservations. In his introductory essay (external link) in the Special Presentation (external link), David M. Buerge discusses the Indian Reorganization Act:

"The importance of this legislation underscores the extraordinary degree to which the lives of Native Americans and even their identities are defined by law and governmental decree. What is the legal definition of a Native American? Which law governs their actions? What rights do they have that are different from those of other Americans? The treaties stand as fundamental, often defining documents for native groups in the United States, as much or more than the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. . . While many citizens regard the treaties as hindering anachronisms, most Native Americans do not."


The Reservation System

The most obvious consequence of the treaties negotiated with Native Americans was the creation of reservations.

A careful reading of the treaties in this collection indicates that reservations were areas that Native Americans reserved for themselves out of the land they ceded to the United States government.

This collection provides a rare opportunity to understand what life has been like on reservations of the Pacific Northwest since their establishment in the second half of the 19th century.

The Subject Index heading, Indian reservations, provides access to over 500 items, including legislation, scholarly articles, and reports by Indian agents and other reservation staff. A search on reservation yields similar items as well as photographs.

  • What did reservations look like? What kinds of buildings were there?
  • What sorts of activities did Indians engage in on reservations? Did they continue any traditional activities? What new activities did they take on?
  • Did Native Americans go off reservations? If so, why?
  • What do you think it would have been like to live on a reservation and why?

The article, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," compares the U.S. reservation system to the policy implemented in British Columbia. Indian Agents' reports describe the day-to-day workings of reservations. Agent Charles Medary reported in 1876 from the Flathead agency:

"Although a majority still derive their sustenance from hunting, fishing, root-gathering, &c., it is gratifying to observe marked progress has been made during the past year in the way of civilization, and that at least a few more have been induced to relinquish a roving life to try the cultivation of the soil. Some eight new houses have been built by the Indians, toward the construction of which 16,000 feet of lumber, together with other needed materials, were furnished by the agency. . . The fund appropriated for 'beneficial objects,' amounting to but $750 per quarter, is barely sufficient to supply the entirely helpless and needy with food and clothing . . "

(Page 88, "Report of Flathead agency")


A less positive view of the reservation system was reported in the San Francisco Daily Bulletin in 1862. The newspaper printed a speech by Qui-tal-i-can, a Yakima, objecting to annuities distributed by the government at the Yakima agency:

"The white men propose to bring all Indians to one land. Not good. Like driving horses into a corral. Suppose Indians went to Boston and told all the Bostons to go to one place. Would it be well? I am a poor man, but I will not say to the Agent, I am a dog. The Great Spirit will take care of us. He will always cause the grass to grow and the water to run. I am somewhat ashamed to be here today. My land is not to be sold for a few blankets and a few yards of cloth... ."

(Page 39, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest")

  • Why didn't Native Americans such as Qui-tal-i-can like annuities?
  • Why did some agents object to the use of annuities?
  • How were reservations managed? Who created and enforced laws and policies?
  • What were agents' goals and expectations of the Native Americans on their reservations?
  • Why might Native Americans and agents feel differently about the "progress" made on reservations?
  • What legislation was created that affected reservation life and policy? What were the effects of such legislation?
  • How did reservations change over time?


Indian Schools

One of the first Indian boarding schools, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was founded on the principle, "kill the Indian and save the man." In her essay, "Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest," (external link) Carolyn J. Marr explains:

"The goal of Indian education from the 1880s through the 1920s was to assimilate Indian people into the melting pot of America by placing them in institutions where traditional ways could be replaced by those sanctioned by the government."

Treaties made in the Pacific Northwest stipulated that the U.S. government would provide education to Native Americans living on reservations. Though it took several years, day schools and boarding schools were eventually established on reservations. In addition, boarding schools such as the Carlisle school were established off reservations. Students were required to live at boarding schools most of the year, thereby removing them from the influence of their families and traditional cultures.

Reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs reflect the reformist attitudes of Indian school teachers, administrators, and staff. Along with photographs, they also provide a detailed picture of the practices and effects of Americanization upon young Native Americans:

"Since my last annual report I have visited nearly all the reservations on this coast and found many of the scholars that had gone out from this school now in the employ of the Government, filling various positions of trust at their several agencies, and others engaged in the different pursuits of life, where they were exerting a good and healthful influence among their people, proving most conclusively that the money expended by the Government is not wasted, but is bringing forth fruit that will ripen into a rich harvest of peace, prosperity, and happiness to these poor, unfortunate, and misguided children of the forest. The only way to save the fragment of this once numerous and powerful race of people is for the good work recently inaugurated by the Government to go on and educate and train their children in the better ways of advanced civilization."

(Page 272-273, "Reports of Superintendents of Indian Schools: Report of school at Chemawa, Oregon")


Government schools generally offered a curriculum of academic and industrial training. On many reservations, missionaries established schools that combined academic and religious education. In some cases, the government supported missionary schools in fulfillment of its treaty obligation to provide education. Search on Indian school, missionary school, teacher, student, boy, and girl for texts and images.

  • What knowledge and skills were young Native Americans encouraged to acquire at Indian schools and why?
  • Why would Indian school officials think it important that Native Americans have industrial training?
  • What are the similarities and differences between government schools and missionary schools? Was the curriculum different? The atmosphere?
  • Do the photographs of the collection emphasize certain aspects of Indian education? What don't the photographs show? Why do you think that is?

Marr's essay (external link) in the Special Presentation< (external link) describes the rigid daily schedule and strict discipline of Indian schools. Documents such as the "Report of school principal at Puyallup agency" indicate that students were expected to speak English and punished for speaking their own languages. Strict policies were also devised for compelling attendance. In his report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Agent Jackson describes the policy imposed to insure that boys were in attendance at the Sitka, Alaska Indian school:

"Captain Glass . . . caused the houses to be numbered, and an accurate census taken of the inmates--adults and children. He then caused a label to be made of tin for each child, which was tied around the neck of the child, with his or her number and the number of the house on it, so that if a child was found on the street during school hours the Indian policeman was under orders to take the numbers on the labels and report them, or the teacher each day would report that such numbers from such houses were absent that day. The following morning the head Indian of the house to which the absentee belonged was summoned to appear and answer for the absence of the child. If the child was willfully absent, the head man was fined or imprisoned. A few cases of fines were sufficient. As soon as they found the captain in earnest, the children were all in school. . . .”

(Page 257, "Report of Sitka School")

  • Why weren't Native-American youth permitted to speak their own languages?
  • Were the measures taken to insure school attendance by Captain Glass appropriate? Why or why not?
  • How do you suppose Native American communities regarded such policies that restricted language and enforced attendance?
  • What can you infer from these agents' reports about attitudes they held regarding Native American students?

"Part 5: Negatives and Positives," (external link) of Marr's essay (external link) includes reminiscences of Native-American students and discusses the overall impact of Indian schools. The Collection Connection for Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929, discusses the movement to Americanize immigrants in the early twentieth century. Were the efforts to assimilate Native Americans different from efforts to assimilate other groups of people? If so, how and why?


Critical Thinking

Articles such as "Contributions of Early Explorers and Traders to the Ethnography of the Northwest" and "Lawyer of the Nez Perces" provide a rough outline of the major forces and events that forever changed Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Use the explanations and references in these and other texts to create a timeline of the major events that had an impact on native populations, from their first contact with explorers to their legal battles of the twentieth century. Alternately, conduct searches for materials pertaining to one tribal group and piece together a chronology of events affecting that group.

Several essays in the Special Presentation (external link) discuss the cultures of specific tribal groups. Among other things, they describe the cycles of migration and subsistence activities that coincided with the seasons. Create a map that depicts the yearly round of a particular tribal group. The collection's Maps of the Region (external link), may be helpful.

  • Many Native American cultures embrace a cyclical rather than a linear concept of time. Why do you think this might be?
  • How did Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest think about and record history? How are these records different from western historical records?
  • How might a cyclical concept of time have contributed to the way Native Americans felt about and dealt with the appearance of Euro-American people and culture?
  • How might different concepts of time have contributed to misunderstandings between Euro Americans and Native Americans?


Historical Comprehension: The Nez Perces

At the time that westerners arrived in the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce language was fast becoming the official language of business in the region. Deward Walker and Peter Jones provide insight into the history and culture of this powerful tribe in their essay (external link) in the Special Presentation (external link). Subject Index headings beginning with Nez Perce provide images that also illuminate Nez Perce culture, while "Lawyer of the Nez Perces" and "The Spokane Indian Mission at Tshimakain, 1838-1848" describe the tribe's early interactions with Euro Americans.

Map of the Nez Perce  Homeland and Their Neighbors

Detail of map of the Nez Perce homeland from "Nez Perce Coyote Tales: The Myth Cycle."

  • Where were the homelands of the Nez Perces?
  • What were some of the major characteristics of Nez Perce culture?
  • What tribes were the rivals and allies of the Nez Perces?
  • What made the Nez Perces so powerful?
  • How would you characterize early interactions between Nez Perces and Euro Americans?
  • What was the impact of Euro-American culture upon the Nez Perces?

While other tribes engaged in conflicts with settlers, the Nez Perces remained peaceful and amenable to signing treaties with the U.S. government. The first treaty was signed in 1855 and is available in this collection along with articles describing the event, such as "The Indian Council at Walla Walla" and "Lawyer of the Nez Perces."

  • According to J.F. Santee, how and why did the Nez Perces refrain from joining in conflicts related to the murder of Elijah Hedding and the Whitman massacre? Which tribes were involved in these conflicts?
  • How did the Nez Perces feel about signing the treaty of 1855?
  • Why might the Nez Perces have provided escorts for Governor Stevens during the Yakima war?


The U.S. government sought subsequent treaties with the Nez Perces that would require them to give up their lands in the Wallowa Valley and relocate to Lapwai, Idaho. A contingent of Nez Perces, known as non-treaty Indians, refused to comply and in 1877 the U.S. led a campaign to force these Nez Perces onto the Lapwai reservation. The Subject Index heading, Nez Perce Indians – Treaties, provides primary sources. The heading, Nez Perce Indians – War, 1877, provides primary and secondary sources such as "The Nez Perce and Their War," "The Last Stand of the Nez Perces," and "Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Warriors." (The latter includes a helpful map.)

  • Why did the U.S. government seek further treaties with the Nez Perces?
  • Why did Chief Joseph oppose leaving the Wallowa Valley in Oregon?
  • Why did he change his mind and agree to join other Nez Perces on their reservation near Fort Lapwai in western Idaho?
  • Why did Chief Joseph, Looking Glass, and other chiefs end up fighting?
  • According to Merle Wells, what is the proper way to think of the Nez Perces' actions and objectives during the 1877 military campaign?
  • When and where were the major military engagements of the campaign?
  • What casualties did the Nez Perces and U.S. military each sustain?
  • What happened to the Nez Perces who were engaged in this campaign?
  • How would you assess Chief Joseph's role in the Nez Perce War?

Chief Joseph surrendered at Bear Paw with the understanding that he and his band would be allowed to join the other Nez Perces at the Lapwai reservation. Instead, however, they were sent to Oklahoma. During this time, Chief Joseph lobbied for the return of his people to the Idaho reservation. In 1885, one portion of the band was finally allowed to return to Lapwai while Chief Joseph and others were sent to Colville, Washington.

"The Nez Perces in Exile" describes this period following the war of 1877. A search on Nez Perce reservation provides photographs and documents that reflect reservation life for the Nez Perces. Chief Joseph's own view of the Nez Perce history is represented in the article, "An Indian View of Indian Affairs," originally printed in the North American Review in 1879 and available in the American Memory collection, The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals.

  • How many times was Chief Joseph's band relocated after their surrender in 1877?
  • On what grounds did the U.S. government refuse to return Chief Joseph's band to the Lapwai reservation? Why did they eventually change their minds?
  • What problems and hardships did this band of Nez Perces endure in the period between their surrender in 1877 and their return to the Northwest in 1885?
  • What were the causes and effects of these hardships?
  • How did Chief Joseph continue to lead his people after their surrender in 1877? What did he accomplish?
  • Why wasn't Chief Joseph allowed to return to Lapwai?
  • How do Chief Joseph's recollections compare to other histories of the Nez Perces?
  • What points does Chief Joseph make in the North American Review to argue for the return of the Nez Perces to Lapwai? How do you think the public might have responded to this article?
  • Why do you think that the Nez Perce War and Chief Joseph have each become so famous?


Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Photographs and Symbols

Carolyn J. Marr discusses the history of photographing Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest in "Taken Pictures: On Interpreting Native American Photographs of the Southern Northwest Coast." She illustrates a change in Native Americans' attitudes towards photography from the late 19th to the early 20th century. At first, many Native Americans were wary of having their photographs taken and often refused. They believed that the process could steal a person's soul and disrespected the spiritual world. Over time, however, some Native Americans came to cherish photographs as links to ancestors and even integrated them into important ceremonies.

Marr defines five types of photographs taken in this period. The first is the studio portrait. Marr explains that Chief Seattle had to be coerced into having his portrait made. Once he had it, the photographer made 100 copies to sell to curious easterners. Notwithstanding many Native Americans' reluctance to have their picture taken, it's possible that some sat willingly for their portraits and kept them for private use. Numerous photographs are available by searching on studio portrait.

  • Is it possible to tell how much a photograph was influenced by the photographer or by the subject?
  • Can you determine if it was taken for private use or commercial purposes? How does this change the meaning of the picture?
  • If subjects sat willingly, what does the choice of clothes, pose, expression, props, and backdrop suggest about how the subjects wanted to be perceived?
  • If these choices were made by the photographer, what does it suggest about how he wanted to portray Native Americans?

The fourth kind of photograph Marr discusses is a nostalgic portrait to be sold as a postcard or for other commercial purposes. (A search on postcards yields a variety of images.) She writes:

"The popularity of picture postcards showing Indian women weaving baskets or digging clams attests to a growing nostalgia relating to Indians. Historians have demonstrated a conceptual link between the disappearing American wilderness and a changing attitude toward Native Americas by looking at both popular literature and the federal government's Indian policies. The Indian came to symbolize America’s lost youth, and his image commemorated that unspoiled past."

(Page 58, "Taken Pictures: On Interpreting Native American Photographs of the Southern Northwest Coast")

  • According to Marr, what symbolic value did photographs of Native Americans acquire and why?
  • How have Native Americans been portrayed over the twentieth century?
  • Where have these images been found? Who made them? How were they used? What was the symbolic meaning of these images?
  • Why do you think that the image of Native Americans has remained a powerful symbol in popular U.S. culture?
  • What aspects of Native American cultures might be particularly appealing to some people in the U.S. and why?
  • Why do you think that some people are particularly fascinated by the history of Native Americans? What parts of this history seem to intrigue people most and why?
  • Why have certain Indians, such as Chiefs Joseph and Seattle, become symbols while others have not? (For more information see David M. Buerge's essay (external link).


Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

A thorough examination of the collection makes it possible to assess the United States' decision to create reservations. The article, "American and British Treatment of the Indians in the Pacific Northwest," provides a good starting point. Consider the following questions:

  • What parties had a stake in how the U.S. would choose to relate with Native Americans? What were these parties' interests?
  • What problems did the U.S. hope to solve in creating an Indian policy?
  • How do you think the creation of reservations addressed these problems and responded to a variety of interests? What priorities does this policy reflect?
  • What kind of policy would you have chosen and why? What steps would you have taken to implement it? What resistance would you have met and how would you have dealt with it?

The article, "Rights of the Puget Sound Indians to Game and Fish" examines the rights of one Washington tribal group. The treaty of Point Elliot guaranteed the Puget Sound Indians "'The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations. . . in common with all citizens of the Territory.'"

  • Is Native Americans' equal right to fish denied if commercial fishing depletes this natural resource? Should fishing by non-Native Americans be controlled so as to insure that Native Americans may fish successfully?
  • According to the author, how was the requirement to obtain a fishing license discriminatory against Native Americans? Does this interfere with their right to fish "in common with all citizens"?
  • Should Native Americans' right to fish be regarded differently because they depend upon fishing for their sustenance or because of the special significance of fish to some native cultures?
  • Do treaties give Native Americans a greater right to fish than other people?
  • Should citizens be required to allow Native Americans to hunt and fish on their land because it was a "usual and accustomed" fishing ground for Native Americans at the time a treaty was signed, even if it is fifty or sixty miles from a reservation? Does this interfere with property rights? Which is more important?


The article, "Washington State and Tribal Sovereignty: A 1979 Debate on Indian Law" explores the scope of the power, or sovereignty, of a reservation government. For example, do reservation laws apply to non-Native American inhabitants of reservations? If a Native American breaks a law when off of reservation lands, is he or she under the jurisdiction of reservation, state, or federal laws?

The article records an extended argument made by the then Washington state attorney general, Slade Gorton. He argues that the sovereignty of a reservation government is, like city or county governments, subordinate in some ways to state and national governments. He argues that the sovereignty of reservation governments is not inherent, but for all intents and purposes granted by the United States. He compares treaties with Native Americans to the peace treaty made with Japan after World War II, in which the Allied forces that had occupied Japan after its defeat recognized the sovereignty of the Japanese people over Japan:

"The assertion of sovereignty by the United States effectively eliminated all tribal powers. By treaty, some were restored, just as Japan's sovereignty was effectively restored by its peace treaty."

(Page 101, "Washington State and Tribal Sovereignty: A 1979 Debate on Indian Law")

  • Do you think that Gorton's comparison is sound? When Native-American tribes signed treaties, were they admitting defeat by a sovereign power and looking to have their sovereignty restored?
  • Do you think that this is how the U.S. government viewed the situation? Do you think that this is how Native-American tribes viewed the situation?
  • Do you think that the government officials who created treaties thought that Native Americans would practice self-government on reservations? Do you think that Native Americans had this expectation?
  • Does the subjection of tribal sovereignty to state or federal sovereignty interfere with Native Americans' right to self-government, which was established in 1934?


Historical Research

Multiple essays in the Special Presentation (external link) explain the potlatch ceremony and discuss its importance to Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest. A search on potlatch provides materials that support research into this tradition, including scholarly articles and images that testify to the persistence and eventual revival of the ceremony.

Though the U.S. military fought numerous Native-American tribes in many wars during the second half of the 19th century, the ordeal most often associated with this time period is the Civil War. Researchers may use this collection to explore the similarities and differences between these conflicts and how they may have affected each other. The Subject Index heading, Indians of North America--Wars, provides many materials. Questions to consider include the following:

  • What were the motives, goals, strategies, and resources of the U.S. government in each conflict?
  • How did newspapers cover wars with Native Americans and the Civil War? What may account for any differences?
  • What was the public opinion of each kind of conflict? What may account for very different attitudes towards these arenas of violence?
  • What is the significance of the difference in location of these campaigns? How did the location contribute to the nature, newspaper coverage, and popular opinion of these campaigns?
  • How might these conflicts have affected each other?


Arts & Humanities

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest provides the basis for creative Arts and Humanities projects. Users of the collection can examine folktales and crafts while also learning about Native-American cultures. 200 images of totem poles may be examined and provide the basis for an exercise exploring symbolism. By creating a museum exhibit, users can learn about the relationship between primary and secondary sources, while other materials can inspire creative writing projects. Using these materials appropriately requires sensitivity; refer to the "Using the Collection" (external link) section of the Special Presentation's introductory essay (external link).


The collection includes a number of different Indian folk tales compiled and published by the University of Washington, such as "Some tales of the southern Puget Sound Salish" by Arthur C. Ballard and "Klallam folk tales" by Erna Gunther. Many of the essays in the Special Presentation include Indian folklore such as creation stories and popular coyote tales associated with different cultural groups. For example, Jay Miller’s "Salmon, the Lifegiving Gift" (external link) contains three tales, including "Coyote Spreads Salmon Along The Columbia River." (external link) Search on folklore and mythology for additional myths and folktales.

  • What can you learn about the beliefs and values of a people from their myths and folktales?
  • Why do you think that animals are so often included in Native-American folklore?
  • Why do you think coyote stories are among the most popular folktales?
  • Why do you think that the authors of the Special Presentation essays included so many folk tales in these essays?
  • What purposes did folk tales serve in Native-American cultures? What purposes do stories serve in U.S. popular culture?
  • What is the difference between having a story told to you and having one read to you?


Museum Exhibit

This collection has a unique variety of materials. Not only does it have both visual and textual primary sources, but it has many secondary sources as well. By creating a museum exhibit, one can explore the relationship between primary and secondary sources and learn first-hand how the presentation of information affects how it is understood.

Select a topic that is well documented in the collection, such as missionaries, Native Americans and Christianity, Native-American arts and crafts, canoes, fishing, totem poles, treaties, Indian schools, or folklore. Search the collection for pertinent primary and secondary sources. To browse secondary sources, search on Pacific Northwest Quarterly and Publications in Anthropology. Print out and arrange images and textual excerpts using the following questions (don’t forget to cite your sources in captions):

  • What is your job as a museum exhibit curator? What do you want visitors to learn? What kind of experience do you want them to have?
  • What is the value of primary and secondary sources? What would museum visitors miss out on if they saw only one or the other?
  • How will you present your materials? Will there be a chronological, thematic, or some other type of order?
  • What is the benefit of presenting a primary source first, and then a secondary source related to it? What is the benefit of the reverse order?
  • How will you begin and end your exhibit? What is the role of materials placed at the beginning and end of an exhibit?

"When the pioneers arrived a hundred years ago, the familiar Nootkan (or Chinook) canoe was already the most widely used type on the Northwest Coast. It dominated the outer coast from Queen Charlotte Sound to Tillamook Bay and was admired and coveted by all the up-Sound and lower Columbia and Fraser River people. The faintly animal-like head, poised and alert, the flat bottom and almost level sheer, and the simple yet beautiful stern "knob"of this model are seen in public print almost weekly..."

(Page 33, "Canoes from Cedar Logs: A Study of Early Types and Designs")



The wealth of photographs depicting various Native-American crafts provides an opportunity to discuss craft and the distinction often made between art and craft. Access these photographs by searching on such terms as basket, blanket, canoe, clothing, rattle, weaving, and woodcarving. Compare the crafts of different tribes by selecting pertinent headings in the Subject Index such as Snohomish Indian--crafts, Nez Perce Indian--crafts, and Tlinget Indian--crafts. Use the following questions to conduct an in-depth discussion.

  • What can you learn about a people from their crafts?
  • What is the purpose of craft? What is the purpose of fine art?
  • Where do we find arts and crafts in society? How are they made? Who sells them and who buys them? How much are they worth?
  • Is something less artistic or precious because it has an everyday use and function?
  • Is an artistic object less creative if the creator must take function into account?
  • Is the object less creative if the creator is working within a stylistic tradition?
  • Is something less valuable if it is not a one-of-a-kind object -- if there are many people who can make it or something like it? Is it less special?
  • Fine art could be said to express an individual's personality and ideas, while craft could be said to express cultural beliefs and traditions. Is one more meaningful than the other? Are they mutually exclusive?
  • Is the literal meaning or the aesthetic beauty of an object more important?
  • Which works of art are most similar to crafts? Which crafts are most similar to fine arts? Why?


Totem Poles

Perhaps the most iconic of Native-American arts and crafts is the totem pole. However, these columns that have come to symbolize Native Americans in general, were originally found only in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, many of the popular representations of totem poles are based on just one or two original poles from this region. This and other information about the meaning of totem poles and their use within and without the Northwest is available in Dr. Robin K. Wright's essay, "Totem Poles: Heraldic Columns of the Northwest." (external link) Search on totem pole for over 200 photographs reflecting the arts of Native Americans of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington.

  • What are the different kinds of totem poles and what tribes made them?
  • Why did the use and size of totem poles increase in the 19th century?
  • Why did the creation of totem poles all but cease at the end of the 19th century?
  • Why do you think that Dr. Wright included "The Story of North Island" in her essay?
  • Why are few poles still in their original locations? What is the difference between viewing a pole in its original location and in some other location?
  • Why is it important to know the history of a pole?
  • How have people used totem poles in the 20th century? Have these uses changed or expanded the meaning of totem poles?

In her essay, Dr. Wright observes:

"Only the best artists were commissioned to carve the monumental heraldic poles that were placed in front of and inside northern Northwest Coast houses proclaiming the identity, status, and history of the noble people who owned them."

("The Story of North Island, Part 1" (external link) of "Totem Poles: Heraldic Columns of the Northwest" (external link))

While the images on some poles reflect themes, many represent ancestors and supernatural beings associated with ancestors. Taken together, these symbols can tell stories.

Use symbols representing your own family and its stories to decorate an object that is meaningful to your family, such as the cover of a photo album, or a box that holds keepsakes.

  • What sorts of objects in your room or house convey the identity, status or history of yourself or your family?
  • How else do people convey this information?


Creative Writing

From Russian, Spanish, French, and British fur traders to American settlers, a variety of people joined Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. How did this confluence of cultures shape the settlement of the region? What were the early towns of the Northwest like? Using your knowledge of the history of the region, write a short story set in an early Northwest town. Items such as the following may provide starting points.

The section on Chief Seattle (external link) in David M. Buerge's essay "Chief Seattle and Chief Joseph: From Indians to Icons" (external link) describes the way Chief Seattle encouraged Euro Americans to settle and trade among his people. This brief history hints at the character of the community that emerged from Chief Seattle's invitation and became his namesake.

Photographs provide evidence of cultural interactions in a variety of locations. For example, a photograph taken in Seattle, Washington depicts a Euro-American woman buying a basket from a Native-American woman on the street. A photograph of Sitka, Alaska shows Native-American women selling their goods down the street from a Russian Orthodox Church. Use the Geographic Location Index to browse images by location or search on words such as town, city, street, and store.

  • What is the name of the town you are writing about and where is it located?
  • Why do you think that a community developed in this particular location?
  • What different groups of people live in this town?
  • Where do they live in relation to each other and to town landmarks like ports, roads, trading posts, and markets?
  • When and why did these people settle here?
  • What do people in this town do for subsistence, employment, or recreation?
  • What sorts of resources does the town offer its inhabitants and visitors?
  • Where and why do people from different cultures interact within this town?
  • What are these interactions like?
  • How does the multiculturalism of this town affect its atmosphere? Do people live and interact peaceably with each other? Are there conflicts? Are people segregated from each other?