Name The word “Chinook” was originally applied to the misty sea breezes that blew in from the coasts of Oregon and Washington. Because the “Chinook Winds” seemed to come from the direction of the Indian village of Tchinouk, both the winds and the tribe were called “Chinook”. Diet Salmon, abundant in the wild streams and rivers of the Pacific Northwest, were the most important food source for the Chinook. Men used pointed spears to impale the salmon. The women of the tribe would cut them up and dry them. The chinook also hunted for rabbitt, deer, and elk, and gathered berries, weeds, roots, and plant bulbs. They also took some marine animals such as clams and mussels. Unlike other northwest coast tribes, the Chinook rarely hunted sea mammals such as whales and seals. Homes The Chinook pople built large plankhouses out of cedar wood. The size of the structure depended on the wealth of the family that built it, or, the number of families that inhabited it. Some could be as large as 40 feet wide and 100 feet long. Each family that lived in a plankhouse occupied a specific part. Mats hung from the rafters acted as makeshift walls and separated the house into different living spaces. At the center of the plankhouse was a fireplace, where all of the inhabitants gathered to eat and socialize. Sleeping platforms were erected along the walls and food was hung from the rafters to dry. Culture The Chinook inhabited the area at the mouth of the Columbia River, on the present-day border of Washington and Oregon. The river was essential in all aspects of life, especially in hunting and trading. Like other Northwest Coast tribes, the Chinook carved remarkable canoes from the abundant sources of timber, but did not carve totem poles like their neighbors to the north. Instead, the Chinook were famous from their horn carvings, which were fashioned from the horns of mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
The Chinook were prolific traders, and often traveled the network of rivers in the Pacific Northwest trading with other villages and White frontiersmen. They bartered fish products, furs, cedar, carvings, and slaves. They even evolved a special trading language known as Chinook Jargon. Used throughout the Pacific Northwest, Chinook Jargon was a combination of English, French and various indigenous languages that was useful in trading with different peoples. The Chinook used shells as a form of currency.
The Chinook practiced many interesting spiritual beliefs and ceremonies. One of the most important ceremonies was the First Salmon Rite, in which each family group welcomed the annual migration of the salmon from the Pacific Ocean through Chinook Territory. The Chinook also believed in the vision quest, a ceremony in which adolescent boys and girls ventured into the wilderness to find guardian spirits that would help give them powers in hunting or curing or bestow upon them good luck and new songs and dances. Chinook parents also engaged in the practice of flattening the foreheads of their babies by restraining the forehead in tight bandages on the cradleboard while the bones were still soft.
The American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first recorded the Chinook in 1805. By the 1840’s however, Chinook populations began to decline after white settlement near the Columbia River increased, propagating disease and epidemics among the Chinook. Potlatch Like most northwest coast tribes, the Chinook practiced the potlatch, a ceremony in which one family redistributed its wealth. In a potlatch, the host would demonstrate wealth and social status by giving away possessions, in some cases, all of the possessions owned by the host. The host of the potlatch could normally get many of their possessions back in future potlatches held by other families.
Potlatches were performed for many occasions including births, weddings, funerals, rites of passage, the building of a new clan house, and the honoring of the deceased. Potlatches usually involved great celebrations including extravagant feasts, music, dancing, and the honoring of spirits. Slaves, blankets, tools, carvings, weapons, and furs were among things normally given away at a potlatch. Families who gave away their possessions would gain social status. Most potlatches lasted between one and three days. Potlatches could become competitive, especially among rival groups. Lands The Chinook inhabited lands at the mouth of the Columbia River, on the Washington-Oregon border.