The Chinookan people and the Kalapuya group of people both resided in various geographical regions of Oregon. The Willamette River Valley was home to the Kalapuya tribes, whilst the Chinookan people settled around the Lower Columbia River and Pacific Coast. Their various lifestyles and economic activity were influenced by this. The majority of the Kalapuya population were farmers who made use of the valley’s rich soil and plentiful rains to support it (Aikens, Connolly, & Jenkins, 2011). To make room for additional agriculture, they would remove the forested areas. Evidence of this practice is seen in the various Willamette trees which were found to have been burned repeatedly in the course of their lives. The burning meant that some areas turned into grasslands as a result.
More than other groups which settled in Oregon, the Kalapuya people set out to change their ecosystem with fire as the main medium. This was not a way of simply destroying the environment as early scholars would have thought. Rather, it was a carefully managed method of clearing the area desired for farming, and took place during specific times of the year (Douthit, 1999). The expanse of the land which they inhabited as well as their reliance on farming meant that the Kalapuya people lived a semi-settled life. While they would build dwellings and stay in one area for a considerable amount of time, they would eventually move to other parts of the Willamette valley in search of new farmland.
The Chinookan people were settled along the coast as well as an area which had several water bodies including streams and creeks. Unlike the Kalapuya people, the Chinookan people rarely practiced agriculture on a scale that would have ensured subsistence (Douthit, 1999). Their heavy reliance on fishing meant that they rarely practiced the level of burning that the Kalapuya practiced on their environment. Their need to manipulate the environment was minimal when compared to the agriculturalists. Evidence of their fishing activities is seen through archaeological sites in Eddy’s Rock and Fishing Rock.
The Chinook people lived a nomadic life. They would move along the area they inhabited as the seasons changed, and with them the supply of fish and sea mammals was sufficient source of food. They developed a refined technology capable of capturing formidable sea mammals and fish. This in turn played an important part of their subsistence. Due to their way of life, the Chinook people occupied a large expanse of land. For instance, from the Tahkenitch River where though there is ample evidence of human activity, there are no human dwellings, meaning that it must have been used mostly as a fishing site, rather than a substantive settlement (Moss, 1998).
Despite these differences, both groups of Native Americans saw fishing as an important economic activity. They would do it either for subsistence or to complement other sources of food. Both groups were keen hunters. However, they did not practice hunting as the main way of supplementing their food (Douthit, 1999). Rather, they did it as a source of entertainment, especially for the men. For both groups of people, there was a high level of tolerance of each other, in respect to their access to available resources.
Without the ability to come up with technological advances good enough to manipulate the environment in a profound way, the people of Oregon were highly subject to environmental conditions and changes. The Willamette Valley is one of the major archaeological and geographical areas in Oregon. It was the home of an indigenous group of people who all belonged to the Kalapuya family, which was closely related linguistically and culturally but otherwise independent of each other (Beckham, 2006). The valley is rich with several streams and creeks, as well as a good climate. This was important in influencing the economic activities of the Kalapuya people, who were mainly agriculturalists who followed the bigger Willamette River in search of better farmland. They also practiced fishing and hunting. Evidence of the cultural traditions is seen at the Mohawk River, Templeton, Fishing Rocks and Cottage Grove.
The environment was an important part of their lives, besides providing a means of livelihood. Their houses exploited important trees found in the region, such as Douglas-fir (Douthit, 1999). The availability of such wood had a big impact not only in their way of life, but also in the type of houses they built, which were built to be permanent. Their social life was markedly different from other groups in Oregon, such as the Molala people. While the Molala and other groups were much fewer, the Kalapuya were numerous in number, and were highly autonomous.
The Pacific Coast and Lower Columbia River was another segment of the geographical areas defining Oregon. The area was inhabited by the Chinookan people, among other cultures, who were also closely related but autonomous in the way they conducted their affairs. The area enjoys high rainfall. It also has ample fishing grounds which heavily influenced the livelihoods of these peoples (Aikens, Connolly, & Jenkins, 2011). They were engaged in fishing, including mammal fishing. This involved seals, among other sea mammals. Evidence of these activities is to be found at Siltcos Lake, Young River Complex among other sites.
The Columbia Plateau was the home of the Salmon – fishing Wasco, Tenino, Umatilla and other related groups. These people lived in the Plateau deriving their livelihood from fishing, hunting, and root gathering. Their way of life had flourished for close to 10,000 years (Moss, 1998). The extraordinary abundance of food in the area meant that while these people were not farmers, they were still settled. Evidence of their way of life is to be found in archaeological sites in Dalles and Wildcat Canyon.
For all the different groups, the environment clearly played a major role in their existence, as well as social and cultural orientation. Harvests and hunting had strong religious undertones, as had seasons of the year. At the same time, the lifestyle of the people – settled agriculturalists or fishing communities had a strong influence on the groups’ strength as a community (Beckham, 2006). In all cases, all the groups were highly vulnerable or dependent on the environment, as seen in their waiting on the salmon annual cycles, as well as differing seasons – summer, winter, spring and autumn. As the environment changed, either due to overexploitation or natural climatic changes, their social structure and subsistence was bound to change as well. The differences between these people dispel the view that, Native Americans used fire as a means of clearing land for farming and settlement. This is especially so since Columbia Plateau inhabitants did not have a specific need to clear land through burning vegetation for they had no use for farmland.
Aikens, M., Connolly, T., & Jenkins, D. (2011). Oregon Archaeology. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press.
Beckham, S. (2006). Oregon Indians: Voices from Two Centuries. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press.
Douthit, N. (1999). A Guide to Oregon South Coast History: Traveling the Jedediah Smith Trail. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press.
Moss, M. (1998). “Northern Northwest Coast Regional Overview”. Arctic Anthropology, vol. 35, no.1: 88-111.