tribal council
canoe project

photo gallery
contact us


Since long before European people first arrived on our shores, there has been a Clatsop-Nehalem people.

Most Clatsops dwelled along the northern Oregon coast from the Columbia River to Tillamook Head near Seaside, while most Nehalem-Tillamook dwelled in villages from Tillamook Head to well south of Tillamook Bay. Yet, the lines between these two people were by no means sharp, geographically or socially. The Clatsop and Nehalem peoples shared resource harvesting areas, such as the rich berry picking grounds of Clatsop Plains, and visited the same sacred places, such as Saddle Mountain. They gathered together each summer to trade with visiting tribes, socialize, and conduct ceremonies at the large village near Tansey Point, in present-day Hammond, Oregon. In the winter, many gathered together in a mixed Clatsop-Nehalem village near present-day Seaside. Though their languages were different, Clatsops and Nehalems were bilingual and readily borrowed words from each others languages. The familiar place prefix “Ne-,” for example, used in such placenames as Neahkahnie, Nehalem, Necanicum, and Neacoxie was used by Clatsops and Nehalems alike.

From the very earliest written record of the Clatsop and Nehalem people, they are described as being culturally, economically, and socially integrated with one-another. When Lewis and Clark visited our territories, in the winter of 1805-06, the Clatsop and Nehalem people were inseparable and often indistinguishable. The journals of Lewis and Clark make frequent reference to the presence of Nehalem-Tillamooks in Clatsop villages and Clatsops in Nehalem-Tillamook villages. On the southern Clatsop Plains, Lewis and Clark’s journals describe a Clatsop-Nehalem community that is thoroughly and seamlessly integrated. For example, at the site of present-day Seaside, men from the Corps of Discovery were operating a salt-making operation, “Situated near 4 houses of Clatsops and Killamox, who they informed me had been verry kind and attentive to them.” -William Clark, January 7, 1806

Visiting many decades later, the father of American anthropology, Franz Boas, visited the villages of the Seaside area. There, he reported an evenly mixed Clatsop and Nehalem Tillamook population living together as part of the same families. In fact, when visiting the “Clatsop” village in Seaside, Boas found that its residents “had all adopted the Nehelim language, a dialect of Salishan Tillamook. This change of language was brought about by frequent intermarriage” With the Nehelim.” -Franz Boas, Chinook Texts, 1894

Boas’ primary sources of information on Nehalem Tillamook culture included individuals living in Clatsop communities on the Clatsop Plains. Had Boas visited “Squawtown” near Garibaldi, or a number of other settlements on the northern Oregon coast, he would have found similarly integrated Clatsop-Nehalem communities. Later writers visiting the north coast of Oregon reached similar conclusions:

“The earliest history of the Nehalem country is so closely entwined with that of the Clatsops of the north and the Tillamooks of the south that its separation is impossible.” -S.J. Cotton, Stories of Nehalem, 1915 Both archaeological evidence and tribal oral traditions suggest that the connection between the Clatsop and Nehalem is quite ancient. Archaeologist Thomas Newman (l959) concluded that, while the Clatsop and Nehalem may have been distinct people thousands of years ago, the cultural practices of the two groups had clearly converged hundreds of years before European contact, indicating extensive intermarriage, trade, and exchange of ideas between the two groups. Oral traditions of the Nehalem Tillamook provide a similar story. Some stories describe connections between the Clatsop and Nehalem during ancient times. The Nehalem’s foremost transformer tale, describing the exploits of South Wind, depicts both Clatsop and Nehalem territory as being part of the same unified whole.

The first arrival of European peoples on the northern coast of Oregon created a number of new challenges for the Clatsop and Nehalem people. In the summer of l851, gathering together near their traditional gathering place at Tansey Point on the mouth of the Columbia River, the Clatsop, Nehalem, participated in treaty negotiations with Oregon Territory Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Anson Dart (l851). On August 5th and 6th of 1851, the Clatsop and the Nehalem Band of Tillamooks negotiated in good faith and signed the Tansey Point Treaty with Superintendent Dart. The Tansey Point Treaties were sent to Washington D.C. for ratification. This treaty was blocked by delegates to Congress, including Joseph Lane and Samuel Thurston, and not ratified. The result was a legal quagmire:

“Technically, the (Nehalem) Tillamook were… under the Grand Ronde agent, but the Oregon Superintendency mounted no removal program for the Tillamook, Clatsop, or other Indians of Northwestern Oregon.” -Stephen Dow Beckham, “History of Western Oregon,” 1990.

The Clatsop and Nehalem people began to “slip through the cracks” of the treaty process. Some Clatsops and Nehalems joined relatives at the Siletz, Grand Ronde, or Quinault Reservations, but with no treaty and no reservation, many Clatsop and Nehalem families remained in their traditional homeland and never became part of a federally recognized tribe.

The arrival of a large non-Indian population on the north coast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, if anything, brought further integration of Clatsop and Nehalem populations. Displaced from their traditional lands and often socially marginalized, Clatsop and Nehalem populations regrouped with their kin in both tribes, living together in small, combined communities. Even researchers who have lumped the Clatsops together with the Chinooks on the basis of linguistic similarities have had to admit that during this critical period, “many Clatsop merged with the Tillamooks, adopting their language.” -Michael Silverstein, “Chinookans of the Lower Columbia,” 1990

By the early 20th century, fully integrated Clatsop-Nehalem families were found throughout the traditional territories of both tribes, such as the Adams family from which our Chairman and many other tribal members are descended. Researchers studying the tribal communities and cultures of this time were faced with a cultural context in which the distinction between “Clatsops and “Nehalems” had become meaningless. Studying basketry styles from this period in local museum collections, Crawford (l983) concluded that Clatsop and Nehalem Tillamook basketry was identical, reflecting in part the fact that the two communities were completely and seamlessly integrated. Most tribal members who advised anthropologists on Nehalem-Tillamook culture (such as Clara Pearson) and Nehalem-Tillamook language (such as Minnie Scovell) during the l930s, l940s, and l950s were all part Clatsop, and relayed both Clatsop and Nehalem historical and cultural information with great fluency.

The integration of the Clatsop-Nehalem has been a source of confusion to many people who are not familiar with the distinctive history of this region. Linguists, noting the similarity of the Clatsop and Chinook languages, have often grouped these two populations together on primarily linguistic criteria. The origin of this confusion has deep roots:

“On a cultural basis, the Chinooks, Clatsops, Wahkiakum, and Kathlamets were ethnically similar…Through common usage the designation Chinook has been applied to all four groups. First exposed to white traders, the Chinooks proper dominated commerce at the mouth of the Columbia River and prospered. Because of their dominance in the eyes of white men, the latter came to refer to Clatsops, Wahkiakums,and Kathlamets as “Chinooks” also.” -Ruby and Brown, The Chinook Indians, 1976.

The Clatsops and Chinooks shared many cultural traits and some Clatsop and Chinook families have intermarried, but the two groups remain essentially distinct. While anthropologists typically recognize that there these two populations were fully autonomous in matters of political structure and economic activity, many non-specialists view tribal cultures through a European lens, wrongly assuming that all Clatsops were Chinooks, and that all Chinooks were a unified political entity prior to European contact. Neither of these assertions is true.

Some individuals of Clatsop ancestry, those with extensive kin ties with the Chinooks, have chosen to join the Chinook Tribe. Many Clatsops, those who are combined Nehalem ancestry, have chosen to become members of the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes. While almost all Oregon tribes represent confederations of formerly distinct tribal populations, the Clatsop-Nehalem are perhaps unique in the degree to which their confederated status predates Euro-American influences. Without direct ancestors on the rolls of Siletz, Grand Ronde, or other federally recognized tribes, the Clatsop-Nehalem, like their Chinook counterparts to the north, determined to move forward decades ago, pursuing efforts to achieve federal recognition as an independent tribe. Beginning in the late l980s, Clatsop-Nehalem people formally initiated this effort, led by current Chairman, Joseph Scovell. In the years that followed, the Clatsop-Nehalem began enrolling members and established a non-profit organization to coordinate tribal efforts.

Today, the Clatsop-Nehalem people consist of families of combined Clatsop and Nehalem-Tillamook ancestry, descendents of the integrated populations encountered by Lewis and Clark, Franz Boas, and all those who followed in their footsteps. The Clatsop-Nehalem people share a strong sense of attachment to their homeland on the northern Oregon coast, a strong interest in maintaining the vitality of their unique culture, and a strong commitment to the well-being of future generations of their people.

Selected Sources

Beckham, Stephen Dow (1990). History of Western Oregon Since 1846. In W.Suttles (ed.) Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast.Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 180-88. (p. 183).

Boas, Franz (1890). Fieldnotes on Tillamook and Chinookan Dialects.(MS#30(S4.1). Philadelphia: Archives of the American Philosophical Society.

Boas, Franz (1894). Chinook Texts. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 20.Washington D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology.p5.

Cotton, S.J. (1915). Stories of Nehalem. Chicago: M.A. Donohue.

Crawford, Ailsa (1983). Tillamook Indian Basketry: Continuity and Change as Seen in The Adams Collection. (unpublished M.A. thesis). Portland: Portland State University Department of Anthropology.

Dart, Anson (185l). Articles of a Treaty, Made and Concluded at Tansey Point, near Clatsop Plains…Records of the Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1848-1873. (microfilm No. M2, Roll 28). Washington D.C.: National Archives.

Hajda, Yvonne (1984). Regional Social Organization of the Greater Lower Columbia, 1792-1830. (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation). Seattle: University of Washington

Department of Anthropology. Pp. 327-30. Jacobs, Elizabeth Derr (1933-34) Nehalem Tillamook Field Notes. (unpublished ms.) Seattle: Melville Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Jacobs, Elizabeth Derr (1959) Nehalem Tillamook Tales. University of Oregon Mono-Graphs, Studies in Anthropology No. 5. Eugene: University of Oregon Press.

Moulton, Gary (ed.)(1990). The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Volume 6: November 1, 1805-March 22, 1806. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.p.184.

Ruby, Robert H. and John A. Brown (1976). The Chinook Indians: Traders of the Lower Columbia River. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. pp.5-6.

Seaburg, William (ed.) (2003). The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography. (Elizabeth Derr Jacobs, compiler). Corvallis: Oregon State University Press.

Silverstein, Michael (1990). Chinookans of the Lower Columbia. In W. Suttles (ed.)

Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Pp. 533-53-p. 535.

Thwaites, Reuben Gold (ed.) (1904-05). Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. New York: Dodd and Mead. Pp.313,32

Copyright@2013, Clatsop-Nehalem, all rights reserved.