Speaker discusses history of Yakama Nation with PRIDE students


Roger Jacob, a student at Heritage College and a natural resource contractor for the Yakama Nation, talks to students in Terry Alvarez-Ziegler's class at PRIDE High School about some of the history of the Yakama Nation.

Although residents of Sunnyside live just on the border of the Yakama Indian Reservation, not too many people know about the history that created the reservation or much about the customs of the Yakama Indian Nation.

Last week, Roger Jacob, a student at Heritage College and a natural resource contractor for the Yakama Nation, took time to talk to students in Terry Alvarez-Ziegler's class at PRIDE High School.

Jacob, who is studying to be a science teacher, talked about the history of the tribe and also taught the students some words in the Yakama language.

Jacob said at one point in history the Yakama Nation called more than 10.8 million acres, or about one-third of Washington state home. Today, the Yakama Nation Reservation is made up of 1.4 million acres, with borders made up of Ahtanum Creek, the crest of the Cascade Mountains and the Yakima River.

Jacob explained to the students that the drastic change came after the treaty of 1855 was signed by Chief Kamiakin and Gov. Isaac Steven's administration. He noted that at the time the Yakama Nation wasn't organized into the sort of tribe hierarchy seen in old Western movies. There was no one chief that spoke for the entire tribe. Instead, he said whoever was the head of the household would call the shots for his family.

"People pretty much minded their own business," Jacob said. "They cared for their own family."

However, when the governor decided it was time to draft a treaty, he told the tribe they needed one person to represent the entire group.

"It wasn't our way at the time," Jacob said.

In the end, Kamiakin was selected to represent the tribe, although Jacob said he was selected more by the government than he was by his own people.

Under the treaty, the Yakama Nation Reservation was created.

"All of this territory was kind of ceded away and we were squished into a 1.4 million acre area," Jacob said.

That wasn't the only conflict the Yakama Nation would face. Jacob told the students that the treaty specified that the reservation land was meant for the exclusive benefit of the Indian people.

"White people weren't supposed to be on the land," he said.

But it didn't take long for settlers to begin moving onto the reservation, which is what sparked the local Indian wars. Jacob said the calvary was sent from Fort Dalles and Fort Vancouver to keep the peace. Eventually, Fort Simcoe near White Swan was built.

An important part of the Yakama Nation culture has always revolved around the natural resources found on their land. Jacob talked about one of the tribe's most precious resources, salmon, or nusux, in the Yakama language.

He said the fish is something that can found everywhere from dinner plates to special ceremonies within the tribe.

"It has a special place at the table," Jacob said of salmon.

He then went on to teach the students about the place salmon has on the food chain, comparing the fish to plankton, shrimp and a killer whale. Jacob took time to talk to each of Alvarez-Ziegler's classes last week.


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