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Chinook Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Chinook tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Chinook website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Chinook pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Chinook Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Chinook"? What does it mean?
Chinook is pronounced "chih-nook." This is an English pronunciation of the Salishan place name Tsinuk, which was also the name used for the Chinook Jargon trade language. The original meaning of the name "Tsinuk" is not certain. It may have come from a Chehalis name meaning "Fish Eaters," or it may have derived from a word meaning "strong fighters."

Where do the Chinooks live?
The Chinook Indians are original people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. They live in present-day Washington and Oregon.

How is the Chinook Indian nation organized? Do they live on a reservation?
The Chinook Nation is not federally recognized by the United States. That means Chinook people do not have a reservation or live on tribal lands. They live scattered throughout towns and villages in Oregon and Washington state. Although most Chinook people belong to the Chinook Nation, not all of them do. Many Chinook families have allotments on the Quinault Reservation, and other Chinook people are enrolled in neighboring tribes.

In the past, each Chinook village was led by its own local chief or headman, who was always a high-ranking clan leader. Today, the Chinook Indians are governed by a tribal council elected by all the people.

What language do the Chinook Indians speak?
Chinook people all speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Chinook language, which was a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. This language is no longer natively spoken in the Chinook community. But some people, especially elders, still speak a second language called Tsinuk Wawa, or the Chinook Jargon. Tsinuk Wawa is a trade language of the Northwest Coast that combined words and sounds from Chinook, Nootka, English, and other languages. If you'd like to know an easy Chinook Jargon word, "klahowya" (pronounced klah-how-yuh) is a friendly greeting.

What was Chinook culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Chinook Nation. There you can find information about the Chinook tribe in the past and today.

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How do Chinook Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Chinook children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys and games to play. A lacrosse-like game called koho was a popular among teenagers as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, Chinook mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here are some pictures of cradleboards.

What were men and women's roles in the Chinook tribe?
Men and women were considered equals in Chinook culture, and Chinook clan leaders could be either men or women. Both genders took part in trade, storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. Chinook men were fishermen and hunters, carved canoes, and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Chinook women gathered plants, herbs and clams and did most of the child care and cooking.

What were Chinook homes like in the past?
The Chinooks lived in coastal villages of rectangular cedar-plank houses. Usually these houses were large (up to 70 feet long) and each one housed an entire extended family. Here are some pictures of Indian houses like the ones Chinook Indians used. Today, old-fashioned buildings like these are still made from cedar wood, but they are only used for ceremonial purposes. Chinook people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Chinook clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Chinook men didn't usually wear clothing at all, though some men wore a breech-clout. Women wore short skirts made of cedar bark or grass. In the rain, the Chinooks wore tule rush capes, and in colder weather, they wore fur robes and moccasins on their feet. Later, after European influence, Makah people began wearing blanket robes. Here is a website on Northwest Indian clothes and textiles, and some photos and links about Native American Indian costume in general.

The Chinooks didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux Indians. Instead, both men and women sometimes wore a basket hat made of finely woven spruce root. The Chinooks sometimes painted their faces, using different designs for war, religious ceremonies, and mourning, and women also wore tattoos in geometric designs. Most Chinook people wore their hair long and loose, though some women adopted other fashions like braids from neighboring tribes. Here is a website with pictures of these Native American hairstyles. Unlike men from some Northwestern tribes, Chinook men did not wear facial hair.

Today, some Chinook people still have a blanket cloak or basket hat, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths.

What was Chinook transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Chinook Indian tribe made large dugout canoes by hollowing out cedar logs. The Chinook tribe used these canoes to travel up and down the sea coast for trading, fishing and hunting, and warfare. Here is an article about Native American boats. Today, of course, Chinook people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Chinook food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Chinook Indians were fishing people. Their staple food was salmon. Chinook men also caught many other kinds of fish and sea mammals from their canoes and hunted deer, birds, and small game on land. Chinook women gathered clams and shellfish, seaweed, berries, and roots. Here is a website with more information about American Indian foods.

What were Chinook weapons and tools like in the past?
Chinook fishermen used harpoons and nets. Hunters used bows and arrows, and trappers set snares. In war, Chinook men fired their bows or fought with spears and war clubs. Chinook warriors would wear armor made of hardened elk hide to protect themselves from enemy archers. Here is a website with pictures and more information about Indian weapons.

What are Chinook arts and crafts like?
Chinook artists are known for their fine bear-grass baskets and woodcarving arts. Here is a website about Chinook and other Northwest Indian basketry.

What other Native Americans did the Chinook tribe interact with?
The Chinooks were known for their skill as traders. Their most important trading partners were the Nootka, Klamath, and Interior Salish tribes, but their trade network extended all the way south to California and east to the Great Plains. Occasionally different Chinook bands would fight wars against each other or against other Northwest Coast tribes, but mostly they remained dominant through trade and control over the Columbia river mouth.

What kinds of stories do the Chinook Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Chinook legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Chinook Indian culture. Here is one Chinook legend about the adventures of Coyote. Here's a website where you can read more about Chinook mythology.

What about Chinook religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Chinook life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Chinook people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Chinook religion or this site about Native American religious beliefs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Chinook tribe. Older kids may want to read The Chinook Indians: Traders of the Lower Columbia River, a book for adults about Chinook culture and history. Younger kids may like The Boy Who Lived With The Seals, a picture book based on a Chinook legend. Meet Lydia is an illustrated biography of a modern Tlingit girl which makes a great introduction to Northwest Coast Indian life in general. If you want to know more about Chinook culture and history, two possibilities are Chinook Indians and The Chinook People. You can also browse through our Indian book recommendations in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Chinook Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Chinook Tribe

Chinook Indian Tribe
An overview of the Chinook people, their language and history.

Chinook Language Resources
Chinook Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Chinook Jargon Resources
Chinook Jargon samples, articles, and indexed links.

Chinook Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Chinook Native Americans past and present.

Chinook Words
Chinook Indian vocabulary lists.

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