Sinkiuse (Native Americans of the Plateau)

Sinkiuse ("Sin ku yus), "between people," also known as Columbia, Isle de Pierre, and Moses Band.

Location In late prehistoric times, the Sinkiuse lived mainly along the east bank of the Columbia River, although they ranged throughout the plateau south and east of the river. Today, their descendants live on the Colville Reservation, Ferry and Okanogan Counties, Washington, and in cities and towns around central Washington.

Population The late-eighteenth-century Sinkiuse population was at least 800. In 1990, 3,782 Indians lived on the Colville Reservation, perhaps 10 percent of whom were Sinkiuse descendants.

Language The Sinkiuse spoke a dialect of Interior Salish.

Historical Information

History Sinkiuses may have come either from the lower Columbia River area or from a more northerly location. They encountered non-Indians and joined the fur trade in 1811. They fought the United States in the 1850s under their chief, Moses, but adopted a peaceful stance after the war. The Columbia Reservation was established in 1879 and was abolished several years later. Four bands followed Chief Moses to the Colville Reservation; others accepted allotments and lost their geographic identity.

Religion Individuals sought guardian spirits through the traditional means of singing, fasting, praying, and performing feats of endurance. The spirits assured the seeker of luck and various skills. Songs often accompanied received powers, which were generally called upon well after the quest: When one had settled into an adult life, the returning spirit power manifested itself by means of an illness that had to be cured by a shaman.

Shamans’ powerful spirits helped them to cure illness; they could also harm people if they chose. Among the causes of illness, in addition to a returning spirit, were breaking taboos and suffering bewitchment. Shamans were paid for successful cures.

Important religious occasions included the first salmon ritual, the midwinter spirit dances, and the first fruits rite. The midwinter dances served the additional purposes of bringing people together and releasing winter tensions.

The Dreamer Cult, a mid-nineteenth-century phenomenon, was a revivalistic cult that celebrated traditional Indian religious beliefs. Although it was explicitly antiwhite, the religious doctrine also contained elements of Christianity. Its adherents thus attempted to remain faithful to their Indian traditions while taking steps to adapt to non-Indian culture.

Government Autonomous villages were each led by a chief and a subchief; these lifetime offices were hereditary in theory but were generally filled by people possessing the qualities of honesty, integrity, and diplomacy. The authority of chiefs was granted mainly through consensus.

An informal assembly of all married adults confirmed a new chief and oversaw other aspects of village life. All residents of the village were considered citizens. Other village leaders included a messenger, a speaker, and a salmon chief (often a shaman, with the salmon as a guardian spirit, who supervised salmon-related activities). By virtue of their ability to help or hurt people, shamans also acquired relative wealth and power from their close association with chiefs, who liked to keep them allied.

Customs The Sinkiuse were seminomadic for nine months a year; during the other three they lived in permanent winter villages. Winter was a time for visits and ceremonies. During that season, women also made mats and baskets, made or repaired clothing, and prepared meals; men occasionally hunted or just slept, gambled, and socialized.

In spring, groups of four or five families left the village for root-digging areas; those who had spent the winter away from the main village returned. People rose at dawn, winter and summer, and began the day by bathing in the river. Men’s realm was toolmaking, war, hunting, fishing, and, later, horses.

Pacifism, generosity, and interpersonal equality and autonomy were highly valued. Girls fasted and were secluded for ten days at the onset of puberty, except for a nighttime running regime. The exchange of gifts between families constituted a marriage, a relationship that was generally stable and permanent. Corpses were wrapped in tule mats or deerskin and buried with their possessions. The family burned the deceased’s house and then observed various taboos and purification rites.

Dwellings The Sinkiuse built typical Plateau-style, semiexcavated, cone-shaped wood frame houses covered with woven matting and/or grass. Longer, lodge-style structures of similar construction were used for communal activities. Villages also contained mat-covered sweat lodges. Temporary brush shelters served as summer houses. Later, skin tipis replaced the aboriginal structures.

They also built communal tule-mat houses consisting of a pole framework covered by grass, earth, and tule mats. These houses were about 16 feet wide, between 24 to about 60 feet long, and about 14 feet high, with gabled roofs. Entrance was through matted doors. Each family had an individual tule-covered section, but they shared a number of fireplaces in the central passage.

Diet Food was much more often acquired by the family than by the village. Fish was a staple. Men caught four varieties of salmon as well as trout, sturgeon, and other fish. They fished from May through October. Women cleaned, dried, and stored the fish. Dried fish and sometimes other foods made up much of the winter diet. People generally ate two meals a day in summer and one in winter.

Women gathered shellfish, salmon eggs, bulbs, roots, nuts, seeds, and berries. Camas was eaten raw or roasted, boiled, and made into cakes. A short ceremony was performed over the first gathered crop of the season. Men hunted most large and small game in the fall. They prepared for the hunt by sweating and singing. Women came along to help dress and carry the game. Men also hunted birds and gathered mollusks.

Key Technology Men caught fish with nets, weirs, traps, and hook and line. Utensils were carved of wood. Women made coiled baskets of birch bark and/or cedar root; they also wove wallets and bags of woven strips of skin, and they sewed tule mats and other items.

Trade The Sinkiuse engaged in extensive local trade, communication, visiting, and intermarriage.

Notable Arts Artistic expression was seen mainly in carved wood items, coiled baskets with geometric designs, and mat weaving.

Transportation Dugout canoes and some pole rafts served as water transportation. Horses arrived about the mid-eighteenth century.

Dress The Sinkiuse wore surprisingly little clothing for such a northern climate. Woven bark and, later, dressed buckskin provided breechclouts, ponchos, and aprons. Women also wore woven caps. Men wore fur leggings in winter; women’s leggings were generally made of hemp. Some winter clothing, such as mittens, caps, woven blankets, and robes, was made from the fur of rabbits and other animals. Both sexes plucked their eyebrows and wore earrings, tattoos, necklaces, and face paint.

War and Weapons Sinkiuse were generally friendly with their Interior Salish neighbors.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Colville Reservation (1872) is located in Ferry and Okanogan Counties, Washington. It comprises 1,011,495 acres and had a 1990 Indian population of 3,782. An Indian Reorganization Act constitution approved in 1938 calls for a 14-member business council and various committees. The Confederated Tribes is a member of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and other intertribal organizations.

Economy Important economic resources and activities include stock raising, farming, logging (including a sawmill) and reforestation, seasonal labor, mining, a meat-packing plant, a log cabin sales business, tourism, and gambling enterprises. The tribe plans to develop its hydroelectric potential.

Legal Status The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Although a small number of Colville residents claim Sinkiuse descent, most people are largely acculturated. Language preservation programs are hindered by the lack of a common language, and few people still speak Sinkiuse (Columbia). Recent efforts to reinvigorate disparate tribal cultures and religions include the Seven Drum religion, the Indian Shaker Church, and the Native American Church. The tribe has undertaken a program of reacquiring and consolidating their land base. Education levels are increasing. The Colville Business Council wields growing power in regional and statewide issues.

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