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Plateau Indians 

ANTH 422/522, AIST 422, RELS 422 - Fall 201

Overview and Study Questions

The materials on this page are intended for use by students enrolled in ANTH 422/522 Plateau Indians.  This page and its references are periodically up-dated.

For grading criteria, see Evaluative Rubric

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Salmon Fishing at Kettle Falls - ca. 1930s


The Plateau culture area extends from the Cascade Mountains of Washington and British Columbia in the west to the Rocky Mountains of Montana in the east, encompassing the entirety of the Columbia River basin. The Fraser River valley of British Columbia marks the northern boundary, while the Columbia and Salmon Rivers of Oregon and Idaho mark the southern reaches of the Plateau.

In the example of Coeur d'Alene we have a wonderful illustration of how the oral traditions have helped mold the customs and lives of a particular tribe. After a brief consideration of pre-contact Coeur d'Alene society and of the historical changes brought by contact with Euro-American society, this lesson will focus on the continuity and continued importance of such cultural expressions as the "First Peoples," root gathering and deer hunting, traditional land tenure practices, the powwow, the ceremonies of the Sweat House and Jump Dance, and the Memorial Give Away. Like other Plateau peoples, the Coeur d'Alene lived a semi-nomadic, transhumance pattern, moving with the seasonal-round to specific localities within their home territory for salmon fishing or trading with other tribes, root digging, berry gathering, deer hunting, and finally winter encampment. They lived in a fundamentally equalitarian society, with relatively little warfare between tribes. Spiritual guidance was gained in vision questing.

General Study Guide Questions, focusing primarily on the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Perce.   Additional questions will be added.   For the "in the round recitations," refer to the Study Guides above.

  1. How would you characterize the particular approach/methodology taken in this course and articulated in Landscape Traveled by Coyote and Crane (2001) and in the Hackberries: Stories from the American Indian Experience (2012) in pursuit of the goal of understanding and appreciating Plateau Indians? What are some of the implications for the student-participant in pursuit of this goals? Consider advantages and disadvantages of such an approach.
  2. Identify the approximate aboriginal territory of the Coeur d'Alene and the Nez Perce.
  3. How was intertribal conflict often resolved prior to European contact?
  4. Outline the traditional seasonal-round of the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce and mid-Columbia Peoples.
  5. What were fishing techniques and technologies were used by the Nez Perce and mid-Columbia Peoples?
  6. What was the nature of pre-contact Coeur d'Alene social organization (the band) and political power (the chief)?
  7. What role did the shaman play in pre-contact Coeur d'Alene society?
  8. Identify and discuss the prevailing Euro-American cultural values of the contact era.
  9. Identify and discuss the types and forms of contact pluralism and assimilation.
  10. Develop an outline identifying how each of the following Euro-American influences effected Coeur d'Alene and Nez Perce cultures: the horse, diseases such as smallpox, the fur trade, the Jesuits and Presbyterians , military engagement with the United States, Treaties, Executive Orders and the Allotment Act, and mining.
  11. Identify the principle contemporary expressions of Coeur d'Alene and Nez Perce self-determination and the ways the tribes are attempting to re-establishing its sovereignty.
  12. Contrast the character of Coyote with that of Crane and Chief Child of the Yellow Root.   How are they similar and how are they different?
  13. What are the five fundamental "teachings" of the Coeur d'Alene?  Based upon the specific story narratives offered in Landscape Traveled by Coyote and Crane: The World of the Coeur d'Alene Indians, provide references from those stories that illustrate each of the five "teachings."
  14. Why do the elders continue telling the oral traditions?  What are their importance?
  15. What is in the nature of the various techniques of storytelling and of native languages and the spoken word that effects the significance of the oral traditions?
  16. What are camas and water potato, and what role do they play in Coeur d'Alene culture today?
  17. How would you characterize a family's relationship with their "home territory?"
  18. Define the concepts of Suumesh and Amotqen. Of what significance do they play in contemporary Coeur d'Alene?
  19. nzsweat.jpg (24568 bytes)
    Nez Perce Earthen-Sweat Lodge - ca. 1890 - Photographer: E. Jane Gay (Idaho State Historical Society)
  20. What is the meaning of the phrase, "then, the end of the trail," traditionally heard at the conclusion of the telling of a story? What are the implications of this phrase for the meaning and role of the oral traditions?
  21. Discuss the role of sharing in plant and animal rituals, offering examples to illustrate your discussion.
  22. Outline the general features and procedures you might experience at a Coeur d'Alene powwow. What is the meaning often associated with the songs and dance associated with the powwow?
  23. What are the purposes of the Sweat House Ceremony?
  24. What are the purposes of the Jump Dance Ceremony, and what does it mean to Blue Jay?
  25. What are the purposes of the Memorial Give Away, and what is the meaning in the phrase, the deceased go on ahead of us to have a big tipi camp ready for us?
  26. When a Coeur d'Alene speaks of "home," what might the concept mean?
  27. According to the Nez Perce, what can be in a thought?
  28. Who was Smohalla, and what were the central doctrines of the Dreamers?
  29. Identify and discuss the Indigenous cultural values of Plateau Peoples.

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