200 years of Conflict

In the Northwest today there is an incredible historical irony playing itself out through inter-tribal politics. Perhaps the situation is such that it rates as predictive in nature.

For the past decade or so the Tribes in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon have engaged in a economic war over who will first be able to place its casino within the vicinity of Portland. Thus far The Grand Ronde tribe has been successful in fending off the advances of both Washington based and Oregon tribes. One of the most problematic opponents is the Cowlitz tribe who would like to claim that they had original rights to lands on the Columbia. To date the Grand Ronde tribe has been effective in pointing out that Cowlitz does not have any legitimate claims to the Columbia, that these are the homelands of various Chinookan tribes, and that any claim they believe they have is based on colonization of the region, much the same as the colonization of the region by Americans and British in the 19th century. In fact the Cowlitz colonization was parallel with that of the explorers and fur traders of the era, and could be considered an allied program that sought the replacement of the legitimate claimants to the region.

Recently I was reading through Alexander Henry’s journal, and found that there was recorded an early phase of this war for the claims on the Columbia. In fact Chief Keasno (Casino) appears to have successfully held off the Cowlitz in 1814. This is perhaps the beginning of attempts by the Cowlitz to claim the Columbia as their own. This, even though we know that raids and invasions for resources were common in the area.

Apr 10th 1814- the Cowlitch and their allies formed a party of 40 canoes and 300 warriors. Hearing of their approach Casino assembled his friends and allies, and sent for the Indians at the falls of the Willamette, the Calipuyowes, etc. The enemy was stationed across the channel directly opposite the C. Village. Casino desired to put off battle until his allies should join him, but to this the enemy objected. The enemy had no firearms; Casino’s party had, and opened fire at long range, without intending to kill anybody, for fear of rendering the enemy desperate, as in that case they might rush in and fight at close quarters; and he was aware that, unless blood were spilled, he had no danger to apprehend from them. Several parleys took place, but to no purpose; as Casino always wavered, and would not consent to make the enemy any present, nor give them any honorable reparation for the injury they had sustained, matters of course could not be settled. The enemy by some means got possession of one of his slaves, for whom they allowed him only two blankets; this offending him, and he then wished them to understand that he would give them no satisfaction whatever. They retired immediately, and are now plotting to attack him at night in a clandestine manner, and take ample revenge according to savage custom- to burn his village and destroy as many of his people as they can. This is their resort when the offending party will give no proper satisfaction in a public manner, and it occasions much intrigue. The Cowlitch are now endeavoring to win over Casino’s allies by presents of goods and slaves.

The irony is that the chief who fended off the Cowlitz with the help of his allies, was named Casino by some, and now 200 years later there is a conflict over casino territorial rights still.

I find the common threads in this 200 year history to be incredibly similar to the situation today. In fact, the Grand Ronde tribe is a confederation of some 27 to 35 tribes from western Oregon, and a good portion of that gene pool is of Kalapuya and Chinook peoples, in fact descendants of the people who signed the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty, the treaty that ceded this region around Portland to the United States. Then Chief Keasno had familial relations and influence over the Multnomah, Clackamas and Cascades (Watlala) tribes. And in a rare history, that of Louis Conoyer a Tualatin informant of Melville Jacobs, is stated that Keasno even had 2 son-in-laws within the Tualatin tribe.

The connections here are too many to ignore, and seem to be historic and deeply seated in the intertribal politics of the region.

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