Colonial Power and Indigenous Justice: Fur Trade Violence and Its Aftermath in Yaquina Narrative

By Byram, R. Scott | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Colonial Power and Indigenous Justice: Fur Trade Violence and Its Aftermath in Yaquina Narrative


Byram, R. Scott, Oregon Historical Quarterly


BRITISH, SPANISH, RUSSIAN, AND AMERICAN colonial interests manifested in different ways across the North American West, and a growing body of scholarship addresses the effects of that empire expansion on Native communities. (1) Of the tribes that survived decades of warfare, starvation, and disease, some remained in their traditional homelands while many were displaced, often becoming part of confederations such as the Confederated Tribes of Siletz and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Indians of western Oregon. In the Pacific Northwest, United States relocation policy was particularly devastating for smaller coastal tribes such as the Yaquina, one of many ancestral tribes of today's Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Historical analysis of colonial power relations stands to benefit from consideration of both the effects of empire expansion in Native communities and Native perception of that expansion. To that end, this article addresses Native survival as portrayed in oral narrative. The indigenous narrative centers on an episode of fur-trade violence, elucidating historical power relations in the Northwest while also shedding light on the long-term meaning of the episode for a small coastal tribe with deep ties to the land.

The set of oral narrative accounts and Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) correspondence details, from a radically different perspective, a series of violent conflicts between fur trappers and Native people at Yaquina Bay and nearby Beaver Creek, on the Oregon coast, during the spring of 1832. Two of the three Native accounts have not previously been published, while the HBC correspondence is widely cited in studies of fur-trade conflict. Considering the aftermath of the 1832 conflicts--when the Yaquina suffered more losses through violent conflict, relocation, and immigration--the indigenous accounts resonate with the effects of United States settlement and reservation policy in western Oregon. They also reveal much about fur-company resource extraction practices and related violence that involved smaller, sedentary tribes or nations.

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In contrast to its limited affect on HBC operations, the violence of 1832 appears to have been transformational for the Yaquina survivors and the neighboring Alsea people. The growing colonial presence meant that indigenous principles of justice no longer applied in conflicts with outsiders. Traditional discourse involving negotiation between leaders and mutual recognition of territories and national sovereignty rapidly eroded with HBC fur trapping and United States settlement in western Oregon. By the time the Alsea Agency of the Coast Reservation was closed in 1875, there was no longer a Yaquina nation, and few if any descendants still lived at Yaquina Bay.

Prior to the mid-1850s, Yaquina and Alsea villages were most populous along the shores of Yaquina Bay and Alsea Bay, with smaller communities on the rivers and tributaries above tidewater and on the coast. People lived in those villages during all seasons, making their living by fishing, plant gathering, hunting, and through trades such as canoe making, weaving, and house building. (2) Social networks were extensive; people of one Yaquina village typically had relatives in the Willamette Valley and in the Tillamook, Alsea, and Siuslaw communities along the coast. Within tribal territories, people managed plant and animal harvests through controlled burning and selective harvesting, and by culturally restricting use. (3) Tribes or nations consisted of communities who shared a language or dialect and recognized territorial rights to residence and the use of other resources as well as to hunting, fishing, and trapping. (4)

NARRATIVES OF FUR-TRADE VIOLENCE IN NATIVE ORAL HISTORY

Much of the documented early- to middle-nineteenth-century Native history in western Oregon comes from interviews ethnographers conducted with tribal elders during the 1930s and 1940s. …

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