top of page
  • Luke Rosenblatt

The Spokane Report

The Pacific Northwest tribe of The Spokane used to live in Northern Washington, having a historical territory of around 3 million acres. They would occasionally travel to Idaho and Montana to fish, hunt, trade, and forage. The Spokane reservation is now in Wellpinit, Washington. This territory is now just around 159,000 acres, which is about 18 times smaller than it used to be ("Spokane Tribe of Indians - UCUT”). One of the most well known Native American authors, who comes from Wellpinit, is Sherman Alexie. Sherman Alexie wrote the highly successful and influential novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which he describes a fictionalized version of his younger self’s experiences as a young modern Spokane child in the Wellpinit Reservation.

("History - Spokane Tribe of Indians.")

Historically the Spokane were always a connected tribe, trading with neighboring tribes, including the Coeur d’ Alene. They often traded pelts and other goods like salmon. The Spokane located themselves in a spot where they could quickly trade with their neighbors, without the help of horses, as they didn’t receive them until european white men started interacting with them. They traded food and materials to each other, and did not really have to worry about prolonged conflict, being ripped off, and about running out of food and animals. The Spokane often traded salmon to other tribes in exchange for other goods, such as weapons and tools that they themselves did not have (Salmon picture from UCUT {Upper Columbia United States}.) They were able to live peacefully, and did not have to be concerned with war, invasion, or having to defend their lands. Nicolas Point was a Catholic priest who would often draw aspects of the Spokane Tribe’s lives, though his drawings showed conflict between white men and Spokane, some also showed positive interactions between the two groups ( "Spokane Tribe Documentary - YouTube").

Various outside groups of europeans and settlers began to focus on the territory of the Spokane after the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805 and this severely changed their ways of living. Once Lewis and Clark planted the Spokane on their map, merchants such as hunters, trappers and other traders would often come to their territory to buy Spokane pelts, and would often hunt and trap for pelts as well. Priests soon came to the Spokane Territory to attempt to convert the Native Americans to Christianity (“Spokane Tribe of Indians." ). They provided the Spokane with horses, which made trade easier ("Spokane Tribe Documentary - YouTube").

The newly arriving Europeans also negatively impacted the Spokane people. The arriving trappers, hunters, colonists, and priests brought conflict to the Spokane and the surrounding area. Two important battles involving the Spokane were the Plains and Four Lakes battles, where around 900 tribal horses were killed, and warriors were hung, and their villages were burnt. The cause of both of these was distrust between the two groups. There is a monument built to honor the spirits of the horses who were killed, the monument coming in the form of a tall rock with text inscripted on it ("10 Things You Should Know About the Spokane Tribe"). This was the beginning of major changes and struggles that would forever change the Spokane way of life. Their modern lives are drastically different from what they used to be.

The Spokane do have a far smaller reservation than in the past, about 159,000 acres of land. Spokane children attend the Wellpinit School District where they learn English along with their Tribe’s native language which is a derivative of interior Salish (“Spokane Tribe of Indians”). They try to teach the public about their people, and their past, through speeches and cultural events. Tribal Chairperson Carol Evans discussed how the Spokane continues to celebrate their heritage: “We’re bringing back our language through immersion schools and continue to bring our history back through the school districts. We’re continuing to bring back traditional practices to help with the healing process” ( “10 Things You Should Know About the Spokane Tribe”).

The Spokane Tribe has been through a lot of history, good and bad. They have retained some of their ancestral lands, and ancient traditions, though their lives may be different than what they used to be, due to modern society and colonization. Their population is around 2,900 enrolled members, who all live in the community. One of those is Sherman Alexie, who wrote the famous novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part - Time Indian, which has become popular with younger readers. Personally, I learned a lot about how Alexie’s character, Junior, felt about his community, and learned some things about his tribe too. He mentioned personal tragedies related to family deaths due to alcohol and community poverty. Not all of it is bad, of course, like that families at reservations are far closer than other people’s families. They keep their traditions around, which connects their lives to shared traditions that unite the community and families.

Works Cited

"10 Things You Should Know About the Spokane Tribe." 1 Sep. 2017,

"HISTORY - Spokane Tribe of Indians." 14 Jan. 2022,

Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

"Spokane Tribe of Indians." 2 Jul. 2018,

Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

"History - Spokane Tribe of Indians." Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.

"Spokane Tribe Documentary - YouTube." 24 May. 2017,

Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

"The Spokane Language." 20 Jan. 2022, Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

"Nicolas Point missionary drawings collection | JESUIT ARCHIVES." Accessed 2 Feb. 2022.

bottom of page