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The Tolowa Tribe of Oregon, Reaction Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1500

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The Tolowa Native Americans are a tribe that has lived in California and Southern Oregon for centuries. In the 1800s the Tolowa had a territory that ranged from the Klamath River all the way to California (Massey and Vilson, p89). The Tolowa also had some territory that was farther inland away from the coast, but they primarily lived near the coast. The inland territory was used as a spot for hunting trips to bring food back to their main settlements near the mouth of the river and down along the coast. At the time, the Tolowa lived in a number of different villages spread all through their territory. The Tolowa built houses made of redwood and their villages were designed for permanent living, but in their inland territories they often lived in temporary shelters used when they were ion hunting expeditions. In this time the Tolowa did not see themselves as one large tribe, and were loyal to their individual villages (Pritzker, p88, 1998).

The Tolowa were mostly peaceful people, but they would sometimes fight with other tribes or even other Tolowa. Most of these fights were over the control of the territories where the Tolowa fished and hunted. The Tolowa Indians lived primarily on fish such as salmon that they caught in the nearby rivers and streams, and from game that they killed on hunting trips. The Tolowa Indians were active in trading with other villages and other tribes, and they built strong canoes out of redwood that they would use to travel the rivers to meet with other tribes for trade. These canoes were even strong enough to use in the ocean, and the Tolowa would sometimes travel up and down the coast to meet with and trade with other tribes. Many of the tribes in the region used seashells for currency, and the Tolowa people were close enough to the ocean that they were one of the tribes that was most involved in gathering and collecting shells to use for spending and trading with other tribes.

Most of the religious practices of the Tolowa people were centered on seasonal changes or related to their diet. There were ceremonies that celebrated the changing seasons, and that were supposed to help bring about good fortune on hunting or fishing trips. One of their ceremonies was called the World Renewal Ceremony, and during this ceremony the Tolowa would perform the Naydosh , also called the Feather Dance (Pritzker, p199). The Tolowa had a well-defined social structure, and it was important for members of the different villages to display their wealth and power to show that they had prestige in the village (Pritzker, p199). Most of the Tolowa villages did not have an official political structure, so there was no chief in most cases. The prestige in the different villages was given to the members who had the most wealth, and the villages were usually ruled by the man who was the wealthiest.

The ways that the Tolowa people would show that they were wealthy was by collecting items the tribe considered to be valuable. There were many different types of items that were valued, such as knives carved from obsidian, the scalps and feathers of woodpeckers, the most beautiful seashells, and other such items (Johansen and Pritzker, p1072, 2008). The Tolowa also liked to create beautiful headdresses made of feathers and other materials, and the most powerful man in the village usually had the most beautiful headdress. Most of the items that the Tolowa considered valuable were not used in everyday life, but were collected only to be used for buying and trading, or by a man paying a father to take his daughter as a bride (Pritzker, p199).

Most of the Tolowa villages had a shaman who was responsible for such things as curing disease and chasing away evil spirits. In the case of the Tolowa, most of the shamans were either women or were transvestite men. The shaman in each village would perform various rituals, such as dancing or entering into a trance to contact the spirit world. The rest of the men and the women in the various Tolowa villages usually had duties and roles to fulfill according to their gender. The men were responsible for building the canoes and making weapons for hunting, fishing, and protecting the village. The Tolowa did not grow food, but they did gather many different types of plants, nuts, and other sources of food from the forests that surrounded them, and it was the women of the village who did most of this work while the men did the hunting and fishing (Massey and Vilson, p89, 2006).

The men had a number of different tools to use for hunting and fishing. They made large fishing nets, and made bows and arrows and other tools from wood, bone, and stone. The Tolowa also made a variety of different baskets, and made needles for sewing out of bone or deer antlers. The baskets weaved by the Tolowa were often made from several different colors of reeds, and featured complex geometric designs.  For entertainment the Tolowa made a variety of musical instruments out of deer hooves, antlers, and bones (Pritzker, p200).

In the late 1700s, before the Tolowa had any direct contact with non-natives, an epidemic brought to the region by non-natives was spread through other tribes, and eventually reached the Tolowa. Several Tolowa villages were wiped out in that epidemic, probably from cholera (Johansen and Pritzker, p1072). The first recorded contact the Tolowa had with non-natives was in 1828, when Jedediah Smith was leading an exploration through the Tolowa territory. Over the next several decades the Tolowa would continue to have contact with various non-native explorers, but this contact did not disrupt their way of life in terms of being forced off their land or having to fight with outsiders. What did cause problems for the Tolowa (and for many other tribes in the region) were the diseases brought to the area from non-natives. Between the first contact with Jedediah Smith through the end of the 1800s thousands of Tolowa and other natives were killed by various diseases. Between 1850 and 1860 nearly half of all the Tolowa people died from disease (Johansen and Pritzker, p1072).

In the late 1880s many natives in the region were forced to leave their lands or were forced onto reservations by non-native settlers in the region. By the early 1900s there were only a few hundred Tolowa people left in their original territories, because many of the ones who had not been sent to reservations had died from more epidemics of cholera and measles. Throughout the early 1900s the local governments established by white settlers tried to wipe out the native populations, force them off their lands, and strip them of their cultural heritage. The Tolowa and many other natives had to conduct their tribal ceremonies in secret because the governments had taken away their ceremonial clothes, headdresses, and other items (Johansen and Pritzker, p1072).

Through most of the next several decades the number of Tolowa people continued to grow smaller, and those that remained alive lived in various parts of the region. Some of them lived in small isolated regions, and others lived with members of other tribes on the various Indian reservations that had been established by the government. Many Tolowa Indians had been moved to the Siletz Indian Reservation in the late 1800s during the Rogue River War, and their descendants continued to live there for the next century.  In 1973 a group of Tolowa landowners established the Nele-chun-dun Business Council which was formed to help the Tolowa combine their efforts to petition the federal government for recognition of the Tolowa tribe. The Tolowa people finally received federal recognition in 1983.

Because so many of the people in the various tribes of native Indians were wiped out in the 1800s and 1900s, many of them decided to join together to protect themselves and their rights. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians is a group of 27 different tribes that has about 4000 members (Johansen and Pritzker, p1072). The Tolowa are one of these tribes, and many members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians live on or near the area of the Siletz Reservation that was established in the 1800s. The Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians works to keep the cultural heritage of the various tribes alive by holding ceremonies and rituals and serving as a source of information about the history and the traditions of each tribe. Today the tribe is involved in a number of businesses, such as operating hotels and casinos, and it governs the territory of the Siletz Reservation independently of the state and federal government.

Works Cited

Johansen, Bruce E, and Barry Pritzker. Encyclopedia of American Indian History. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.

Massey, Peter, and Jeanne Vilson. Backcountry Adventures Northern California: The Ultimate Guide to the Backcountry. Castle Rock, CO: Adler, 2006. Print.

Pritzker, Barry M. Native Americans: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Peoples, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABL-CLIO, 1998. Print.

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