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Home > National > Oregon's Indian Tribes > Introduction

Introduction to Oregon's Indian Tribes

The Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Lake from the county park at the north end of the lake. (Oregon State Archives Photo)

The Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Lake from the county park at the north end of the lake. (Oregon State Archives Photo)

Oregon’s tribal members speak of being in this area “from time immemorial.” Villages and traditional ways are known to date back many thousands of years.


Tribal governments are separate sovereign nations with powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their members and to govern their lands. This tribal sovereignty predates the existence of the U.S. government and the state of Oregon. The members residing in Oregon are citizens of their tribes, of Oregon and, since 1924, of the United States of America.


Oregon’s tribal population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, included 109,223 people who identified themselves as being “American Indian or Alaskan Native” alone, or in combination with, one or more other races. Oregon’s tribal peoples live in all 36 counties and make up about 2.8 percent of Oregon’s total population.


The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, oversees tribal interests and administers the federal government’s trust obligations. At times, the federal government has been supportive of tribal self-determination and, in other periods, has adopted policies and passed legislation having a negative impact on the ability of tribes to govern as sovereigns. “Termination,” one such policy in the 1950s, was an attempt to sever federal trusteeship and support for tribal sovereignty. Of the 109 tribes and bands terminated nationwide, 62 were in Oregon. In 1975, the federal government recognized the failure of its termination policy and passed the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act.


Several tribes began the process to restore their sovereign nations. In 1977, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz was the second tribe in the nation to achieve restoration. Following them were the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe in 1982, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in 1983, the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw in 1984, the Klamath Tribes in 1986 and the Coquille Tribe in 1989.


Another three federally recognized tribal governments exist in Oregon: the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Treaty of 1855), the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla (Treaty of 1855) and the Burns Paiute Tribe (established by Executive Order in 1972). Also, Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe is a federally-recognized tribal government in Nevada with reservation lands in Oregon, and Celilo Village is a federally-recognized tribal government near The Dalles, jointly administered by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla and the Yakama Indian Nation (Washington).


All Oregon tribal governments have reservation or trust lands created by treaties or federal acts. Tribal governments have regulatory authority over these lands unless that authority has been removed by Congress. Over 875,000 acres, or at least 1.4 percent of land within Oregon’s boundaries, are held in trust by the federal government or are designated reservation lands. Like other sovereigns, tribal governments have the authority to decide their own membership or citizenship qualifications and have a right to exclude individuals from their reservations. Just as the state does not collect tax on federal lands nor tax federal or local governments or non-profit corporations, Oregon does not tax tribal governments. However, all tribal members as individual citizens pay federal taxes and most pay state taxes, with the exception of those who live and work on a reservation or earn money on reservation/trust lands or from trust resources.


Public Law 280 gave the state certain civil and criminal jurisdiction over tribes, with the exception of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, which are “non Public Law 280” tribes. Notwithstanding Public Law 280, all Oregon tribes have the authority to elect their own governments and adopt laws and ordinances. Oregon tribal governments have their own departments dealing with governmental services and programs in the areas of natural resources, cultural resources, education, health and human services, public safety, housing, economic development and other areas. Oregon maintains a government-to-government relationship with the tribal governments as directed in ORS 182.162 to 182.168.


Passage of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (NIGRA) in 1988 created the opportunity to build gaming centers on reservation and trust lands. Besides providing employment opportunities for tribal members and citizens of surrounding communities, revenues from these tribal enterprises fund health clinics, education, scholarships, housing and other services. All Oregon tribal governments are striving to diversify their revenue streams and are actively pursuing other avenues for generating revenue. These gaming and other enterprises have made these tribal governments some of the largest employers in their counties—generating employment for tax-paying employees, benefiting local communities and the entire state.


Most Oregon tribes are “confederations” of three or more tribes and bands. Each tribe’s area of interest may extend far beyond its tribal governmental center or reservation location. The federal government acknowledges that many tribal members do not live on tribal lands and, therefore, allows for tribes to provide governmental programs in specified service areas. For example, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz service area includes 11 Oregon counties: Benton, Clackamas, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill.


Contact: Karen Quigley, Executive Officer
Address: 900 Court St. NE, Rm. 167, Salem 97301
Phone: 503-986-1067
Fax: 503-986-1071
Statutory Authority: ORS 172.100–172.140, 182.162 to 182.168