Native Americans

Wanapum People & Tule Mat Lodge

For centuries and into today, the Columbia River—"Chiawana" (Big River)—and its tributaries were the lifeblood of Native Americans in the Columbia Basin, providing food, water, travel corridors, trading routes and religious beliefs.

For thousands of years people have depended on the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River to survive in the desert environs of the Columbia Basin. As early as 10,000 years ago, the ancestral inhabitants of today's Wanapum People, Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Nez Perce fished, hunted and collected a variety of natural resources in the area. The abundant salmon were complimented by upland roots, seeds and game. Seasonal gathering of resources such as spring roots or fall Chinook salmon required moving 'camps' often.  Tule (bulrush) mats were draped over willow poles for temporary shelter. In winter, shallow oval pits were dug and poles covered with tule, willow or hides for more permanent 'housepit' villages along the Reach. Even today, Native Americans gather the tules for making house coverings, sleeping mats and other household uses.