The Plateau (or Columbia Plateau) Region is located in the northwestern United States and British Columbia, Canada and stretches between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The semi-arid region has flatlands as well as gorges, hills, and forests near the mountains, all of which impact the traditions and culture of the First Nations who live there. Of the many First Nations that call this region home, some are: Klamath, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Nez Perce (Nimiipuu), Spokane, Yakama, Lillooet, and Shuswap.
The Plateau Region lies between the Cascade Mountain range to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east. It encompasses parts of present-day Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon, and Washington, as well as British Columbia in Canada. Two large rivers, the Fraser and Columbia, provide fresh water. The area is comprised of high flatlands, deep gorges, hills, forests, and mountains. The Plateau Region is considered semi-arid with little rainfall. All four seasons are present with very cold, harsh winters and hot summers. Some of the First Nations of this region are the Klamath, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Nez Perce (Nimiipuu), Spokane, Yakama, Lillooet, and Shuswap people.
The environment provides an abundance of natural resources. Native Americans had many sources of sustenance, from fishing for salmon and trout, hunting caribou, deer, rabbit, bear, and mountain goats, to gathering wild berries, roots and nuts. A popular food source was the camas root which is a type of lily that has beautiful blue flowers in the spring as well as a root that is nutritious and bulb-like, similar to a turnip.
The Native Americans of the Plateau region were semi-nomadic and moved when necessary to find food. Depending on the season, people lived in different homes. A pit-house, or underground home, was used in the winter as it was insulated and protected from the harsh weather. Other homes included the tule-mat lodge, which was a house built using mats made from tule reeds, a plant that was abundant in the Plateau region. The homes were pyramid-shaped lodges similar to Tipis. Tipis were introduced later and used animal skins as the walls and insulation. Woven grass basket hats were artistically created using bear grass and featured intricate designs and patterns.
In the early 1700s, interaction with Native Americans from the Plains brought horses to the region. Horses quickly became an important animal used for hunting, traveling, and trade, as well as horse-racing and skill challenges to entertain the community. In 1805, the expedition of Lewis and Clark traveled through the plateau region. This led to increasing numbers of white settlers who spread disease and desired to take over the ancestral homelands of the Plateau people. By the late 1800s, most of the First Nations had been removed from their lands by the U.S. government and forced onto reservations. Despite this, the First Nations of the plateau region continue to thrive today and maintain their rich cultural heritage.
With the activities in this lesson plan, students will demonstrate what they’ve learned about the Indigenous Peoples of the Plateau Region. They’ll become familiar with their environment, resources, traditions and culture.