The Culture Department's planning incorporates the arts, heritage, humanities, and culture that adequately represent the composition of our Tribes unique cultural interests in our ancestral homeland.

The Culture and Natural Resources Department Need You

As part of our department’s ‘Stay at Home and Gather’ initiative, we are seeking Tribal members and families who are interested in helping us develop virtual tutorials that highlight cultural activities and teachings for our Tribal membership. Our hope is that we can help Tribal members and families feel closer together and empower them to practice their culture wherever they are, even during these unprecedented times. If you would like to be a part of this initiative and share video(s), photos, and/or short clips of you practicing your culture at home, please contact: Jesse Beers at Any video(s), photos, and/or short clips shared will be subject to approval by the Culture Committee and will be posted to the Tribal Website and a closed group Tribal Member only Facebook page. Thank you for your support in this endeavor and we can’t wait to hear from you. Stay Well!

It is our duty to know, teach, promote and perpetuate our native languages to our children.

The Culture Department works to support the effective integration of Tribal culture into all Tribal operations, in a manner that helps our Tribal members understand our rich Tribal heritage, and supports efforts to recognize the cultural knowledge that our ancestors and our environment have provided to help our peoples thrive in our traditional lands for thousands of years. The department is also directed to help build cohesion and a common sense of pride among our Tribal members, and ensure that our members and the world know the true story of our peoples.

The Culture Department's planning incorporates the arts, heritage, humanities, and culture that adequately represent the composition of our Tribes unique cultural interests in our ancestral homeland.


The Culture Department's planning incorporates the arts, heritage, humanities, and culture that adequately represent the composition of our Tribes unique cultural interests in our ancestral homeland.

We strive to identify barriers to public cultural awareness and education and cultural expression and remove as many financial, physical, and culturally perceived roadblocks as possible in order for arts, humanities, heritage, and culture to flourish and grow in our communities

Created in 2009, the Laqauwiiyat'as (True History) Gallery was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund of Grand Ronde. It is a Museum quality space in our Historic Tribal Hall to honor our artifacts as well as showcase our Talented Tribal Members.

The gallery houses a rotating display of culturally relevant artifacts as well as contemporary pieces and reproductions.

The title of the gallery space was decided by the Culture Committee because in order for our history to be accurate, we have to be the ones to tell it.

The Laqauwiiyat'as Gallery is located with the historic Tribal Hall building on the CTCLUSI Reservation at 338 Wallace Street, Coos Bay, OR 97420

For generation after generation the people lived in this land.

We lived within the circle of the seasons, hunting and gathering, traveling from the coast to the mountains.

We lived in harmony with the land and we gave thanks and honored the land.

Circle of Life
A village was composed of numerous related families each with its own Headman, and among those Headmen was a village Chief. A group of related villages formed the Tribe and the village Chiefs collectively formed a Tribal Council. Another hierarchy manifested within the Tribal Council based upon each Chiefs individual wealth and respect status. Larger villages commanded greater economic power and wealth imbuing their Chiefs with greater authority, yet the power of personal character and family lineage played a crucial role in a Chiefs position as well.

The Talking Circle
Our people demonstrated a highly evolved model of group decision making in the form of the talking circle. The most important people within the social hierarchy sat in the inner circle. The rest of the community would arrange themselves in the outer rings of the circle, their distance from the center ring denoting both social standing as well as a desire to be heard. Everyone in the circle could have a voice in the decision making process. This created an organic form of democracy in which all adult members of the village participated.

The Great Circle
Our people respected and understood the land as Spirit expressing itself in the natural world surrounding us. We were connected to the land with certainty and gratitude. It sustained us and we appreciated and nurtured the land, knowing life would not be possible without its role in supporting all of the spirits which share this world. Our gift economy reflected the relationship of the Creator to the People. The acquiring of objects and products of both aesthetic and utilitarian value was a measure of an individual’s wealth and status, yet acquisition was not an end in itself. Each winter the Potlatch became the setting for individuals to give away their possessions to others, further mirroring the Creators relationship to the People. The spiritual import of gifting your earthly possessions to others remains a powerful personal experience and an unequivocal statement of faith and trust. Our Tribes administered its laws with transparency and a focus upon the collective rights of the people. Individualism at the expense of community was not tolerated. Victims of an offense participated in the forming of appropriate punishments in a public arena where justice and fairness were, like other decision making processes, a group affair.

Seven Generations
Our management practices created sustainable human communities in which all of our needs were met without the risks of self-extinction and biosphere degradation we face today. This thoughtful management style was an outgrowth of our reverence for the natural world. We carefully considered our actions in relation to its effects upon a seventh generation grandchild's life. We respected the lives of the salmon people, sister bear and all of the other creatures who shared our paradise on earth.


Villages and Seasonal Camps
The permanent winter villages were concentrated along larger rivers and streams. Considerations for selecting village sites included proximity to a freshwater spring or stream for drinking water, access to waterways that provided transportation, locations that provided visual vantage points, and areas protected from the wind and winter storms. Along with the permanent villages were seasonal camps. These were usually located far upriver to capitalize on the migration of salmon and eels (the lamprey). Each village generally consisted of an extended family group in which most people were related by blood or marriage to almost everyone else.

Plank Houses
Houses were built from cedar planks. Construction was begun by digging a pit 4 to 6 feet deep. The pit was then lined with cedar planks and upright posts which were added for structural support. Planks and posts were lashed together with tough spruce roots, hazel and cedar withes. The walls were built up a few feet above the ground and were then covered by a plank roof with a smoke hole. A ladder went down from the door to the floor of the house. Doors were covered with a tule mat or animal hides. Tule mats were also used on the walls and floor to provided extra insulation and comfort. A fire pit, lined with rocks, was built in the middle of the house, or more often several fire pits were included, as more than one family often resided inside a single plankhouse. Benches were built along the interior walls serving as storage shelves for large baskets containing fish, meats, roots, nuts and berries that had been dried for winter food.

Village Structures
Other buildings in the village included storage and work sheds, sweat lodges, and children’s playhouses. Storage and work sheds were built rather like a small house, although it might have one wall open. They were used to store stone and bone tools, basketry materials, and anything else you did not want to keep in the plankhouse. Small houses were constructed for use as playhouses for children and men and women each had their own sweat lodges. Sweat lodges were used to keep clean and healthy. Men’s sweat lodges were larger, as the men often gathered together there for meetings.

Rites of Passage When a young person was old enough to be married, he or she usually sought a spouse from another village, even from another tribe since you were usually related to most people from one’s own village.

Marriages were arranged between the parents of the prospective bride and groom. The groom and his family had to pay an agreed-upon price to marry the bride. This established a relationship not just between the betrothed couple, but their families as well. Women usually went to live at their husband’s village with his family but not always.

Young people were encouraged to test themselves. Boys and Girls had separate coming of age ceremonies.

There were a wide variety of natural resources to create tools, utensils, and clothing. Cedar, with its straight-splitting wood, was used to build plank houses and canoes. Canoe paddles were carved from the local hardwoods, ash and maple. Poles, for going up riffles, were made from hazel.

Red elderberry and ocean spray were often used to make arrow shafts. The tip was finished off with a sharpened stick of ocean spray, flint, or obsidian. Douglas fir was used to make the shafts of fish spears.

Mauls, hammers, fish net weights, anchors, and axe heads were shaped from rocks. Schist, available from the lower Coquille River, was traded for and carefully shaped and polished into adzes for canoe carving and shaping house planks.

Elk antlers were carved into digging stick handles, wedges, and spoons. The bones of deer and elk were used to carve harpoon points and fish hooks. Sinew was used as sewing thread, fine cordage, and bowstrings.

Mussel shells were used as spoons, and freshwater mussel shells were sharpened into knives for butchering salmon and eels.

Strips of red cedar bark were peeled from trees in spring. The inner bark was separated from the outer bark, dried, then later soaked and split, and used as a basket material. Maple bark was peeled and treated in a similar manner, and was also used in basketry and for making skirts.

A wide variety of materials were used to make baskets. Large pack baskets were used to carry firewood, mussels, and similar items. Large storage baskets held dried foods, or clothes, and were kept in the houses. Berry baskets with strings to go around the neck made for convenient picking.

Tightly woven baskets of spruce and cedar roots were made for carrying water, or boiling food. There were baskets for trapping fish and crawfish.

Canoes were very important to native people. The fastest mode of transportation, they traveled the tides far upriver and back down again. Canoes were designed for the tranquil waters of the bay or specifically for use in the ocean. Cedar logs were hollowed out with hot coals and then shaped by mauls and chisels of bone and stone. Sometimes the finished canoe was painted with red clay paint. A person could buy a canoe he liked from a craftsman in another village or tribe.

The people had a rich diet available to them which included salmon, eels, flounder, sturgeon, herring, seals, whales, sea bird eggs, crab, mussels, clams, elk, deer, seaweed, roots, nuts, and berries.

Men hunted, fished and trapped in sync with the seasonal round of migrations. In summer and early fall they hunted elk and deer. They fished for salmon during the spring and fall runs. They trapped fish and eels in weirs constructed along the waterways, and raked herring every spring from waters so thick with fish it was said you could walk across them on their backs. Many of the fish that were caught were dried so they could be stored and eaten during other seasons of the year.

In spring and summer, women would go out to the prairies and into the hills to harvest a variety of roots, young greens, nuts, and berries. There were several plants with edible roots available, bracken ferns, cat tails, skunk cabbage, spingbank clover, shore lupine, chocolate lily, wapato, Pacific silverweed and Camas.

Camas was a staple throughout the northwest, it blooms in the spring, and has beautiful purple and blue flowers. Women would return year after year to the camas meadows to dig up the roots. Later they would bake them in earth ovens. This process involved digging shallow holes and lining them with rocks. A fire was built to heat the rocks. The heated rocks were then lined with fern leaves, western sweetgrass, camas roots, more leaves, then insulated with layer of earth. A fire was then built on top. The Camas was baked for one full day.

The Native people gathered just about every berry there was to eat. Some berries were gathered especially for drying, so they could be eaten later in winter. Blackberries, black huckleberries, crab apples and salal were especially popular for drying and storage. They laid the berries out on hide blankets or tule mats to dry in the sun. Salmon berries, red huckleberries, strawberries, black caps, red and blue elderberries, blueberries, thimbleberries, currants and goose berries were usually just eaten fresh while they were in season. Young spring shoots of salmonberry and thimbleberry were gathered, peeled and eaten as well.

Clothes were made from materials including elk and deer hides, and a wide variety of plant fibers. Men did not wear much for every day clothes, unless the weather was cold or very wet. Men wore a buckskin breechclout, and a hat made of some animal or bird hide. In colder weather they wore hide capes or woven capes, leggings, and moccasins. Cattail capes were used as raincoats. Women wore capes and skirts made from a variety of materials. Maple bark made nice every day skirts. Sedges made good skirts for working around water.

Buck Skin Dress
Buckskin dresses don’t do well in wet climates, but they were worn for special occasions, such as dances hosted in the chief’s plank house. Women from wealthy families bought fireweed fiber collected by poorer women. The fiber was woven into a fine cordage and used to make a splendid skirt. A rich woman unwilling to wait for one woman to collect enough fiber to make a skirt could buy fiber from several poor women.

Women made basket hats, finely woven and decorated with geometric designs in black, red brown, yellow, and white. Many woven items had color patterns incorporated into them. These colors came from dying basket materials. Black was the natural color of eel grass and maidenhair fern, while other materials were buried in black mud for weeks to dye them black. Red was made by pounding the inner bark of alder, mixing with some water, and soaking the material. The old-fashioned method was to chew the alder bark and then spit it onto the material, but this doesn’t taste very good. Some cultures made yellow dye from the roots of Oregon grape. At Coos Bay the women liked to make a yellow dye from chittam bark. White was the natural color of bear grass, after it had been dried and bleached in the sun.

Personal Decoration

Men's Regalia
Like other tribes in western Oregon and northern California, men and women had tattoo marks on their upper arm to measure standard lengths of dentalium shells, which were used like money. The women of the Coos tattooed rows of dots on the back of their hands at puberty. Some also tattooed designs on their lower legs. Many Athabaskan tribes in southern Oregon tattooed three lines on a women’s chin. Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw women rarely tattooed their faces and the Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw did not seem to tattoo themselves quite as much as the Coos. However, if a man or woman dreamed ‘something’, they would follow their dream and tattoo themselves. So occasionally someone had an unusual tattoo on his or her face or body, in accordance with their dream.

Women's Regalia
Women painted their faces with red ochre, and used it to protect their skin from sunburn and wind. Other kinds of face painting were reserved for dances. Women also wore earrings made of shells, and after European contact, mixed in colorful glass beads as well. One trader noted that the Umpqua were particularly fond of green beads. Cobalt blue and red were also popular colors among coastal Indians. Dentalia Shells

Dentalia shells were widely used as decoration for earrings, hats, necklaces, and sewed on clothes. Nose pendents were very rare, remembered as being worn by only a few elderly men and women. Nose pendents were decorated with dentalium shells or abalone. The Dentalium is a mollusk with a tusk like shell. In the Pacific Northwest the Dentalium found in deep waters off the coast of Vancouver Island were highly prized. Dentalia over one and a half inches in length were used as currency from Northern California to Alaska. It was valued both for its decorative qualities and as a medium of exchange in the same way that gold is today. Longer dentalium shells were sometimes decorated by incising geometric designs on the shell.

Beads were made from a white clam shell from California. Through trade, they came north and were used by our Tribes as decorations on clothing.

Pine nut apron
Pine nuts, also from California, were used to make dance aprons and necklaces. Olivella shells, gathered locally here on beaches, were not considered as desirable by our tribes for regalia but were traded to inland tribes. Some were used as decorations on clothes, and on baby cradles. Feather Headdress

For dances, a variety of feathered headdresses were worn. Men valued headdresses decorated with the red feathers of the pileated woodpecker. Mallard feathers could also be used, but were not considered as valuable. Other feathered headbands included eagle, flicker, or duck feathers sewn onto buckskin. Women also wore headbands with feathers sewn on.

Games were played in winter and summer, indoors and outdoors, at small gatherings and large multi village events. Active outdoor games were usually played in good weather. These were sporting events that included foot races, canoe races, target shooting competitions, and shinny. Shinny is a kind of Indian field hockey, and tribes throughout the far west played several variations of it.

Gambling sticks
The modern day concept of gambling, or getting something for nothing was foreign to our people. Gambling was serious business and good luck the manifestation of a developed gambling power. Preparations for gambling could include special diets and abstinence. The cultivation of ones gambling power was hard work. Wagers were made based on the outcome of a game of shinny or stick-dice.
Stick-dice with male pattern and female pattern
There were many forms of stick-dice game played throughout the Pacific Northwest. LAMTLAM was a popular local game utilizing four sticks. Two sticks were marked with female designs and two were marked with male designs. They were held in one hand and thrown like dice. Scoring was based on the combinations you threw.

Our Tribes were well insulated from foreign influence for thousands of years. Geological features limited interactions with populations to the east creating a unique Pacific Northwest community. The Pacific Ocean and its beaches offered a transportation route north and south, and the rivers provided for east west transportation from their headwaters to the coast. Contact with Europeans abruptly ended countless generations of native lifeways.

The impacts of the Europeans and their Euro-American descendants and immigrants were felt long before the coastal tribes ever met a white person. Foreign diseases, most notably smallpox, swept ahead of white explorers, trappers, and settlers. The diseases decimated the native populations, their medicines and immune systems were simply unprepared for the foreign invasion.

Spaniards sailed up and down the Pacific Coast from Mexico beginning in the mid-sixteenth century. The British soon followed. Neither took much of an interest in the rugged coastline of northern California and Oregon. Only in the late 1700s did contact begin to become more regular. In 1791 and 1792, Lower Umpqua rowed out to ships that stopped at the mouth of the Umpqua to trade meat for goods.

Overland fur trapping expeditions began to pass through southern Oregon in the early 1800s. One of the first recorded contacts between one of our tribes, the Siuslaw, and fur trappers occurred in 1826, with a party from Hudson’s Bay Company searching for beaver hides. The party met with a Siuslaw chief from the mouth of North Fork, whom they dubbed Little Chief. Little Chief was at first puzzled by the high value whites placed on beaver hides. To the Siuslaw, they had little value. He told them that there was a stream on the Umpqua that had many beaver - the creek today known as Mill Creek - but the party turned around and went back north.

The most famous fur trapping company to pass through our domain was the Jedediah Smith party in 1828. Smith’s party accused a Lower Umpqua of stealing an axe and threatened death as an appropriate punishment. This threat, along with other offences committed by Smith’s party, did not sit well with the Lower Umpqua which later attacked Smith’s party killing 16 of the 19 men. Jedediah and two others were not at the camp when it was attacked, therefore they managed to sneak away to the north.

In 1836, Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post, Fort Umpqua, near the modern town of Elkton. There was an Indian trail from Coos River to Ash Valley through to the Umpqua River, and upriver to the Fort. The fort operated for 18 years with many of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw trading hides for goods there.

Gold was discovered in Oregon in 1851 and miners began flooding in from California. Settlers followed the miners into the region building permanent homes. In 1853 the Coos Bay Commercial Company was formed to promote white settlement of Coos Bay. Besides the potential to be an excellent harbor, deposits of coal had been discovered fueling the drive for settlement. There was one major problem for the settlers. At that time, there was no treaty with the Indians. And by federal law, a ratified treaty had to be negotiated with an Indian tribe to ‘extinguish’ their title and make the land available for settlement. Treaties

In 1855, Indian Agent Joel Palmer negotiated a treaty with the tribes of the Oregon coast. The United States government wished to remove the entire population of coastal Indians onto one reservation, the Great Coast Reservation, on the central Oregon coast. In 1856 a full-scale war broke out with the Indians on the Rogue River and the miners and settlers just south of Coos Bay. The Rogue River War worried the settlers near Coos Bay who feared that the Coos and Lower Umpqua would join this war. As a preemptive strike the military rounded up most of the Coos Indians and held them at an encampment near Empire.

Coos and Lower Umpqua held on the North Spit of the Umpqua River Within months, the Coos were moved to the north spit of the Umpqua River next to the hastily built US Army’s Fort Umpqua. The Lower Umpqua and Coos were held there until 1859, when they were removed to the Great Coast Reservation’s Alsea sub agency at Yachats.

Reservation Years
The Alsea, Coos, and Lower Umpqua at Yachats suffered from starvation, exposure and disease, especially in the early years. They were not allowed to travel far enough to supply themselves with adequate provisions, and the crops they were forced to grow so close to the ocean often failed. Nearly half of the people held during the reservation years starved or died from disease. Cruel and corrupt Indian agents stole supplies, and even whipped Indians. Even so, by the 1870s things had started to improve. Farming had been moved well upriver and was more successful. The Indians had finally settled in and had dreams of passing their homes and fishing places on to their children. It was not to be. During this time, the Siuslaw River was officially part of the southern extreme of the Great Coast Reservation, so the Siuslaw were held in their own homes, their lives far less disrupted than their southern cousins. Jean Baptiste Gagnier, former captain of the Hudson Bay Company’s trading post near Elkton was married to a Lower Umpqua woman. They lived among the Siuslaw Indians and taught them some Euro-American farming techniques.

Broken Promises
In 1875 Congress closed the southern portion of the Great Coast Reservation, the Alsea sub agency, opening the land to white settlement. This was a major disruption for the Alsea, Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw. The Indian Agents wanted all of them to move north to the remaining portion of the Great Coast Reservation at Siletz. Many Coos and Lower Umpqua refused to go. They had endured three decades of broken promises by the government - promises of food, of money, of assistance - which never materialized. Many of them headed south to live next to their Siuslaw kinsmen on the Siuslaw River, and others headed back to the Umpqua and Coos Bay. During the reservation years, there were also many Indians who were illegally living on Coos Bay, especially around South Slough. At that time, it was illegal for an Indian to be off-reservation. Exceptions were made for Indian women married to white men, or the extraordinarily rare Indian man married to a white woman.

Renegades and Runaways
The illegal Indian families of South Slough hid their kin who had run away from the reservation. Occasionally volunteers, agents, and soldiers were sent out to collect run away Indians and return them to the reservation.

There is a story of a Milluk Coos man named Tarheel. He would canoe up and down South Slough, bringing clothes and food to the families up there. Sometimes he also brought warnings, rumors of soldiers, so runaways would lay low for a while. Once, they say, some soldiers spotted Tarheel’s canoe. He rowed as swiftly as he could up the slough to Valino Island. He hauled out his canoe and hid it in the brush. Hiding there for several days, he emerged a bit ragged in appearance. When they saw him in his bedraggled condition the people nicknamed him Imukdeluk - pitiful young man. Tarheel’s sister was married to a white man named Talbot. Their mother, secretly living with the Talbots, had built a small grass shack in the brush and would hide out there from time to time.

Qochyax Island at Sunset Bay
Qochyax Island, the beautiful offshore island at Sunset Bay, got its name because an Indian woman used it as her hideout. She was a Lower Umpqua woman who lived with her common-law white husband. The island offered safe harbor as the cries of babies and young children was easily masked by the sounds of the surf and seabirds.

When the Coos and Lower Umpqua left the reservation and returned to their homelands they found their old homes taken over by new white landowners. Indians lived where they could, and some began to work at the margins of the new economy - as servants, fisherman, and farm workers. As time went on, they married frequently with non-Indians. Some even became ashamed of their Indian origins because of the prejudice they faced. Cranberry Pickers, of mostly native ancestry

Many never forgot the suffering of their ancestors, and that a treaty had been signed in 1855 - a treaty that had never been honored. The Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw worked together to pursue the payment of their land claims. A meeting was held in 1916 in Empire to organize and pursue these claims. For years they wrote letters and lobbied Congress and finally in 1931 they won permission to file a land claims case in court.

Land Claims
In 1931 the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians won permission to file a land claims case in court. Several tribal elders testified at the hearings to the extent of lands held by the tribes, locations of villages and other important sites, and of their forced removal to Yachats. Several testified in their native language, using other tribal members as translators. In the end the court rejected all of the testimony, and ruled against the Tribes’ land claims. The lessons learned by our Tribe’s defeat enabled other Oregon tribes to win their cases. Using expert witnesses from the fields of anthropology and linguistics, they avoided the pitfalls of the trail blazed by our Confederated Tribes. Despite the setback, the Confederated Tribes did not give up. Several tribal members worked throughout the 1930s and 1940s on land claims.

Tribal Hall in Empire
In 1941, on 6 acres of donated land in Empire, the Bureau of Indian Affairs built a Hall for the general use of any tribes living in the area. Here the Tribes held many meetings.

Federal Indian policy kept evolving, usually in ways not beneficial to Tribes. With the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, conservative thinkers believed it was time to get rid of the ‘Indian problem’ altogether. They simply declared that tribes did not exist and severed all government-to-government relationships with them. This policy, begun in 1954, was called termination. By 1956 Congress had passed a bill terminating all the tribes of western Oregon plus the Klamath. The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw vigorously opposed termination. A new battle was on: the fight to reverse termination.

Eventually the federal government changed its policies and disavowed termination. After extensive efforts we won restoration of our tribe in 1984. Since restoration tribal members have been working to improve the social, economic, and educational status of our people. As we continue the work of recapturing our culture, history, and heritage, we give thanks to the hard work and strength of our ancestors.


Jesse Beers

Cultural Stewardship Manager

541-888-1319 (Main)
1245 Fulton Avenue,
Coos Bay, Oregon 97420

Ashley Russell

Water Protection Specialist

541-888-7511 (Main)
1245 Fulton Avenue,
Coos Bay, Oregon 97420

Roselynn Lwenya, PhD

Director Department of Natural Resources

541-435-7151 (Main)
1245 Fulton Avenue,
Coos Bay, Oregon 97420