ETHNONYMS: Spokan, Spukanees, Sun People

The Spokane lived in northeast Washington State in the general vicinity of the Spokane River. They were divided into a number of subtribes, the three major divisions being the Upper, Middle (Southern), and Lower Spokane subtribes. The bands came together for religious and warfare purposes. Although the core of Spokane territory was in present-day Washington, they ranged into and controlled additional Territory in Idaho and Montana. Spokane is an Interior Salish Language. Estimates of the population at the time of contact range from 1,500 to 2,500. In 1985 there were 1,961 affiliated with the Spokane Indian Reservation, and an undetermined number living with other Indian groups on the neighboring Colville Indian Reservation and the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho, and in the city of Spokane, Washington. The Spokane Tribe is governed by an elected tribal business council. Although assimilated into the regional Economy, the Spokane are considered to be one of the more conservative American Indian groups.

Like many groups in the interior of the United States, the first effects of European settlement, the horse and disease, were received indirectly through other Indian groups. Regular contact began in the early 1880s and progressed through a series of stages involving participation in the fur trade, missionization, warfare with the federal government, placement on reservations in 1872, and a series of legal Battles to regain lost land and other rights. In recent years the Spokane have benefited from the leasing of rights to mine uranium ore on their land.

The basic social unit was the family, a number of which generally lived in one settlement and formed a band. In the winter several bands might reside together in a single village. The traditional economy was based on hunting (deer, elk, and so on in the mountains and bison on the plains), salmon fishing, and gathering. Religious beliefs centered on guardian spirits, dreaming, and visions.


Drury, Clifford M. (1976). Nine Years with the Spokane Indians: The Diary, 1938-1948, of Elkanah Walker. Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clarke Co.

Ruby, Robert H., and John A. Brown (1970). The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

User Contributions:

Leeann Mueller
The Spokane Tribe is not “benefitting” from the Midnight uranium Mine. Higher rates of cancer and the radioactive mess left behind far outweigh the initial financial gains.

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