Native Americans


      This region includes the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia River. European settlement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought disease, devastation, military conflicts, and dislocation to these Tribes. Only one in ten Native Americans survived this era. Despite centuries of epidemic disease and displacement, many Native Americans retain close relationships with the floodplain’s plants and wildlife. Fishing for salmon and cultivating, harvesting, and preparing camas and wapato have been important parts of Tribal community life here for thousands of years.

      Today, the area that was Vanport (1942 to 1948) is now known as Delta Park, blue camas still shines in moist meadows and wapato can be found in patches along the nearby Slough, alongside other native aquatic plants like cattail and bladderwort. Many plants and animals around you today are important to the region’s Native Peoples, who have used them for millennia as food, medicine, clothing, tools, and more.

    If you go to the Vanport site today you will be standing were there was once a network of lakes, waterways, and wetlands, thickly forested along its shores, teeming with wildlife, and shifting yearly with new silt deposits carved by the river. Many Tribes fished, traded, gathered plants, and hunted in this basin. Prior to European contact, this area was also among the most populated regions on the continent, with up to 10,000 people living in 29 villages between the Sandy River Delta and the north end of Sauvie Island. Canoe travel and the annual spring floodwaters were essential aspects of life for these Tribes.

     Native people and culture remain a vibrant and important part of present-day Portland, with 28+ Native organizations and businesses, Native education and culture centers, and celebrations like the Delta Park Pow Wow. However, much has changed since Chinookan villages populated the banks of Wimahl (the Columbia River). Two centuries of colonization have brought sweeping changes to the region and its People.

     We are honored to study the history of all peoples upon these lands and hope to connect with descendants who lived on this land. This is an ongoing, ever-evolving effort. If you’d like to contribute information, please contact us at:  Additional input is always welcome.

Man holding fishing net, sitting on rocks right of small falls on river.
Native American fishing on the Columbia River late 1800s from an Oregon Souvenir book.


Nine young adult indigenous in pants leaning against a vehicle
These nine young adult women from Chemewa were trained at Eugene NYA School in 1941 for work in Portland Shipyards. Courtesy Oregon Historical Society.