C.T.U.I.R.’s History

Three Tribes make up the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation: Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla. The people of the three Tribes once had a homeland of 6.4 million acres in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. In 1855, the Tribes and the United States Government negotiated a Treaty in which the Tribes “ceded,” or surrendered possession of, much of the 6.4 million acres in exchange for a Reservation homeland of 250,000 acres.

The three Tribes also reserved rights in the Treaty, which include the right to fish at “usual and accustomed” sites, and to hunt and gather traditional foods and medicines on public lands within the ceded areas. These rights are generally referred to as “Treaty reserved rights.”

As a result of federal legislation in the late 1800s that reduced its size, the Umatilla Reservation now is 172,000 acres — 158,000 acres just east of Pendleton, Oregon plus 14,000 acres in the McKay, Johnson, and McCoy Creek areas southeast of Pilot Rock, Oregon.

Before European contact, the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla population was estimated at 8,000. The present enrollment of the Confederated Tribes is more than 2,800 members. Roughly half of the tribal members live on or near the Reservation. The Umatilla Reservation is also home to about 300 Indians enrolled with other Tribes, including Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce, as well as 1,500 non-Indians.

The traditional religion still practiced by some tribal members is called “Washat” or “Seven Drums.” The Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nez Perce languages are still spoken by some, but the Cayuse language has disappeared. A language program is underway to help preserve and revive the Tribes’ languages.

Prior to the 1855 Treaty, the Tribes’ economy consisted primarily of intertribal trade, livestock, trade with fur companies, and hunting, fishing, and gathering. Today, the economy of the Confederated Tribes consists of agriculture, livestock, timber, recreation, hunting, fishing, and commercial development such as a mini-market/gas station, trailer court, grain elevator, and the Wildhorse Resort (which includes a casino, hotel, RV Park, and 18-hole golf course). In July 1998, the Tribe opened its Tamastslikt Cultural Institute as the centerpiece of the Resort. CTUIR is the owner of Cayuse Technologies, a new business that opened on the Umatilla Reservation in 2006.

As a sovereign government, Tribal affairs are governed by an elected body called the “Board of Trustees.” Members of the Board are elected by the “General Council,” which consists of all Tribal members age 18 and older.

The day-to-day work of the tribal government is carried out by a staff of 701 employees and includes departments such as administration, health and human services, natural resources, economic and community development, tribal services, education, fire protection, and police. An additional 583 employees are employed at the Wildhorse Casino and Resort and another 168 at Cayuse Technologies. The CTUIR is one of the largest employers in northeastern Oregon with more than 1,400 employees.


The three tribes (Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla) are part of a much larger culture group called the Plateau Culture. The Plateau Culture includes the Nez Perce bands of Idaho and Washington, the Yakama bands of Central Washington and the Wasco and Warm Springs bands of North Central Oregon on the lower Columbia River. There were many other smaller bands and groups such as the Palouse and Wanapum.

This large body of people belonged to the Sahaptin Language group and each tribe spoke a distinct and separate dialect of Sahaptin. The Umatilla and Walla Walla each spoke their own separate dialect, while the Cayuse in later years spoke a dialect of the Nez Perce with whom they associated a great deal. The original Cayuse language, which is extinct today but for a few words spoken by a few individuals on the Umatilla Reservation, is closely related to the Mollala Indian language of the Oregon Cascade Mountains.

Over the decades, our native languages have gradually been lost as the primary means of communication. Only a handful of our tribal members are fluent. In an effort to restore and retain our native languages, we have implemented a language program through our Education Department. Some of our elders are now teaching the languages to the younger generations.

– Taken from the C.T.U.I.R.’s Official Website which you can view at http://www.umatilla.nsn.us/