In more recent centuries, these tribes have been saying “Welcome to our land” since the first fur traders and explorers entered what is now Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon.
During the early visitations of the first European guests to the region, these tribal groups had a stable, religiously oriented life which was sustained by a variety of economic pursuits. They had access to the deer, bear, elk, antelope, berries, and roots; the flora and fauna of the mountains as well as that of the more arid regions of the Columbia basin.
The great runs of salmon in the Columbia and its tributaries furnished a much appreciated food staple. So important was this fish that among many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the word for fish was simply salmon. Many tribal beliefs and ceremonies centered around the salmon. The catching of salmon provided an important food supply which could be dried and stored, thus providing leisure time. In addition at such sites as Celilo Falls, the salmon catch also put the tribal people of the entire area in contact with one another, furnishing opportunity to trade and share cultural development.
Nature was not only the provider. The local tribes learned that by cooperating with nature, efforts could yield new means of gains. Local groups, after the introduction of the horse to the area in the early 1700’s, became widely known for their knowledge of selective breeding of horses. Members of the Cayuse Tribe became so famous as horse dealers and breeders that their tribal name has entered the American language as a synonym for Indian pony. A close neighbor of the Cayuse, the Nez Perce Tribe, developed a new breed of horse, famous today as the Appaloosa .
Warfare was not a regular activity of these tribes. Relations between tribes and with emigrants were generally peaceful. There were at times misunderstandings that developed due to conflicts of culture. One of these was closely associated with the concern of private ownership of land. Historically, the Indian had no concept of private ownership of land. Territorial limits were respected by a given tribe, but no one man owned any particular piece of land. Land was provided by and owned by nature, and was man’s only to use.
In May of 1855, over 5,000 Indian delegates from the Yakima, Nez Perce, Walla Walla, and Cayuse Tribes met with government officials at the old Yakima tribal council grounds, which is now the city of Walla Walla, to hold one of the most picturesque treaty sessions recorded in American Indian Affairs. From this council the Treaty of 1855 was drawn which designated the future relationship of these tribes with the Federal government and established the reservations now occupied by these tribes. The Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse were guaranteed a number of provisions as payment for the land they were to release for white settlement. Among these was the guarantee of 245,699 acres of land, some of which includes the present town-site of Pendleton, to be reserved for Indian use.
The Happy Canyon pageant has become a part of the heritage of the host tribes. For the past 97 years of its performance they unpack their family heirlooms and set up their tepees, to appear at Happy Canyon and to unfold a glimpse of the past – the children following in the moccasined footsteps of their elders without rehearsal or advanced direction.
Tribal groups throughout the nation have representatives encamped during the week of Round-Up and Happy Canyon. Sizeable delegations from the tribes of the Yakima, Colville, Spokane, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Shoshone, Bannock, Warm Springs, Paiute, and Rock Creek participate in the events of the week.