Environmental History 
of the Spokane River


Spokane Tribe members with individuals from surrounding tribes

The Spokane River and Spokane Falls were sites of great importance for the Spokane Tribe throughout their native history, and were already used as a hub for trade by the time white settlers had arrived. Throughout the tribe’s history, the Spokane peoples interacted with other tribes within the area and shared parts of language, architecture, and clothing. With a connection as a part of the Salish language group, the Spokane Tribe was able to maintain outlets for trade of resources and cultural practices with the both far and near tribes. Historically, the Spokane Tribe had three "bands" that inhabited the area around the Spokane River, known as the Upper, Middle, and Lower Spokane Indians. All three of the bands used the Spokane Falls as a place for commerce and trade. With the amount of Coho and Chinook salmon that flourished in the Spokane River and this central trade spot, native peoples were able to trade with tribes outside of their direct area. The Spokane Peoples were able to trade their abundance of fish with the Great Plains Tribes for bison meat. Serving as a center for trade, the Spokane Falls provided the Spokane Peoples the opportunity to obtain greater diversity in goods and resources as well as a conduit for cross-tribe interactions.

Contact between Spokane Tribe members and fur traders

Once white explorers and settlers came into the area, they found Spokane Falls as a center for trade between native tribes. In the 19th century, missionaries and fur trappers entered into the Spokane area and trade between the natives and the new settlers began. The native peoples showed kindness to the white settlers, explaining the meaning of salmon in their spiritual practices, the traditions they held, and the importance of Spokane Falls as their center for commerce amongst the tribes.

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