Plateau Culture Area

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The Plateau Culture Area is bounded by mountain ranges and rivers. Riverine (linear) settlement patterns are predominant. Groups relied on a diverse subsistence base of fish, game and roots. There is evidence of regional trade and a complex fishing technology. Mythology was fairly uniform throughout and art styles and religious beliefs focused on the vision quest, shamanism, life cycle observances, and seasonal celebrations of the annual subsistence cycle.

In winter, Plateau peoples lived in semi-subterranean earth lodges along the main rivers but moved to the higher elevations in summer and lived in mat-covered lodges.

With the introduction of the horse from the Plains, Plateau peoples adopted beaded clothing, feathered war bonnets and skin-covered teepees. Until about 1940, beaded bags such as you see here were for personal use or gift giving only. Now, they are also crafted as works of art for sale.

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Plateau A1

Plateau A2

A. Plateau Culture Double-sided Bag – Leather, Cloth, and Glass Beads


Plateau B

B. Cowlitz/Yakama Berry Basket – Coiled; Unidentified Shoots, Split Cedar or Spruce Roots, and Bear Grass

Plateau C

C. Klamath Basketry Bowl – Twinned; Tule, Cattail, Mud-dyed Tule, Porcupine Quills, and Paint

The Plateau region is one of great diversity as it has been a trade epicenter for thousands of years. Ideas, goods, and even people (through slavery) have passed through and altered the residing cultures. However, the specific ideas and traditions adapted depended on the tribe. Some tribes (such as the Sahaptin, Flathead, and Kutenai) embraced many Plains’ traditions; while other tribes (such as Salishan) rejected those trends and maintained the traditions they had.

The introduction of horses into the region in the 18th Century had a major influence on the area. That is when many of the traditions began to change and new materials, such as glass beads, were introduced. With this new development, beading became much more popular. Crafters began making scenes with the rainbow of available colors and crafted bags and clothes. Bags were initially personal gifts and later became a vibrant part of trade. 

How might cultural attitudes about change within a group impact the preservation or alteration of traditions in the future? The Klamath and Modoc lost their reservation land in 1954 (along with over 100 other tribes). In 1986 they were reestablished as a sovereign state but without their original lands returned. How do you think this affected their traditions and their relationships outside the community?

Plateau D

D. Plateau Culture Vest – Leather and Glass Beads


Plateau E

E. Nisqually/Puyallup/Cowlitz/Yakima Basketry Bowl – Coiled; Cedar Root, Bear Grass, Metal Sequins, and Cotton Thread