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Kamiakin: the history of a brave Indian Chief

The Chief Kamiakin statue on the school campus.

Taylor Hunzeker

The Chief Kamiakin statue on the school campus.

Taylor Hunzeker, Editor-in-Chief

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Kamiakin is not only our proud school name, but a name of history and a great past. Kamiakin comes from a young Native American leader who fought bravely in battles as a chief of the Yakama tribe.

Near Starbuck, Wash. in the early 1800s, Chief Kamiakin was born with mixed tribe ancestry. His father, Ki-yi-yah, was the son of a Nez Perce father and a Spokane mother. Kamiakin married a young woman named Sal-kow in 1825, who was also part of the Yakama. Her father, Te-i-as, and grandfather Weowikt were the leaders in the Yakama tribe before Kamiakin took their place. He later married another woman named Colestah, who was part of the Yakama too.

In the 1800s, American settlers were forcing their way through the plains in search of new land, gold, and more freedom. There was an automatic clash between the Indians and the settlers, stemming from problems with communication and cultural differences. Settlers became hasty in gaining control over the Native Americans in the west, including Kamiakin’s territory.

In 1855, the first Washington territory governor Isaac Stevens wanted to have all tribes sell their lands to European Americans, who would build and expand on those acres. Convincing the Natives was out of the question, so he resorted to threatening the tribe leaders, saying that if they did not move and sell their land, he would have soldiers forcefully move them and would also border up the Columbia river, which was a major source of food and water for a majority of Washington tribes. Kamiakin immediately took action. He gathered tribes from the border of Idaho to the Cascades, creating a total of 14 alliances. The leaders of all these tribes along with Kamiakin agreed that the settlers were evil. A resistance had begun, causing a battle that would later be called the Yakama Indian War of 1855.

Kamiakin and the allied tribes would meet at a small northern Oregon tribe, where they would discuss how to handle the government and soldiers. Stevens became informed of these meetings by a Nez Perce traitor, and he forced Kamiakin into signing a treaty that would create the Yakama Indian reservation.

This still didn’t stop Kamiakin. On Oct. 4-5 of 1855, he and his warriors were able to defeat a force of 84 soldiers led by Major Granville Haller. On Sept. 5, 1858, Colonel George Wright, with the help of 700 soldiers, took down Kamiakin and his warriors at the Battle of Four Lakes. Kamiakin was supposedly wounded when he became stuck under a pine tree that had fallen due to cannon fire.

His second wife Colestah was able to save him from U.S. soldiers. After all his attempts, Kamiakin’s fights were not successful. He refused to surrender and ran for Kootenai, B.C. He then left for Montana, where he lived with the Flathead Indian tribe.

Kamiakin is a name that comes from the brave chief of the Yakama tribe, who was a proud leader with years of history on his shoulders. His name was adopted by Kamiakin High School in 1970, and has been the school’s official name ever since.

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