Communities and Tribes

The Northwest Discovery Water Trail is rich in Native American heritage. There are 40 Indian reservations, representing more than 40 tribes living near the rivers. Tribal homelands extend far beyond the borders of the reservations. Each tribe has its own origin, culture, history, and value system. What they have in common is the pride of their heritage and traditions, and respect for Mother Earth.

Remember these rules of protocol as you benefit from meeting tribal members and experience the rich heritage they contribute to this nation.


Respect tribal property, privacy, customs and ceremonies as you would in anyone else’s home. Most of the reservations have special social and cultural/spiritual events, such as tribal powwows and rodeos which are open to the public. However, some events and ceremonies require special permission to attend, or some may not be open to anyone outside select tribal members and practitioners. If you have an interest in attending a special event, or need a calendar of events open to the public, contact the tribal office. Remember to ask permission before photographing or participating in tribal events.

Tribal Sovereignty

Each tribe has an inherent right to govern all actions within its own jurisdiction. Sovereignty means tribes have the rights to live freely and to develop socially, economically, culturally, spiritually and politically. Tribes have independent governance, and States are precluded from interfering with a tribe’s self-government

Areas of Special Significance  

The landscape in the Northwest Discovery Water Trail system has an attraction all its own. Be aware that tribal people have occupied this region for thousands of years, and have special ties to this land. Many of the areas you will see have special significance to tribal members and may be considered sacred ground. Do not disturb areas of sacred significance or where there may be evidence of religious ceremony and practice. Do not disturb those engaged in the practice of their spiritual ceremonies. Do not move or disturb offerings or other items that have been placed in certain areas. These are spiritual offerings, not souvenirs.

Tribal Gillnet Fisheries

Please watch for tribal gillnets during open fishery season from Umatilla River to Bonneville Dam. The gillnets are set from the shore out into the river up to 300 feet and have a buoy marking the end of the net. Some of these gillnets are placed off of old barges, bridges and sunken anchors, so please watch for them during fishing seasons.

In-Lieu Fishing Sites  

In-Lieu fishing sites were built by the Corps of Engineers for those fisher families to be closer to their traditional fishing sites. These traditional sites were covered by water when the dams were built. Another fishing method you may see along the Columbia and some of its tributaries is from a fishing platform or scaffold. These are wood platforms on stilts along the river’s edge. They are family built and owned fishing sites so please do not walk onto them without permission.

Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission

Fishing by four tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs) is regulated by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). CRITFC protects fish of the Columbia River Basin and protects treaty fishing rights of its member tribes.

If you would like to learn more about the tribes along the Northwest Discovery Water Trail system, you can contact them by phone, or visit their websites.