At present many Shoalwater Bay Tribal Members have tended to view Shoalwater Bay tribal heritage as primarily bi-cultural, a mixture of Chehalis and Chinook, with some valuing one group of ancestors, languages, and history more so than others.
Shoalwater/Willapa Bay residents were historically recognized as “the people of the enclosed bay.” While this is true, additionally, the Shoalwater Bay contained several unique groups of people beyond the two major cultural and linguistic designations identified today: Chehalis and Chinook.
This is understandable considering the intense interaction, trade, and intermarriage that has existed within the Shoalwater Bay region for hundreds if not thousands of years in the past.
A Few Contemporary Accounts about the Territories of Chinook and Chehalis
An important historical entry concerning this territory, among others, comes from E. A. Starling—the Indian Agent for the Puget’s Sound district. Starling wrote his annual report of September 1, 1852 to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory, Anson Dart.
Starling mentions the Chehalis and Cowlitz Indians. “Of the tribes inhabiting the country between the Columbia river and Puget’s sound, there are but two tribes, excluding the various bands of the Chinooks.” The Chehalis territory, Starling writes, was located around the “Chehalis river and vicinity.”
One of the earliest and authoritative descriptions of Chinook territory comes from Anson Dart in 1851, he writes,
“The Chinooks are divided into five other small bands occupying both sides of the Columbia, from the mouth about sixty miles up . . . They all speak a language called the Chinook which is not spoken by any white person, and also the common jargon of the country. The whole country bordering on the Columbia, as far up as the Dalles, was formerly occupied by this tribe.”