Tamastslikt Cultural Institute

(Tamastslikt – pronounced Tah-must-slikt means to “interpret” or “turn over” in Walla Walla.)

Native American cultures are rich in artistic expression. It is expressed through even the very mundane objects. Art is intrinsically linked to most cultures.

History – “We Were”

The history of the plateau tribes were basically unchanged for thousands of years until the Europeans came to settle which brought dramatic alterations of life to the tribes. It was an overwhelming force of will. 

The institute is a look at the western expansion through the Native American point of view. The tribes included are the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla. It is through a confederation of tribes that have done much to preserve their rich history and continue in their love for the land just like their ancestors. They embraced advantageous change such as horse husbandry. The use of horses came from the Spanish settlers before the white Europeans came to the Oregon Trail. The Spanish guarded their livestock including the horses but as the power of the Spanish empire lessened so was their hold over the horses they brought with them. During the prime of Spanish control it was illegal for the native American’s to ride horses.

The institute included many artifacts that includes horse saddles and everyday items and the life the Europeans brought with them. The artistry of their every day items are amazingly detailed and beautiful. Looking at their items there is a lot of attention paid to the decoration. It is a statement to their life on the plateau along the great river.


The familial society of the plateau Indians are very complex, detailing nuanced differences in family ties. More than European families. In his book “The Big River” – Mid-Columbia Indians and their Land, Eugene Hun writes  a child has their mother and father, 4 kinds of grandparents, 6 basic types of siblings, 6 categories of uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces, and 9 types of in-laws. A title of over 40 kinds of relatives while English speakers have around 30.  This varies some between tribes. This is determined by language. It indicates the importance of family ties. These tribes of the area were not warring with each, jealously protecting their lands from neighboring tribes. There was a network of kinship and exchange. They were very giving people and gave to others without the expectation of anything in return. Generosity was its own reward. War did exist though. Their society was marred with the owning slaves as a result of wars between tribes before the Europeans settled in the area. There was a slave market as part of the trading center along the Columbia river between The Dalles and Celilo Falls. There was similar excuses for maintaining slavery from slave owners as Hun writes in his book. It was viewed as benign and necessary. This time period was a departure of their moral values as many were. These are all lessons to learn for the future.

Ecology and love of the land

The knowledge of the land was essential for survival. Understanding the land was required for living.

It is amazing how much respect the Native American cultures have for the land compared to European peoples with some exceptions.


The clothing that is shown in the institute are so beautiful. The elaborate use of decoration is amazing. 

Architecture and design

The architecture and design of the interiors should always be paid attention to when visiting a museum or cultural center. It also sends the visitor a subtle message. For example, this institute you feel the warmth and light at the beginning which is their beginning. As you enter the next part highlighting the horse, the openness of the space is maintained. The vastness of the space is felt as the vastness of the plateau. Then as you travel through time to the European settlers, the space becomes cramped and dark. A feeling of claustrophobia overtakes you. Through the diffused light you look at what the Europeans brought to this part of the world. The tribes light is dimmed but not completely extinguished.


This is all my own opinion. Thinking about the western expansion of North America makes me and many others sad. The basic disregard to people and the environment is tragic in my opinion, something that still continues today. But the light hasn’t been extinguished. The tribes do a lot in preserving the ecology today, including the preservation of the salmon’s habitat.

The history of native cultures and their art fascinates me and I am so glad that this institute was created to teach others and to keep it safe for the future.

I was only able to touch on a few things but there is much more to learn.

For more information about the institute please visit their website


Nch’i-Wana “The Big River”, Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land, Hunn, Eugene S.; University Of Washington Press