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The Yaqo’n: The First People of Newport



Visitors and locals alike know Newport is a great place to live and visit! Perfectly situated along the Oregon Coast, around Yaquina Bay, and surrounded by temperate rain forests, Newport offers a variety of opportunities for work and play. Settlers realized that the area was the perfect place to be back in the 1860s too, and although Yaquina Bay was home to Native Americans then, the settlers began to move into the area. Sadly, Natives who remained in the area were systematically moved from their land and forced to live on a nearby reservation. In recent years, Natives, historians, and interested citizens have sought to further investigate, document, and add the experiences of Newport’s first people to the history of the area.


The first people to live in the Newport area, roughly from Cape Foulweather to the north to Beaver Creek in the south, and inland along the Yaquina Bay, were the Yaqo’n (pronounced Yacona). The Yaqo’n tribe inhabited the region for at least 3,000 years before European-Americans began to interact with them. They traveled on foot throughout the area and built their villages far enough inland to be protected from the storms and rough weather that constantly move in from the Pacific Ocean. The Yaqo’n didn’t have to migrate often for food because the bay was full of oysters, salmon that were plentiful in the river, and the forest provided deer, elk, roots, and berries.


Prior to outside interaction, the Yaqo’n tribe is believed to have had a population of about 700, but unfortunately, the first European fur trappers, explorers, and early colonists brought diseases like smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and influenza. By the turn of the 19th century, nearly eighty percent of the Native population had died because they had no immunity to those diseases. A series of forest fires in the early 1800s also destroyed Yaqo’n villages and killed many of the residents, and by 1850 only about 80 Yaqo’n people were left in the area.


By mid-1850, settlers had steadily expanded onto the Oregon Coast and the United States government formed the Siletz Reservation in 1855, when five coastal tribes met on the Yaquina Bay and were persuaded to sign away their rights to the area. The original reservation consisted of about 100 miles along the Pacific coast and stretched inland from the beach for approximately twenty miles, with Yaquina Bay at its center. More than 2,700 Native people from nearly thirty tribes were forcibly relocated to the Siletz Reservation from as far away as northern California and southern Washington.

At first, residents of the Yaqo’n tribe remained in the Yaquina Bay adopting homes and Western clothing as was required by the policies of assimilation, but by the 1860s settlers wanted access to the land and the oysters that grew in the bay. The United States government began to reduce the size of the reservation and expand areas for settlement. Twenty-five miles of land was carved out of the center of the reservation in 1865, and by 1875 only 225,000 acres of the original 1.1 million Siletz Reservation remained. The Yaqo’n and all other tribes who had lived in those areas were forced to abandon their homes and move into the community of Siletz. By 1900, only nineteen Yaqo’n people remained in the Siletz Reservation, and today, only one family can trace their ancestry back to the Yaqo’n tribe.


Since 1977, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians have been regaining their rights and restoring their land base. By the mid-1980s, the Tribes of Siletz had their own school, which emphasizes traditional language, culture, and history, a health clinic, and cultural and natural resource departments. Today, the tribe owns and manages Chinook Winds Casino and Hotel, which helps to generate income for Native communities. Independently, private donors have established a nature preserve on a peninsula just east of where the Yaquina River enters Yaquina Bay. Founders of the 340-acre Yakona Nature Preserve plan to rehabilitate the area to its original state and open a Yakona Learning Center to educate the public about Newport’s first people and their history.


For more information, visit Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians at www.ctsi.nsn.us and Yakona at www.yakonaoregon.org The Newport Chamber of Commerce is always ready to welcome you to the beach! Visit newportchamber.org for a detailed calendar of events and a list of local businesses that will take care of every aspect of your stay.



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