“Coquille” (Ko-Kwell) is not what our ancestors called themselves in the days before Euro-Americans arrived along the coastal reaches and lower valleys of the Coos and Coquille Rivers. Nearly 100 years of anthropologic investigations and historic speculation suggest that most likely the word “Coquille” is derived from some mispronounced or misunderstood Native word that described the river along which our forebearers lived, or some particular physical attribute of the surrounding estuary environment.
Our ancestors spoke dialects of one or more of the three distinct language groups until sustained Euro-American contact began the 1850’s. By the early 1900’s the Native languages of the Coquilles, as was the case for Coos Bay and other coastal Indian groups, were nearly extinct, replaced by amalgams of Chinook jargon, English and some residual words and phrases still useful or meaningful in a rapidly changing world. Along the lower Coquille River, from the mouth to several miles upstream, and at South Slough on lower Coos Bay, “Miluk” was prevalent. The remainder of the Coos Bay region spoke “Hanis”. The upper portions of the Coquille River watershed, eastward from the present day town of Myrtle Point, spoke dialects of Athapaskan, similar to modern day Navaho and Alaskan Native language.
Where Coquilles Lived
As linguistic and historic evidence reveals, our ancestors inhabited the watersheds of the Coquille River system, a small portion of Coos Bay at South Slough, and areas north and south of the Coquille River mouth where it enters the ocean at present day Bandon. Our ancestral territory encompassed more than 700,000 acres, ceded to the U.S. Government in treaties signed by Coquille headmen in 1851 and 1855. Because neither treaty was ever ratified by Congress, our forefathers and the following generations were denied a permanent homeland until the Modern Coquille Tribe negotiated several land purchases, which constitute today’s 6,400 acre Tribal land base.
Although little physical evidence remains to mark their existence and significance, major “Coquille” permanent villages exited at places that today have names like Old Town Bandon, Myrtle Point, Charleston, and Bullards. At least seven permanent villages stood between Bandon and Myrtle Point on the lower Coquille River; and several others are known to have existed along the forks of the Coquille River. Seasonal villages or gathering areas existed where food items or raw materials could be caught or collected; or where food or material processing occurred. Today such places are only marked by the presence of “lithics” (stone tools or flakes), “middens” (shell piles and bone refuse) or remnant “fish weirs” (traps and baskets used to catch a variety of fish species) along the shores of local streams and bays.
Coquilles as a “Restored” Tribe
On June 28, 1989, Coquilles regained their status as a federally recognized Indian Tribe. After 34 years of “termination” and federal policy that denied their status as Indian people, Public Law 101-42 restored their eligibility to participate in federal Indian programs and to receive federal funding for Tribal education, health, and law enforcement programs. The Coquille Restoration Act recognizes the sovereignty of the Tribe and their authority as a Tribal government to manage and administer political and legal jurisdiction over their lands, businesses and community members.
The Tribe provides direct serviced to approximate 390 Tribal members and the community. Current Tribal business ventures include Heritage Place, an oceanfront assisted-living and Alzheimer care facility in Bandon. This was the Tribe’s first economic development project and is also home to the Coquille Tribal Library. The Mill Casino * Hotel opened in May 1995, located on Highway 101 in North Bend overlooking Coos Bay. Cranberries were also harvested historically in the early day of the Coquilles. Coquille Cranberries, which celebrated its first commercial harvest in 1998, is the largest producer of certified organic cranberries in the world and offers an agricultural based business to the Tribe’s ventures. The Tribe also manages 5,410 acres of forest lands located within Coos County, knows as The Coquille Forest, it was established in 1996 and is dedicated to preserving cultural sites and providing economic development for the Tribe. In 2001, ORCA Communications was developed to offer high-speed telecommunications services throughout the region. Presently, the Tribe is the second largest employer in Coos County.
Understanding and preserving their cultural heritage is critically important to modern Coquilles. Working closely with the Oregon State and University of Oregon Departments of Anthropology, the Tribe sponsors anthropologists to work with Tribal members to research and document evidence of their ancestors. Major archeological projects have been conducted at a 3,500 year-old village site at Old Town Bandon, thousand year old fish weirs along the Coquille River and pre-historic photos, letters and documents, and government records have been collected that provide researches with new and heretofore unknown information about their ancestry and the history of the white settlement in The Coos Bay-Coos County region.
Anthropologic investigations have been conducted at various times since the early 1900’s. Our recent projects have revealed the presence of human occupation some 8,000 years ago at one site along Oregon’s south coast. Other locations have proven to have been occupied continuously for thousands of years by Native people, until they were either forced from these places or killed in the advance of America’s “Manifest Destiny.”
Most permanent Coquille settlements were along the tidewaters and lower reaches of streams and rivers, where travel was easiest and fish were abundant year round. Upland areas away from large waterways were generally hunting and food gathering areas used by many different groups or villages; and were frequented only at certain times of the year, where berry or nut crops were available, and certain other plants were suitable for harvest.
Generally, permanent Coquille “villages” were occupied wholly by the members of one family clan or band, who lived in houses built of cedar timbers and planks. A typical village might have a long house for communal purposes; several ‘sheds’ used for storage or sleeping, as well as a house for each of the marriages within that family group. At seasonal hunting or food gathering areas, shelter was less permanent, sometimes consisting of simple lean-tos or arrangements of branches under a tree or overhead to ward off wind or rain, or to provide shade.
You may contact the tribe directly at:
Coquille Indian Tribe
3050 Tremont Ave, North Bend, Oregon, 97459