a group of American Indian tribes speaking languages of the Penutian family. The tribes inhabited the western frontier area of North America before white settlers arrived in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Penu-tian-speaking peoples in Canada today include the Tsimshian in British Columbia. In the USA, tribes include the Yakonan, Coos, and Sahaptian (Nez-Percé) in the Columbia River basin; the Chinook along the lower reaches of the Columbia River; the Kalapuya, Takelma, and Tenino in western and central Oregon; and the Wintun, Maidu, Miwok, Yokuts, and Costanoan in California.
Before white settlers came to the West, the Penutian-speaking tribes were at various stages of clan-tribal organization. They were at different levels of economic development and engaged in occupations ranging from wild-fruit gathering and small-game hunting to specialized fishing and sea hunting (the Chinook and Tsimshian). The Sahaptian became horse breeders and hunters in the 18th century. In the 19th century Penutian lands were expropriated and most of the Indians were killed; those who survived were settled on reservations. In the 1960’s, some 5,000 persons spoke Penutian languages.