The nomadic lifestyles of our ancestors have always perplexed non-Indian historians who insist on identifying indigenous native people by specific geographical locations. Our forefathers knew no boundaries until the invasion of Europeans, other than those established by some tribes in certain areas.
We know that from 1807 when the first trading post was established on the Columbia River to 1820 when Kettle Falls, the famous trading center of our ancestors, was occupied by the Hudson Bay Company, trade with indigenous native people was often conducted by non-Indians from the northern territories. They came from Canada.
Many of our own people lived to the north and they were eventually forced to stay in Canada when the Canadian border became a reality.
Settlers, squatters and trespassers began their great migration west in the mid-1800’s and competed with the Canadians for trade with the indigenous native people. Trading furs and other native goods for commodities and services became a way of life for many natives. The course of our history changed forever with the influx of foreign traders and missionaries.
The fight was on for the territories of the West with the new Americans and Great Britain both claiming the Oregon Territory. The Treaty of 1846 established U.S. ownership, fixing the boundary line at the 49th parallel with England taking Vancouver Island.
The indigenous native people living in those valuable territories were considered non-entitled but the United States, England and other foreign interests still wanted their trade. Non-entitlement for our forefathers and all other indigenous native people was the prelude for taking what had been our homelands since the time of creation.
On March 2, 1853, President Fillmore signed a bill creating the Washington Territory which included today’s State of Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana. Major Isaac Stevens of the U.S. Corps of Engineers was appointed Governor of the new territory and he reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on "Indian" issues within his new domain.
On May 3, 1853, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs instructed Governor Stevens to find out what the Indians were like in Washington Territory. The governor met with Indian Tribes during his exploration for a railroad route throughout the territory and from those visits he devised a report, written only seven months after the territory was established, to the Commissioner, recommending the establishment of "reservations" for the Indians occupying Washington Territory.
In his report, Commissioner Manupenny of Indian Affairs expressed a concern that "contrary to natural rights and usage," the United States should grant the lands that would become the reservations to the Indians without purchasing from them. In 1854, Governor Stevens was directed by the Commissioner to negotiate with the Indians, "particularly in the vicinity of white settlements, toward extinguishment of the Indian claims to the lands and the concentration of the tribes and fragments of tribes on a few reservations naturally suited to the requirement of the Indians, and located, so far as practicable, so as not to interfere with the settlement of the country."
Late in 1854, an historical five-day "council" took place with nearly every tribe from present-day eastern Washington State participating so that each tribal leader or Chief could mark and claim specific reservation boundaries for the individual tribes. This council and dividing up the land was done purposely by the federal government so that no land would be for sale and no payments would be made to any Indians. Governor Stevens carried out his duties by successfully negotiating: the Point Elliott Treaty in January, 1855; the Yakama Treaty in June, 1855; and the Hells Gate Treaty in July, 1855.
The indigenous native peoples who would later become the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation were not forgotten. In December 22, 1855 letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Governor Stevens told of meeting with some Indians, as he had promised during the Yakama Treaty negotiations, but "they did not sign a treaty although they pledged to take no part in the Yakama War which broke out that year."
The Yakama War lasted until 1859 and involved tribes located in today’s southern Washington State and Oregon. History indicates that Indian people and gold miners were involved in altercations in the Wenatchee and Okanogan valleys. From 1859 until 1865, the federal government allowed the Indians of North Central Washington State to live without a treaty or an "Indian Agent" to oversee them. That changed in 1865 when George Paige was sent to the area as the first Indian Agent. He traveled and visited tribes through 1868 and made periodic reports to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
Superintendent McKenny, who oversaw the entire Washington Territory, commented on Paige’s May 9, 1867 written report as follows: "From this report, the necessity of trading with these Indians can scarcely fail to be obvious. They now occupy the best agricultural lands in the whole country and they claim an undisputed right to these lands. White squatters are constantly making claims in their territory and not infrequently invading the actual improvements of the Indians. The state of things cannot but prove disastrous to the peace of the country unless forestalled by a treaty fixing the rights of the Indians and limiting the aggressions of the white man. The fact that a portion of the Indians refused all gratuitous presents shows a determination to hold possession of the country here until the government makes satisfactory overtures to open the way of actual purchase."
At its inception by a President Grant’s Executive Order on April 9, 1872, the Colville Indian Reservation was in a different location from today’s reservation. The first reservation covered several million acres of diverse properties including rivers, streams, timbered forests, grass lands, minerals, plants and animals. The aboriginal tribes of the Methow, Okanagan, San Poil, Lakes, Colvilles, Kalispels, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and other scattered tribes who were not parties to any treaty were confined to the original reservation.
Less than a month later, another Presidential Executive Order issued on July 2, 1872 moved the Colville Indian Reservation to its present location on the west side of the mighty Columbia River and diminished its size to less than three million acres or 2,825,000 acres. The areas between the Okanogan River and the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range in the Methow Valley and between the Columbia and Pend d’Orielle Rivers and the Colville Valley were excluded from the second and final reservation. None of the tribes affected by the Presidential Order were consulted. The areas deleted from the original reservation were rich in minerals.
On April 19, 1879 and March 6, 1880, two tracts of land where the present day City of Wenatchee lies, north to the Canadian border between the crest of the Cascades and the Okanogan River, were established by another Presidential Executive Order for the Chief Moses tribes consisting of the Columbia, Chelan, Entiat and Wenatchi. Three years later, on July 7, 1883, Chief Moses and his people agreed to either move to the Colville Indian Reservation or accept an allotment of 640 acres for the head of each family.
Some tribal families took the allotment of 640 acres and remained in their ancestral homelands along the Columbia River and at majestic Lake Chelan outside the established boundaries of the reservation. In 1885, Chief Moses, who had moved to the Colville Indian Reservation, invited Chief Joseph and his tribe of Nez Perce, to live on the reservation. Chief Joseph and his people were never allowed to return to their former homeland in the Oregon Territory. He died at Nespelem, Washington in 1904. Many descendants of his band reside on the Colville Indian Reservation today and still belong to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Twenty years after the Colville Indian Reservation was moved to its present location, the north half of the reservation was ceded to the United States by an act of Congress (27 Stat. 62). At that time 660 Colville Indians were allotted 51,653 acres located in the ceded area. In that same year, the United States negotiated an agreement with our tribal forefathers for the purchase of the unallotted acreage located in the north half and paid them $1.5 million dollars for 1.5 million acres, priced at $1.00 an acre.
The Colville tribal leaders of 1892 were able to reserve the right for members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to hunt and fish on the former north half of the reservation for time immemorial. Later, a Presidential Proclamation on October 10, 1900, opened the south half of the Colville Indian Reservation, totaling 1,449,268 acres, to homesteading which began six years later in 1916.
The Reservation Allotment Act of 1887 was finally implemented on December 1, 1905 when two-thirds of the estimated number of Colville Indians available on that date, signed the McLaughlin Agreement that ceded the south half of the Colville Indian Reservation for an 80-acre allotment to each Indian. By 1914, 2,505 Colville Indians had been allotted 333,275 acres of reservation lands.
A Presidential Proclamation of May 3, 1916 opened the remaining 417,841 acres of unallotted and unreserved reservation lands to settlement.
In 1934, Congress began ending the federal allotment policy and an order issued by the Secretary of the Interior on November 5, 1935. This halted the withdrawal status of the reservation lands belonging to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Twenty two years later, in 1956, in recognition of the federal government’s past failed policies, about 800,000 acres of Colville Reservation lands were returned to tribal ownership.
Today, the Colville Indian Reservation consists of acreage held in trust for the Colville Confederation and individual tribal members and land owned by others in non-trust or fee land status. The Colville Business Council has set in place a policy to purchase lands put up for sale that are located with the boundaries of the reservation and unallotted lands outside the reservation based on funds available through yearly tribal fiscal budgets. One of monumental goals of the Colville tribal government is to own all Colville Indian Reservation lands. Presently, over 200,000 acres are not owned by the Colville Confederation and thousands of those acres are in agricultural production by non-Colville tribal members.
In 1997 and 1998, the Colville Confederation celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the Colville Indian Reservation in recognition of 125 years of survival with a prayer to our Creator that some day when we, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, a confederation of First Americans, will hold all of our lands in trust for our people, we will truly be able to claim this beautiful nation as ours once again.
Based on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Socio-Economic Report of 1981. All Rights Reserved.