Washington’s Methow Valley Lands Returned to Colville Tribes
More than a century after the United States government took most of their land, the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state are reclaiming small pieces.
The non-profit organization Methow Conservancy deeded 328 acres of forest, sagebrush and salmon spawning grounds along the Chewuch River in the Methow Valley to the Colville tribes on May 19.
The deal follows the return of 9,200 acres of ranch land just east of the Methow Valley to the Colville Tribes in October.
“It touches our hearts that some of our members can spend time in their home countries, probably in the same place as their elders’ footsteps,” Andy Joseph Jr., president of the Colville Business Council, told KUOW.
The Business Council is the governing body of the Confederated Tribes of Colville.
Long before Methow Valley became the mecca of cross-country skiing and the playground of Seattle, it was home to the Methow tribe.
The Methow are one of 12 tribes forced onto the Colville Reservation near the northeast corner of the state, along with the Chelan, Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce, Colville, Entiat, Lakes, Moses-Columbia, Nespelem, Okanogan, Palus, Sanpoil and Wenatchi. Indians.
With a reservation of 1.4 million acres, the largest in Washington, the Colville Confederate Tribes are one of the largest landowners in the state.
The 12 tribes once had much more land, with traditional territories stretching from the northern Cascades to the Idaho border.
Then the US government forced them to settle on reservations and confiscated much of that land.
An 11 million acre Moses-Columbia Reservation briefly encompassed the entire Methow Valley. The U.S. government returned the reservation to the public domain in 1883, just four years after establishing it, according to Colville tribal historians.
The Colville Reservation today is less than half the size it was when it was created in 1872. An act of Congress in 1892 eliminated what is now called the “northern half” of the reservation.
Five years ago, the tribal government approached the Methow Conservancy to acquire the Wagner Ranch along the Chewuch River. The ranch has a mile and a half of undeveloped shoreline with spawning grounds for chinook salmon and rainbow trout.
“The property we get was also the old Moses-Columbia reservation, and that was taken away from us as well,” Joseph said.
He said his own ancestry includes Methow, Okanagan and Arrow Lakes on his father’s side and Palus, Moses-Columbia, Wenatchee and Entiat on his mother’s side.
“Our people were able to spear the salmon that was in that area and have enough to live on all year round to feed their families,” Joseph said.
Before Methow Conservancy could act, a Portland-based conservation group, the Western Rivers Conservancy, purchased the property. The Portland group’s goal was to sell the land to the Yakama Nation, which is working far upriver in its own territory in south-central Washington to restore spawning habitat for salmon traveling up the Columbia River.
That deal fell through, and the Rivers Group put the ranch back on the market, giving the Colville Tribes and the Methow Conservancy a second chance to keep the ranch from being turned into vacation homes.
“The main thing is to bring healing back,” Joseph said of the newly acquired land. “One of the best feelings you can take into your heart, which will stay with us forever, (is) that we got something like this back.”
Joseph said the Colville tribes intend to manage the area for fish and wildlife, as well as traditional practices such as gathering edible plants including bitter root, camas and serviceberries.
In October, the Seattle-based nonprofit Conservation Northwest returned an additional 9,200 acres of sagebrush country northeast of Omak, just east of the Methow Valley, to the Colville tribes.
According to Conservation Northwest, the former Figlenski family cattle ranch provides habitat for species like grouse and badgers, as well as a key corridor that allows carnivores like lynx and wolverine to migrate between the North Cascades, the Kettle Range of northeastern Washington and the Rocky Mountains. Mountains beyond.
“We hope there will be more to follow,” said Joseph, whose Aboriginal name, Yǝx̌yǝx̌útxn, means “badger.”
Conservation Northwest executive director Mitch Friedman said in a statement that the deal with the Figlenski Ranch may be the most rewarding and meaningful action he has been involved in.
“We declare here that injustices can be fixed,” Friedman said.
The Conservation Northwest Agreement prohibits residential, industrial, or commercial use of the land other than agriculture or minimal commercial recreation.
Methow Conservancy executive director Sarah Brooks said her group donated the Wagner Ranch land to the Colville Tribes, no strings attached.
“It was clear that we shared the same vision and the same values for the landscape. And out of respect for the care they have given to this land since time immemorial, we felt it was the right thing to do to return it with a sense of trust,” Brooks said.