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10 Things You Should Know about the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Chief Joseph, Hemp, Kettle Falls and a Superfund, things to know about the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
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The ancestors of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation were nomadic until April of 1872, when President Grant set aside several million acres in Washington state and assigned a number of tribes to the reservation. Just three months later, that area was reduced to about 2.8 million acres.

Today 14 tribes, or bands, occupy the reservation, which is divided into four districts for administrative purposes. The acreage measures 1.4 million acres located in north central Washington and over 5,000 people live here, both tribal and non-tribal. The council oversees a multi-million administration from its headquarters in Nespelem. Dr. Michael Marchand is the tribal chairman.

The Colville Confederated Tribes are rich in Native American iconic history. In 1885 Chief Moses invited Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce to come and live on the reservation. Chief Joseph walked on in 1904 and is buried near Nespelem. In 1892 the northern portion was ceded to the U.S. and rights were reserved to hunt and fish in that area for time immemorial, then in 1900 homesteading was allowed on the southern portion.

Salmon was always a big part of life for most bands but that changed drastically when Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1942 and the Chief Joseph Dam a few years later. Recent actions by the Colville Confederated Tribes are attempting to revive salmon populations.

The Colville Confederated Tribes are still making their mark in the world. One widely known event is the annual suicide race held during the Omak Stampede. During the dangerous race, riders on horseback race down a nearly vertical slope into the river below, then swim their horses across for the final dash to the finish line. 2017 marked the 84th year of the Stampede and Suicide Race.

Suicide Race at Omak Stampede. Jack McNeel

Suicide Race at Omak Stampede.

Meghan Francis, Public Affairs Officer, described 10 important facts about the Colville Confederated Tribes for others to know about the Native people on the Colville Confederated Reservation.

12 Bands

“We have 12 bands, sometimes also referred to as tribes, which make up the Colville Reservation. These include the Arrow Lakes (Sinixt), Chelan, Colville, Entiat, Nespelem, Okanogan, Methow, Moses-Columbia, Joseph Band of Nez Perce, Palus, San Poll, and Wenatchi.”

12 bands make up the Colville Confederated tribes.

12 bands make up the Colville Confederated tribes.

Ancestral Origins

“We have a traditional maps that show original ancestral lands were from near Revelstoke in British Columbia south to Oregon. It also stretches from the Cascades in Washington over to the Columbia River.”

Lucy F. Covington Government Center

“The Lucy F. Covington Government Center building was financed through insurance claims when another building burned down including U-Market Tax Credit. It was recently dedicated on July 6th. A plaque sits outside summarizing Lucy Covington’s life.” Lucy was from this reservation and fought against the government and the Termination Bill of the 1950s, becoming a national leader in civil rights and the protection of tribal lands, and was described by others as ‘extraordinary.’”

Hunting on Traditional Homelands

“We hunt on traditional homeland areas. One is the north half that was seized for a dollar an acre. We got $1.4 million for that. We maintain our hunting rights there and are now working on maintaining those rights in Canada for our Arrow Lakes, or Sinixt Band from Canada.” A final decision should be rendered soon after suits and countersuits have been filed with different outcomes.

12 Tribes Resort and Casino

One of 3 tribal casinos.

One of 3 tribal casinos.

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The Mill Bay Casino is one of 3 tribal casinos.

The resort and casino was built in 2015 along Highway 97 in Omak, Washington and sits an hour from Canada. It provides fine-dining in the restaurant with entertainment. It’s referred to as a ‘cosmopolitan’ hotel with 68 guest rooms and 56,000 square feet of casino space for slots and table games.

Francis added that the tribe has two other casinos and is allowed to have up to six.

Chief Joseph Hatchery

Chief Joseph Salmon Hatchery.

Chief Joseph Salmon Hatchery.

“The hatchery was a $51 million dollar project,” Francis pointed out. The hatchery opened in June, 2013 and was funded by Bonneville Power Administration. It has a 14,000 square foot hatchery building for incubating salmon eggs and holding fry, plus lab, shop and office space and outside raceways and rearing ponds. The first return of salmon to the hatchery was in May of 2016 and was held in conjunction with the traditional, ‘First Salmon Ceremony.’

Kettle Falls

Kettle Falls is till a reunion site for canoes.

Kettle Falls is till a reunion site for canoes.

“Kettle Falls was the hub of this area, the richest land because of the salmon runs. Tribes came to trade from the other side of the Cascades, north, south, and east. They would trade for salmon and we would trade for buffalo, shells, and different things. The falls are under water now because of Grand Coulee Dam.”

Icicle River

“That’s in traditional Wenatchi territory. Our Wenatchi Band reserved rights to fish in the river and only Wenatchi Band members can fish there plus Yakama Tribal members.” Other people can fish the Icicle River with state licenses during open season.

Superfund Site Tech Cominco

“We’ve been in litigation for over 20 years. The company in Canada has been pumping slag into the river and we’re working on having them clean it up.” This has been going on since the late 1800s and hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous substances have since been deposited into the river and down to Lake Roosevelt on the reservation. The final decision and amount are yet to be determined.


“We are the first and only tribe in the nation to grow hemp legally. Our plants are now 40-days-old, brand new, in this research pilot project.

Colville Tribal members looking over the growing of Hemp plants.

Colville Tribal members looking over the growing of Hemp plants.

We maintain permits from the Washington Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bill of 2014 and it’s legal through state and federal governments.

It came from the Czech Republic because we can’t grow hemp from the U.S. or Canada, it must be imported.” Meghan continued, “Hemp and marijuana are completely different. You can’t get high smoking hemp. The stalks are used for fiber and the seeds for oil. We have 60 acres and plan to grow more. Out plot is 100% organic with no fill, no pesticides and the fertilizer is organic as well.”