NESPELEM, Wash. – Voters on the Colville reservation decisively rejected the mining referendum when the votes were officially tallied on March 23.
Votes against numbered 1,254, compared to 847 “yes” votes for nearly a 60 percent to 40 percent ratio in opposition to mining. Voters essentially turned down the possibility of huge financial gains in favor of protecting the environment and cultural values. Many considered the financial income as a chancy situation dependent on several factors, most notably the long-term value of molybdenum. Molybdenum is the primary ore at the Mount Tolman site that was being considered in the mining proposal.
Billie Jo Bray, a San Poil, was one of the leaders in getting the word out in opposition to mining. The organization she represents, Visions for Our Future, is a non-profit grass-roots organization concerned about preventing destruction to natural resources and saving sacred sites on the reservation.
“I’m very happy. I’m jumping with glee inside,” Bray said. “I want to do a celebration dinner right now to bring people together and enjoy the company – to pray and say ‘thank you.’ I’m really excited.”
Sonny George, another member of Visions, had similar comments. “I think it’s overwhelming. There’s no question that people don’t want mining.” He added: “It’s a great day for our reservation. Everyone should be happy.”
Despite their elation, each expressed some concerns, acknowledging that despite the decisive vote the tribal council could opt to go against the will expressed by the voters. George added that he thought the vote would answer the questions of tribal leaders about the desires of tribal members and hoped this would end the discussion.
“I’m glad it’s over,” commented Harvey Moses Jr., chairman of the Colville Business Council. “I’m also glad it didn’t pass. I’m against mining in and around the reservation for environmental, cultural and traditional purposes.”
Asked about the possibility of the tribal council overturning the vote, he replied, “Yes, tribal council could have done that; but after the count was certified they [tribal council] passed a resolution saying ‘no’ to mining.” That would certainly seem to put to rest the concerns expressed by Bray, George and others opposed to mining.