WINTHROP, Wash. – The Colville Tribes held a ceremony (June 21) at the Wagner Ranch, outside of Winthrop, Washington to recognize the work to gift the ranch to the Colville Tribes and Tribal Members of the Methow Band. The proceedings were opened with an honor song by Robbie Stafford, TJ Erb, and Danny Edwards. Methow elder Elaine Emerson offered a prayer and Ernie Brooks smudged the property. The weather was perfect for the gathering.

Cody Desautel welcomed everyone, and thanked the staff and volunteers. The mayor of Winthrop said she looked forward to working with the Colville Tribes in the future and was happy to be there to enjoy the beautiful celebration. The work of rehabilitation of the fish will alow them to begin more projects with more biologists. 

Karen Condon, Chair of the Employment and Education and Culture Committees, said that it was a big day for the Tribes and Methow people. “I just want to thank the Methow Conservancy for the great work they have done to acquire the property and gift it to the Tribe. This is a huge accomplishment for the Tribe and Methow Conservancy.” 

Jerrod Micahel-Erickson thanked everyone for making this happen about the property. “It’s huge for Methow people and we can’t thank you enough.” Norma Sanchez, Methow descendant, appreciated what has already been said. “There are no words to say thank you, or words to express this gift that was given back to our people. We appreciate the thoughtfulness and remembrance of us being the first people here.” Dusten Best was very glad to come home today, as a Methow descendant, to become a part of the community again. Shar Zacherle wanted to say, “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I would like to acknowledge the individuals that moved this along, and the conservancy–this day would not be possible without them. It feels to be back here, and for future generations to come.” Dr. Alison Ball thanked the elders for the prayers and welcoming back with the honor song. “If you look around at all the empty chairs, if you can imagine, that is all of our ancestors sitting there, also observing and so happy we are back.” She acknowledged all the Methow people who couldn’t be there today to feel the joy of being back and returning. 

Sam Naney, President of the Methow Conservancy, was happy to celebrate with the Colville Tribes and the Methow people on an incredibly special day. There was an unbelievable effort and generous donors for lift from members of their community. “It’s truly remarkable to see where we are today and that this has happened, and it is a very moving experience. Thank you to all of you for that.” A few weeks ago, they had the signing ceremony with the CBC and were able to hear their impressions and stories about the Wagner Ranch, and their thoughts on the partnership. “When listening to those, I was incredibly moved by Dr. Alison Ball, who spoke of the spiritual connection here of the people who resided here a century ago.” He has lived in the valley, himself, and has always felt a strong connection to the land that transcends ownership or material possession, “The well-spring that sustains our souls in a place like this.” For the Methow people to have a space here is incredibly powerful. “From my family, and our community, all experience that spiritual strength from this place, I wish you a very hardy welcome home.”

Sarah Brooks, Executive Director of the Methow Conservancy, was very emotional to be able to stand before everyone. “I am so honored to be here today in company with each of you and the Methow people. This event and what it represents is one of the highlights of my life. It has been a great gift to me to be able a part of making it possible to return these 320 acres to the People who have cared for this land since Time Immemorial.” 

She didn’t believe it rights any wrongs, or injustices of the past. She takes in moments of bright spots and take them in, like this ceremony. She wanted to express her collective gratitude to he Methow elders and descendants as they learned about their ways, their culture, sovereignty, and vision for the ranch. She also wanted to thank the Methow Conserancy Board and staff for their vision and bravery. “Exactly 380 days ago, we sat on the deck in our office in Winthrop and made a bold decision to try to raise $3.6 million in three months to purchase this property and return it to Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in honor of the Methow people. Thank you for being willing to doing something big and believing we could actually pull it off.” 

She expressed thanks to the donors who made the gift of returning the land to the Tribe. “Each chose to do something really special.” It was not just a land conservation project, but an opportunity for justice. They took action with their value to donate. “We may not be able to undo the past, but we can definitely ensure that the future is different and better.” 

Fourth, to the support crew who helped along the way, the friends at the interpretive cetner who offered advice; the legal counsel who helped think out of the box so they could give the gift without restrictions. The advisory council shared their expertise and wisdom–and the incredibly professional staff fron the Tribe in fisheries, legal, and cultural departments. “We hope have many more opportunities to work together.”

The CBC gifted members of the Methow Conservancy Board with blanket who shared their thanks to be a part of the day and the partnership with the tribe. Tribal elders were given opportunities to speak and share observations. 

Elainer Emerson thanked Sam from the Conservancy Group to make sure the land came back. She was happy and nostalgic. “The people who were hurt the most, are not here. We were taught by all of them to be conservative in everything we did. We leared how to work in tandem with the land. I like to think of all those Methow descendants we have. Many, many of them teach in public school, as tribal advisors, in language programs, many are teachers, teach beadwork, basketry, work with their religions.” She looks forward to gathering materials and foods, then return here to hold gatherings at the ranch. She would like to showcase to the people in the Methow who they were and are today with their art. 

Ernie Brooks shared that many generations ago, our elders said prayers for each and everyone of us so that we would be here at this time, on this day. We are honoring that prayer today.

Kathy Womer felt honored to be present. This was the second time she made it to the ranch. The first time, they heard a sound like paper being crunched. She told them it was the month when rattlesnakes shed their skin. She was at a local resort years ago with her husband. She looked over the land and saw the highway. She recalled how her mother shared with her that they used to be in this land and had to leave it. They had to get out because the soldiers threatened to shoot them with a cannon. They left with hardly anything, campfires still burning, tipis still up, kettles boiling. “But we ware here today to unite, and to thank the people that have helped us give a small part of this back. I thank you with all my heart. It brings tears to my eyes that we can realize this. Lim limt to all of you and bless all your hearts. Lim limt for today. Lim limt for your recognition. Way’.”

“This is an awesome day,” Mark Miller said. “This whole exchange has been done with a good heart. The efforts from the conservancy, the people involved. It has been very humbling to watch everyone work.” He wasn’t sure how it would end, but was a better ending than he could have hoped for. “We are trying to borrow this land from our grandchildren. And if we can do a better job of stewardship, then there are going to be more salmon every year. I really appreciate everyone who is here, everyone involved in this whole process. It will be awesome to see it go forward. Thank you for your time.”

T-shirts, a commemorative flour press were given to all who attended. A lunch was served and tours of the property were available for anyone who wanted to see more.

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