One goal that we have been putting a lot of effort towards, is to reintroduce our people back to their Aboriginal Homelands.  It is important for us as tribal leaders to advance the rights and opportunities of our people and our tribal government in our ancestral homelands.  Tribal Council continues to support Rick Desautel’s hunting rights case, which has been appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court and will be decided upon soon.  If we win this case, this will be huge for our people.  In 2019, Tribal Council passed a resolution to purchase 184 acres at Pasco, WA., the homelands of the Palus and Nez Perce Tribes.  One objective is to develop a gaming operation.  Land is a tangible asset, and the value continues to appreciate as this is one of the fastest growing areas in the State of Washington.  Local elected officials have given us incredibly positive receptions and developing this site with their support is exciting.  

It is important to understand the longstanding history of our people.  What brought our 12 tribes to reside on the present-day Colville Reservation? It is important for us to teach our children their respective tribal affiliations and histories and for them to understand their place within that history. When we talk about our homelands, land is part of who we are, our genetic makeup.  It is our past, our current, and our future.

In my efforts to have a better understanding of our history, I have read the minutes of the treaty of 1855 and I provide an excerpt from Chief Owhi, his descendants are located primarily on the Colville Reservation:

Owhi. “I have nothing to say about this land today. God gave us day and night, the night to rest in and the day to see, and that as long as the earth shall last, he gave us the morning with our breath; and so he takes care of us on this earth: and here we have met under his care. Is the earth before the day or the day before the earth. God was before the earth, the heavens were clear and good and all things in the heavens were good. God looked one way then the other and named our lands for us to take care of. It is the earth that is our parent, or it is God is our elder brother. God named this land to us that is the reason I am afraid to say anything about this land. I am afraid of the laws of the Almighty, this is the reason I am afraid to speak of the land. I am afraid of the Almighty that is the reason of my hearts being sad: this is the reason I cannot give you an answer. I am afraid of the Almighty. Shall I steal this land and sell it? or what shall I do? this is the reason that my heart is sad.  I love my life is the reason why I do not give my lands away. I am afraid I would be sent to hell. I love my friends. I love my life, this is the reason why I do not give away my lands. I have one word more to say.  My people are far away they do not know your words, this is the reason why I cannot give you an answer now. I show you my heart, that is all I have to say.”  I added the beautiful teachings of this quote out of respect of the recent loss of one of our tribal Elder Veterans and former Councilman, Harry Owhi, Jr. as he was a direct descendent of Owhi, who signed the Treaty of 1855.

This is an important document in our tribe’s history because the Nez Perce, Palouse, Pisquose, and Wenatchi all signed this treaty.  The minutes also reference the Colvilles and Okin-a-kune in this document.  These minutes continue to state: “For the principal tribes here present, we have thought of two Reservations. One Reservation is the Nes Perses country and one in the Yakama country…”  “We propose to place there the Colvilles, the O-kin-a-kunes and Pisquouse Indians…” 

Further in these minutes it states: “In the Yakama reservation we have not placed as many tribes as we expected. We have thrown out the Okan-ah-gaus and Colvilles and the Tribes below the White Salmon.”

I also want to draw attention to another historical document where in the Court of Claims of the United States:  The Okanogan, Methow, San Poils, (Or San Poil), Nespelem, Colville and Lake Indian Tribes or Bands of the State of Washington, Petitioners, vs. The United States of America, Defendant filed a petition in 1927 for lands, hunting and fishing rights that were taken from them without compensation.  Within this petition these tribe’s state: “That the whole of the lands, hereinafter described in paragraph 4 hereof, and then occupied by and for the exclusive possession of petitioners, comprise approximately 7,729,040 acres; …”  “That the nature and extent of petitioners’ original, then exiting and unextinguished fishing and hunting rights, hereafter more particularly set forth, and the nature and extent of petitioners’ original, then existing and unextinguished title, possession, occupancy and use of all the lands, described in paragraph 4 hereof, and their appurtenances, has been known to the defendant and its Indian agents, Indian Commissioners and Indian Superintendents since the first advent of Governor Isaac I. Stevens into said region in 1853:”

This petition also states that Stevens called for a meeting at Antoine Plante’s place on December 4, 1855.  During this meeting Isaac I. Stevens as Commissioner and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for defendant stated to representatives of petitioners (tribes) with respect to their said lands and rights:  “Your rights are your rights and you shall not be deprived of them………I, your friend say that your lands will not e taken from you in your lands and rights……..”  The Okanogan, Methow, San Poil, Nespelem, Colville and Lake Indian Tribes stated they did not extinguish any of their rights through treaty or executive order.  It is interesting to note that they were at the meeting of the Treaty of 1855 and they did attend the meeting set for Dec. 4, 1855.  The Federal Government did not complete these negotiations or ratification of a treaty with these tribes.

There is a lot of good information stated within this petition filed in 1927.  But the most important message is that our ancestors stated that they did not extinguish any of our land, hunting or fishing rights.  These historical documents are extremely valuable, and I wish I had more time to do more research.  I will do my best to provide further reports of some of the initiatives that tribal council is working on. 

–Rodney Cawston,

Colville Business Council Chairman

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