What is the Colville Tribe?

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  • Written By: Laura Evans
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The ancestors of the Colville tribe, whose names are not recorded, were nomadic, following food sources as seasons changed. These Native Americans, who lived largely in Eastern Washington, consisted of a number of bands or tribes who summered and wintered in villages or camps. United States government officials gave the name "Colville" to American Indians who traded at Fort Colville, Washington, regardless of whether the people were actually from the same tribe. Today, many members of the Colville tribe live on the Colville Indian Reservation, which is administered by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Like many other Native American tribes, the Colville tribe was affected by Europeans before these American Indians came in physical contact with the foreigners. This came in the form of horses, which were imported from Europe in the 15th century by European explorers. When horses reached these Washington Indians in the middle of the 1700s, horses allowed the Native Americans to travel in a larger territory.

During the 1800s, Europeans, European-Canadians, and European-Americans started establishing trading posts in Eastern Washington to trade goods with Native Americans in the area. The first post was established along the Columbia River in 1807. In 1825, the Hudson Bay Company established Fort Colville, named for England's Lord Andrew Colville. The fort was in Kettle Falls, a traditional trading ground for Washington tribes.


As the 1800s progressed, more people of European descent moved into the traditional grounds of the Native American bands that lived in the area. As trading continued and the demand and competition for furs from animals such as otter, beaver, bear, and mink increased, traders started to refer to the Native Americans in the area as “Colville” for convenience.

Many Native Americans were forced to sign treaties in the 1850s, confining their people to reservations. United States President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), who was a key general for the Union during the Civil War, established the Colville Indian Reservation by executive order on 9 April 1872. An Executive order is a law or rule issued by the President of the United States that does not require Congressional approval. The original reservation included not only people who were from the "Colville tribe," but other Native Americans including some of the Coeur d’Alene, which is French for "people of the awl," and the Methow, who traditionally lived along the Methow River in Northern Washington. It only took three months before the United States government started to reduce the lands of this reservation.

Today, many of the Colville tribe and other Native Americans from the area live in an area that is less than half of the size of the original reservation. The Colville Indian Reservation consists of about 2,300 square miles (5957 square km). The Colville tribe and other Native American tribes on the reservation include produce timber products and operate a fish hatchery that supplies fish to lakes and streams in North Central Washington.


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