Returning Land in Honor of the Methow People
Since Time Immemorial, the Methow Valley has been the home of the Methow People. When the first white settlers arrived in the Methow Valley in the late 1800s, the area was part of the Moses-Columbia Reservation, formed in 1879. When the Moses-Columbia Reservation was dissolved in 1884, most of the Methow People were forcibly relocated to the area east and south of present-day Omak, becoming one of the twelve tribes of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CTCR). Others in this diaspora refused to enter the reservations and simply stayed or dispersed in the region. The Methow People always returned to the Methow Valley and have continued to do their best to steward the land, despite being forcibly removed.
In 2021-2022, the Methow Conservancy, supported by fundraising from the Methow Valley community, purchased and then facilitated the return of 320+ acres of ancestral land on the Chewuch River to the CTCR in honor of the Methow People. The Wagner Ranch property (renamed x̌ʷnámx̌ʷnam, “Hummingbird”) offers an important place for the Methow People to preserve and share their ancestral knowledge, skills, and traditions and to steward the property.
Below are additional details in the form of Frequently Asked Questions we anticipate you might have after reading about this effort.
We're pleased to share the 2022 Press Release from then-Chairman, Mr. Andrew C. Joseph Jr., Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. The current Chairman is Jarred-Michael Erickson.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What exactly did you do?
In September 2021 we purchased the Wagner Ranch – 328 acres up the East Chewuch. In May 2022 we returned the land to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in acknowledgement and honor of the Methow People who have called the Methow Valley home since time immemorial. The Confederated Tribes include 12 Bands of the inland Northwest, including the Methow Band. The Colville Tribes intend to hold the land for fish and wildlife habitat and have long had a desire to do important restoration work to benefit salmon along the property’s riverfront. The ownership will also provide the descendants of the Methow People with a permanent presence in and physical connection to the Upper Methow Valley.
How much did you pay for the property?
The property was listed on the open market in June 2021 for $3.6M. We closed the transaction at the end of September 2021. We had only two months to find the funding and we are immensely grateful to the generous individuals who stepped forward to help us feel confident that we can meet our goal. To complete the transaction, we took out bridge loan financing. We will continue welcome donations from the community at any level.
Did you give the property to The Tribe with any restrictions?
The Tribes intend to hold the land for fish and wildlife habitat. We worked closely with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation leadership and their Natural Resources staff to finalize the details of our gift. We have every reason to believe and to trust that the property will be well-cared for. We feel confident that moving forward even without the “usual” protection of a conservation easement was the right way to respect the Tribe’s sovereignty and express our trust.
I thought this property was already protected?
It was not. More than four years ago, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reached out and asked us to help them secure the property. Despite our best attempts, the property was instead purchased by Portland-based conservation organization Western Rivers Conservancy. The Methow Valley News noted in their July 3, 2019 edition that Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the property to “be preserved and managed for fish habitat restoration efforts” with an expectation that it would eventually be sold to the Yakama Nation using anticipated funding from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).” BPA has decided to no longer put funds toward this project, so Western Rivers Conservancy put the property on the open market in June 2021.
How come you didn’t just find a conservation buyer and put a conservation easement on the property?
That has certainly been the environmental movement’s usual approach. However, for the last several years we have been looking deep within ourselves as a conservation organization and recognized the belated need to do more and to do better to acknowledge the reality that the land we work on is the homeland of the Methow People – land that the U.S. government took from them without their consent. We see this project as much more than an effort to protect fish and wildlife habitat, but also to restore a presence of the Methow People in the Methow Valley and to make additional steps forward in land justice. Had we simply worked with an individual to buy the property and put a conservation easement on it, we might have protected it from development, but we would not have been able to make this significant statement to honor the Methow People. We find much value in this and also recognize that this is just a beginning in the process of restoring justice in our watershed and region.
How do you know this gift is of meaning to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and to Methow descendants?
We have been honored to be in conversation with the leadership of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, their fisheries staff, and descendants of the Methow People. All have expressed, in their own ways, that this return of land is of deep meaning.
In a letter from the Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Chairman Andy Joseph, Jr wrote, “The Chewuch Valley and Wagner Ranch are part of the Methow homeland where the ancestors of our people have fished, hunted, gathered, and practiced their traditional cultures for millennia and it is that relationship with the lands and waters of the Methow that inspires our commitment to anadromous fisheries habitat protection and restoration there. Ownership of the Wagner Ranch represents a small, but significant step toward redressing historical injustices and dispossession of the Methow People’s ancestral lands and allow the Tribes to protect and restore significant salmon and steelhead habitat.”
The Methow Descendants have named the property x̌ʷnámx̌ʷnam, which is the Interior Salish word for the sound a hummingbird's wings make. In addition to doing some maintenance projects on the land and buildings, the Methow Descendants have been using the site for cultural activities, such as weaving tule mats and preparing tipi poles, during which tribal elders are teaching tribal youth some of the traditional skills they learned from their own parents and grandparents.
How can I learn more about the Methow People and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation?
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation host an incredible website full of information. As a starting place, we recommend this Brief History story page.
The Methow Valley Interpretive Center is also an abundant source of information about the Methow People.
We also recommend the book by Winthrop resident and historian Richard Hart: Lost Homeland: The Methow Tribe and The Columbia Reservation. It is available locally at Trail’s End Bookstore.
If you have additional questions not answered here, please email us.