Returning Land in Honor of the Methow People
Photo by Daniel Senner

Returning Land in Honor of the Methow People

In our September 2021 Enews, we announced that we are in the process of purchasing the former Wagner Ranch up the Chewuch River with an intent to return land to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in honor of the Methow People who have called this Valley home since time immemorial.

What follows below are additional details in the form of Frequently Asked Questions we anticipate you might have after reading about this effort.

Please read the full article first, here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What exactly are you doing?

We are currently under contract to purchase the Wagner Ranch – 324 acres up the East Chewuch. We intend to then return the land along the riverside 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 are you paying for the property?

The property was listed on the open market this June for $3.6M. We will close the transaction at the end of September. We have had only two months to find the funding and we are immensely grateful to the generous individuals who have already stepped forward to help us feel confident that we can meet our goal. We still have significant funds to raise and we welcome donations from the community at any level prior to our closing at the end of September, 2021.

Will you give the property to The Tribe with any restrictions?

It is our understanding that the Tribes intend to hold the land for fish and wildlife habitat. We are still working 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 also acknowledge that this is an unusual transaction for us – working with a sovereign nation means our usual tools may not apply nor be appropriate. We feel confident that moving forward even without the “usual” protection of a conservation easement is the right way to respect the Tribe’s sovereignty and express our trust.

You mentioned gifting the land along the “riverside” to the Tribe. What about the upland portion of the property on the east side of the East Chewuch Road?

If we are able to fundraise enough to cover the entire purchase price, then our best-case scenario is to honor the Methow People by gifting the entire 324 acres to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. If we fall short, we plan to return the portion of the property west of the East Chewuch Road to the Colville Tribes and retain some portion of the uplands to sell with one homesite and a conservation easement in place to help us finance the transaction. We will make this decision after the end of the month based upon our fundraising and continued engagement with the Colville Tribes leadership.

I thought this property was already protected?

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.

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 will be of deep meaning.

In a letter from the Business Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Chairman Andy Joseph, Jr writes “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 would represent 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.”

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.

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