The Methow People,

and their

Lost Homeland

"Today, Methow elders continue to teach their children and grandchildren their ancient culture, their language, stories and songs, arts and crafts, and relationship to their traditional territory. The Methow people have proven that they can not only survive but persevere."
- Hart, p. 222


mətxʷu : Methow

The native Methow peoples have lived in the Methow Valley for over 500 generations and approximately 13,000 years.

The purpose of this brief history is to illuminate the past and present existence of the indigenous people of the Methow Valley. The Shafer Historical Museum's timeline spans only 1880s-1930s, but there are many older stories of the valley and the people who stewarded this land, swam in these waters, and thrived in this valley since time immemorial. Most of the information gathered here comes from Richard Hart's book Lost Homeland, an extensive historical account of the indigenous Methow people and their story of survival and resilience amongst continual efforts to alter their traditional lifestyle and homeland.
Please visit
www.colvilletribes.com to learn more.

Carousel imageCarousel imageCarousel image


The Methow Tribe is considered part of the Plateau Culture area, along with their neighboring Middle Columbia Salish tribes: the Chelan, Entiat, and Okanogan.

Who they are:

The Methow traditionally lived within the bounds of the Methow River drainage of the Columbia River Basin. This territory includes today's towns of Malott, Monse, Brewster, Pateros, Methow, Carlton, Twisp, Winthrop, Mazama, and the Wells Dam site (Hart, p. 9-11). The Methow people's lives were not confined to the boundaries of the Valley. They traveled over the North Cascades to trade with Coast Salish tribes, a trip that took two weeks (Hart, p. 13). They spoke a distinct dialect of the Interior Salish language, and intermarried with neighboring bands, creating a broad web of kinship.

Traditionally the Methow relied on hunting, gathering, and root resources. Men were hunters and fishers while women cleaned and prepared the game and salmon, as well as gathering the other food necessary for survival: pine nuts, acorns, hazelnuts, camas root, berries, and black lichen (Hart, p. 15).

"The woman’s major economic role of gathering was so important that they were considered equal in status to men by everyone in the society.” - Hart, p.15
Qwilweetsa in the Methow Valley circa 1900 CN 2015.032.037

The Methow Valley was the Methow Tribe’s apothecary, grocery and hardware store.” - Hart, p.15


HUNTING: The Methow hunted throughout their territory from Lost River all the way to Mount Gardner. They hunted for bear, elk, mountain sheep & goats, duck, quail, squirrel, and beaver.

GATHERING: The Methow seasonally harvested “Indian carrots”, "Indian celery", bitterroot, “Indian potatoes”, camas root, huckleberries, serviceberries, chokecherries, foam berries, blackberries, wild raspberries, pine nuts, edible lichen (“black moss”), mountain laurel, acorns, and hazelnuts.

Bitterroot, traditionally eaten and used as medicine
Huckleberries
Mountain laurel, traditionally made into tea and used as medicine
Black-eyed Susan

SALMON: As with other Salish Tribes, salmon was the most important food. Native Plateau peoples consumed an average of 400 pounds of salmon per person per year. Salmon was incredibly abundant. Methow elders Mary Marchand and her brother Lewis Miller remember their mother going to the river and beating the surface of the water with sticks. The salmon would rush downstream so fast they would wind up on the bank (Hart, p. 24). The Columbia Plateau fisheries were some of the most robust inland aquatic food resources in the world (Hart, p.24). There were Pink, Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, and Chum salmon, as well as other species like steelhead, Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout (Hart, p. 24). The Methow people fished the Columbia, Okanogan, and Methow Rivers using spears, three-pronged leisters (a type of spear), dip nets, and weirs (Hart, p. 24).

To learn more about salmon restoration in the Methow Valley, visit the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, or explore Homestream Park in Winthrop, WA.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

The Methow people belong to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The other bands include the:

  • Entiat

  • Chelan

  • Nespelem

  • San Poil

  • Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce


  • Lakes

  • Colville

  • Okanogan

  • Moses-Columbia

  • Wenatchi

  • Palus


The map below shows the current boundaries of the Colville Reservation, but they were not the first. The reservation went through three major reductions, until its present 1.4 million acres.

Click on the map for a more in-depth history of the Colville ReservationSource: https://www.colvilletribes.com/

The series of events that led the Columbia Plateau Tribes to be forced out of their homelands and onto reservations was long and sorrowful. The beginning of white colonization and Native American resettlement in the northwest is often marked by the 1805 Lewis & Clark expedition and their first contact with Middle Columbia Salish Tribes. But data show that the impacts of Euro-American contact had already reached the Northwest by the early 1700s, when smallpox began to reduce the Plateau populations by the thousands (Hart, p. 35). By the time Americans began moving west in large numbers, the indigenous populations had already been decimated by half.

Knowledge brought back to the East Coast by Lewis and Clark triggered a surge in American and Canadian fur companies' movement into Interior Salish territory (Hart, p. 37). The Native peoples were integral to the Northwest fur economy. They traded food like salmon, berries, and roots with the fur hunters, as well as the furs themselves, which they were often more adept at trapping. They helped early traders and settlers forge river crossings, build structures, and survive. The Native peoples valued their relationships with the trappers and traded for material objects, including guns, which had become a necessity for hunting as their diminishing population could no longer support traditional group hunts (Hart, p. 38-39).

Euro-American settlement continued and in 1848 the lands inhabited by the Columbia Plateau Salish people for thousands of years were officially designed "Oregon Territory" by the United States government. Five years later, Congress divided the northern half into "Washington Territory" and formally recognized the rights of indigenous people, although the U.S. would soon after reverse those policies and enact new ones in their attempt to extinguish native culture and lifestyles (Hart, p. 43).

With the establishment of Washington Territory came its first Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, who was also appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Franklin Pierce. Stevens immediately set out to facilitate settlement onto tribal lands. Through controversial treaties, Stevens acquired more than sixty-four million acres of Northwest tribal land (Hart, p. 45). Before Stevens came to the east side of the North Cascades, ethnologist Gordon Gibbs reported to Stevens that he believed it “impractical to remove Indians in Washington Territory to a single reservation in the interior where they could all find food” - and that the Columbia Plateau tribes should be left alone, that white Americans would need to “learn how to live with the inconvenience” (Hart, p. 48). In spite of Gibbs' advice, Stevens continued making arrangements for treaty negotiations in Walla Walla in May of 1855. After many days of debate and much resistance, the Treaty of 1855 was signed by 14 bands of native people. It established the Yakama Reservation, the Umatilla Reservation, and the Wenatchee Fisheries Reservation. Allegedly, the tribes also agreed to cede a huge area “from the Cascade Mountains in the west to the Palouse in the east, and the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the south to the Methow and Columbia river drainages in the north” (Hart, p. 56). There is no evidence that the Methow were in Walla Walla in 1855, or that they signed the treaty. Yet, the Methow were held to the terms of the treaty which reduced their rights to their traditional lands, and removed them to the reservation.

THE YAKIMA TREATY SIGNERS

Table taken from Lost Homeland by Richard Hart, p. 57

In January of 1870, William P. Winans was made the new Indian Agent and was sent to take a census of tribes "south of the Canadian border, west of the Idaho border, and north of the 47th degree latitude" (Hart, p. 69). This included the Methow. Winans arranged many councils while in the area in his effort to take the census. During these meetings there was disagreement about proper representation and leadership of the tribes.

Nevertheless, Winans reported to the Commission of Indian Affairs that there were 310 Methow people and that they had never received any assistance from the government, but desired to be given the tools to practice agriculture (Hart, p. 75).

"For nearly 250 years the United States has framed policies to deal with Indians... to remove them from their traditional territories and resettle them on land no Whites would want. Enormous efforts were made to convert Indians to Christianity... to assimilate them into white culture by wearing clothes, eating foods, and living in houses like those of white people. In the twentieth century the United States tried policies of assimilation, reorganization, termination, and eventually self-determination. The Methow Tribe survived all of these efforts."
- Hart, p. 221

As one of the 12 Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the descendants of the Methow people are involved today in cultural preservation and natural resource management. In the Methow Valley, they aid in salmon recovery and conservation efforts. They wish for the recognition of their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on federal land in their ancestral homeland, and for the preservation of their ancient culture (Hart p. 221-222).