Colville indians
confederated tribes of the colville reservation nezperce tribe okanogan tribe chelan tribe
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 Colville indians

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Colville indians

The Colville Indians are an Interior Salish people speaking the Wenatchi dialect. The Colville Indians were historically located at the outlet of Lake Colville in Washington State. They are now one of the twelve bands or tribes that make up the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Official Tribal Name:

Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Address: PO Box 150, Nespelem, WA 99155-0150
Phone: 1-888-881-7684
Fax: (509) 634-2149
Email: See
Official Website:

Common Name:

Colville Tribe

Traditional Name:


Meaning of Traditional Name:

Alternate names:

Colville Confederated Tribes, Colville Confederacy, Colville Confederated Tribes, Colville Indians, Plateau Indians

Tribes with a common language often named the Colville Scheulpi or Chualpay; and the French traders called them Les Chaudičres ("the kettles") in reference to Kettle Falls.

Alternate spellings:


Registered Population:

8,700 (includes all Confederated Colville tribes) About xxx are Colville Indians.


  Columbia Plateau



Bands / Population in 1650:

Language Classification:

Salishan -> Interior Salish -> Southern

Language Dialects:

Number of fluent Speakers:

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

1/4 blood quantum of any of the member tribes, and at least one parent must have been an enrolled member at time of the birth and living on the reservation. If living off the reservation, at least one parent must have had a permanent residence in US and application must be filed within 6 months of birth. Members can also be adopted into the tribe with a 2/3 majority vote of the entire tribe.

Tribal Flag:

Colville Reservation Flag

Tribal Emblem:

colvile tribal seal

Related Tribes:

The Colville Indians formed a confederacy with the Chelan, Nespelem, Sanpoil, Sinixt, Palus, Wenatchi, Entiat, Methow, southern Okanagan, Sinkiuse-Columbia (also known as Moses-Columbia), and the Nez Perce of Chief Joseph's Band to form the federally recognized tribe called the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.


Traditional Territory:

Original Reservation:

The Colville Reservation was originally over 3 million acres. The first reduction in size ocurred only 3 months after it was formed, and at one point it was reduced to only 300,000 acres.

Current Reservation / Settlements:

Colville Reservation in Okanogan and Ferry Counties is now 1.4 million acres (2008). Allotment lands around Lake Chelan in Chelan County northwest of the city of Chelan.

Traditional Allies:

At the time of contact, about two dozen tribes lived in the Plateau Region. Most of these belonged to the Salish or Sahaptin language families, but there were also Athapaskans, Chinookans, Pend d'Oreille, Flathead, Cayuse and Kootenai. Alliances changed frequently.

Traditional Enemies:

Territorial boundaries shifted frequently in the Plateau Region, as tribes competed for the best hunting grounds. After the arrival of the horse, Plateau tribes faced more competition from the Plains Indians and indians from the Great Basin. Intertribal war in the area faded out as alliances were made to fight their common enemies.

By the 1860s, smallpox epedemics had virtually ended tribal warfare, due to the drastic decrease in population. From 1840 onward, the US government tried to move all indians to reservations. The resulting wars between the 1840s to the 1870s were the final push to tame the West.

Bands / Clans:

Kinship was bilateral and most groups did not recognize clans.


Historical Social Structure:

The extended family was the main social unit. Families belonged to one of three classes: wealthy, middle class, or slaves captured from other tribes. The eldest members of the family were its leaders.

The division of labor was based on sex. Men were the primary leaders, did the hunting and trading, and participated in warfare. Women did the gathering and domestic chores while men hunted, fished, trained horses, and conducted war.

Women were respected and enjoyed general equality with men in economic, domestic, religious, and political spheres.

Some animals were kept as pets, including young bears, coyotes, wolves, and deer.

Burial / Funeral Customs:

The dead were usually buried, although some groups practiced cremation. The deceased was usually dressed in their finest clothes and wrapped in a blanket before burial. People of high status were often buried in a canoe, to help assist them on their journey to the spirit world.

Spouses of the deceased cut their hair short, wore ragged clothing, and were barred from remarriage for a year. Widowed women usually married one of their husband's brothers after her husband's death, if there were no children, in order to continue the line of the dead husband. Men would marry a wife's sister if she died or proved infertile.

Marriage/Wedding Customs:

Menses was an important event for females. It signified their entrance into adult society and made them eligible for marriage. First marriages were arranged by the parents or grandparents. Large families were the norm.

During mensus, women spent about a week in a separate menstrual house. Pregnant women stayed in a separate dwelling with other pregnant women. Babies were also delivered in a separate house, where mothers were accompanied by a midwife or older woman.

Most people married someone from another village, sometimes even from a different tribe. Marriage into an unrelated village cemented relations between groups. Women would most often move to their husband’s village after marriage.

Divorces were allowed and were simple.

Berdaches were present but usually didn’t marry. Berdaches were a special category of men who wore women's clothing, spent their time doing "women's work" such as basket weaving and domestic chores, and held a sacred, spiritual role in the tribe. Berdaches sometimes had sex with other men, but not always.

Berdache status was never forced on anyone. It was determined by a person's character, social behavior, and occupational pursuits, and not sexual attraction. Sometimes these men became berdaches because of dreams, and sometimes as a result of rituals or tests.

Creation Beliefs / Religion:

The Colville believed a spirit guide shaped the direction of each individual's life. Near puberty, both boys and girls undertook a vision quest to seek and obtain a spirit-helper.

Religion emphasized the relationship between an individual and the supernatural. They practiced shamanic healing, where a medicine man was called in to treat the spirit with supernatural powers in order to cure the underlying causes of physical ailments. They also used herbal medicines to treat a wide variety of ailments and maintain general health.

Most medicine men focused on curing illness rather than conducting community ceremonies but some large-scale ceremonies were held, mostly to renew ties with the supernatural.

Religion Today

Many Plateau people are Christian, speak English, and have adopted many American customs. Others practice a contemporary traditional religion called Washat, or Seven Drum Religion, which incorporates Christian beliefs with aspects of older religious beliefs including vision questing and shamanistic curing.

Historical Clothing:

Buckskin clothing was the norm until white traders came to the area. Ceremonial clothing was highly decorated with porcupine quillwork, and later beadwork. Beaver and bear furs were favored for winter cloaks and blankets, and later buffalo hides after they aquired the horse.

Hudson's Bay wool tradecloth later became a favorite choice for women's clothing and Pendelton Blankets are still a prized posession today.

Historical Dwellings:

Most people lived in large, permanent villages during the winter, relying largely on stored food. From spring through fall, these large winter groups would break up into smaller groups that moved from place to place to fish, hunt, gather roots, and conduct other activities.

Before the late 18th century, Plateau winter villages consisted of a number of structures, including a sweat lodge, menstrual house, pregnancy house, and birthing house, a large communal ceremonial structure, and substantial semisubterranean pithouses, covered with soil for insulation.

Summer houses, called longhouses, were lighter structures of tule matting over wood frames. Each longhouse usually housed an extended family.

After they aquired the horse, the Plateau indians became even more mobile, and adapted to many of the habits of the Plains Indians, including hunting buffalo and adopting the tipi as a portable home.

Historical Foods / Wildcrafting:

The Colville Indians were semi-nomadic hunter/gatherers. Deer was the primary big game animal, but the culture and economy of the tribe centered around fishing, especially for salmon. Rabbits, squirrels, and clams were also important game animals.

They also gathered roots, berries, pine nuts, and medicinal herbs. One hundred thirty-five plant species formed a vital component of the diet. Camas was the most important root. Women used wooden digging sticks to harvest roots and bulbs.

The Colville villages shared the Wenatshapam Fishery in the Wenatchee Valley with the Wenatchi and Yakimas. Early fur traders taught them to cultivate potatoes.

During the spring they gathered the abundant sunflowers, bitterroot, and camas, which they ate fresh or dried for later use. Later in the summer they headed high into the mountains to collect huckleberries in the alpine meadows.

In the late 1700s, the Colville Indians acquired horses for transportation and for food. In the fall, the Colville traveled into the high country of the Cascade Mountains to hunt elk, bear, and marmots.

Plateau groups used tobacco and had an extensive trade network, especially with the Northwest Coast tribes. Tule reeds were used for everything from baskets and hats to sleeping mats and houses. Cattails around the lake provided fresh green shoots in the spring and roots were harvested and roasted much like potatoes. The fluff from the cattail flower seed was used for wattling in diapers and as tender to start fires.

Subsistence / Industry Today:

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have year round hunting rights on the northern portion of the Colville Reservation. The Boldt Decision in 1974 also affirmed Indian fishing access rights.

The Colville Indians have the Mill Bay Casino on Lake Chelan and two other casinos, and are heavily involved in the tourist industry. They also own a sawmill and plywood plant, and various other timber and agriculture industries managed by a tribal business council.

Sacred Places:

Ceremonies / Dances:

The 4th of July Pow Wow at Nespelem is the main cultural event of the year for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

They also have competition tribal dances and play a traditional game called sla-hal (also called the Bone Game or Stick Games) and hold a traditional horse race they have held for hundreds of years now called the 'Suicide Race' at the annual Omak Stampede rodeo held the 2nd weekend of August each year in Omak.

An annual ceremony is held for the gathering of the camas root and another for the harvesting of the salmon.


The Colville indians are best known for tule and grass baskets and beadwork. Basketry was a well-developed skill, and baskets were used to collect, process, store, and even cook most of the foods.

Historical Weapons and Tools:

The bow and arrow constituted the primary weapon for hunting and war, until Europeans introduced guns. Arrowheads, knives, and scrapers were made from obsidian. Dugout log canoes were used by most groups, but usually just for transportation and not for fishing. Salmon were speared, or more often caught in special traps called weirs.

Historical Political Organization

The primary political unit was the village. The principal political leader was the village chief (headman), a position that was sometimes inherited and sometimes elected. Most groups had specialized chiefs, such as a war chief or a salmon chief who took charge only during special circumstances. Chiefs were usually males, although females were occasionally chiefs.

Each village had a council and each adult had the right to voice his or her view on matters of concern.

Government Today:

Governed by an elected 14 member tribal council that is divided into four voting districts.

Famous Contemporary People:

Historical Leaders:

Catastrophic Events:

Smallpox epedemics began to appear before Lewis & Clark visited in 1804, and were the greatest in the Columbia Valley, which as the main artery of travel and trade was frequently exposed to epidemics. Especially bad outbreaks ocurred in 1780 and from 1825-1835, hitting the younger generation especially hard, and within a few years the greater part of the once teeming populations of the lower valley were practically wiped out of existence.


The aboriginal tribes of the Methow, Okanagan, San Poil, Lakes, Colvilles, Kalispels, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and other scattered tribes who were not parties to any treaty were confined to the original Colville reservation.

Other Treaties made with nearby tribes:

Point Elliott Treaty in January, 1855
Yakama Treaty in June, 1855
Hells Gate Treaty in July, 1855


In the News:

Further Reading:

Additional Resources:

Spirit of the Tribe
Spirit of the Tribe Art Print
Ampel, Gary
Buy at
Framed   Mounted

Tribal Profiles
Oral History
Official Websites
Related Websites



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What's New:
Nespelem Oral History
The town of Nespelem, situated on the Colville Indian Reservation derived its name from an Indian word meaning "large meadow beside a stream."

Sinixt Lake indians
Most Sinixt or Lake indians are now part of the Colville tribe in Washington state, but once roamed both Washington and British Columbia.

Chelan Indians
The Chelan Indians were historically located at the outlet of Lake Chelan in Washington State.

Marriage and Wedding Customs
Men of the Plateau Tribes usually had at least two wives at the same time, more if they were wealthy.

Burial Customs of the Colville
Burial / Funeral Traditions of the Plateau Indians

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