Twelve bands or tribes make up the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation indian tribe.
The Nez Perce tribe is probably the best known tribe in Pacific Northwest history. Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce were the last tribe sent to the Colville reservation in Washington state and are now part of the Colville Confederacy, while the other Nez Perce bands were assigned to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho and recognized by the US Government as a separate tribe.
The other tribes included in the confederation on the Colville Reservation are the Colville indians, the Wenatchee (Wenatchi) indians, Nespelem indians, Moses-Columbia (Sinkiuse-Columbia) indians, Methow indians, Okanogan indians, Palus (Palouse) indians, San Poil indians, Entiat indians, Chelan indians, and the Lake (Sinixt) tribes.
In common conversation, the long official name Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation is often shortened, and they are referred to simply as the Colville tribe, to collectively mean all twelve tribes on this reservation.
The Colville Reservation is located in an area known as the Okanogan Highlands in the southeastern section of Okanogan County and the southern half of Ferry County in eastern Washington. Grand Coulee Dam is just outside the reservation's border and part of the town of Coulee Dam is within the reservation. At the other end of the reservation, the eastern portion of the town of Omak is within the reservation, while the rest of the town is not.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation also have trust lands throughout Eastern Washington, including lands located in Chelan County, just to the northwest of the city of Chelan. Relatives of the tribes on the Colville Reservation who were separated by the drawing of international boundaries also reside on lands within the borders of Canada in the province of British Columbia.
Just over half of the tribal members live off the reservation lands.
The Colville Reservation was named after Col. John Colville of the U.S. Army who served as the local agent. The indians who are referred to as 'Colville Indians' today received this designation because they were the indians who lived closest around Fort Colville, and were the first group of indians to be placed on the Colville Reservation. They were originally called Scheulpi or Chualpay by tribes with a common language. The French named them Les Chaudieres, which means "the kettles." This name referred to their home in Kettle Falls, where they gathered for the great salmon runs. Their English name, Colville, comes from the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Eden Colville.
In 1825, the Hudson's Bay Company took over Kettle Falls. After the arrival of the Canadian company, the Colville were forced to make drastic changes. Missionaries settled in the area and growing numbers of settlers and miners began encroaching on their territory.
The original Colville reservation, established in April 1872, ran along the Columbia River and covered several million acres of diverse ecosystems, including a great deal of fertile farmland. in 1872, members of 11 different tribes migrated onto the reservation. Just a few months later, in July 1872, the government moved the reservation to allow settlers to have control of this fertile land. The area was gradually reduced, leaving the Colville with a dramatically smaller amount of land than they had agreed to.
After many years in exile in Kansas and Oklahoma, in 1885, Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce followers were taken to the Colville Reservation after white settlers objected to their return to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.
Twenty years later Congress ceded the north half of the reservation under the Dawes Act. The government paid only $1.00 an acre. Later (October 10, 1900) 1,449,268 acres were opened to homesteading. Finally, in 1914, the south half of the Reservation was ceded.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation was formally established in 1938. A constitution was developed and is upheld by a 14-member business council. Today the Colville Reservation is divided into four legislative districts:
Omak District: The largest district population wise, which makes up the western portion of the reservation the Omak Okanogan Valley and half the town of Omak.
Nespelem District: Making up the west-central portion of the reservation including part of the city of Coulee Dam and the Nespelem Valley. The Reservation Headquarters is located here.
Keller District: The district making up the east-central region of the reservation namely the San Poil Valley to the edge of Lake Roosevelt.
Inchelium District: Makes up the Eastern most region of the reservation.
Most of the twelve tribes which make up the Colville tribe were among the many who spoke a branch of the Interior Salishan language which has many dialects. The Wenatchi, Entiat, Chelan, Okanogan, Lakes, Colville, San Poil, Nespelem and Methow tribes spoke mostly dialects of Nselxcin, Nsalxcln, and Nhamcin.
Sahaptian is a language family of the Penutian language of the Western Plateau. It contains two language sub-groups. The first sub-group is Nez Perce, which is divided into Upper and Lower Nez Perce. The second sub-group is called Sahaptin, which is divided into Northern and Southern Sahaptin groups. Northern Sahaptin is further divided into Northwest and Northeast Sahaptin dialect clusters. The Columbia indians spoke several dialects of Southern Sahaptin.
Today, there are very few fluent speakers of their original languages. A relatively modern creole made up of the several languages shared within the community has evolved. English is the first language for most younger members.