Sinixt or Lake Indians are now part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation


Last Updated: 1 year Today the Sinixt, or Lake Indians, as they are also known, live primarily on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State, where they form part of the Sinixt, or Lake Indians, which is recognized by the United States government as an American Indian Tribe.

A few Sinixt live in their traditional West Kootenay territory, particularly the Slocan Valley. They are no longer legally recognized by the Canadian government.

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

In Canada, this tribe has been ‘officially’ declared distinct. They are now one of the twelve bands or tribes that make up the federally recognized Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and are fighting to reclaim their traditional status in Canada.

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
Official Website:

Common Name: Lake Indians, Sinixt Indians, Sin Aikst, Colville Tribe

When the Colville Reservation was formed and the Sinixt became part of the Colville Confederation, the name Sinixt or Sin Aikst was dropped in favor of Lakes, at the request of the U.S. government.

Traditional Name: Sinixt

Meaning of Traditional Name: Place of the bull trout

Alternate names: Sinixt Nation, Sin-Aikst, Sin Aikst, Lower Sin Aikst, Upper Sin Aikst, Lower Sinixt, Upper Sinixt, Arrow Lakes Band, The Lake Indians, Sinixt tribe, Arrow Lakes Indians, Interior Salish, Northwest Salish, Mother tribe of the Pacific Northwest Salish, Colville Confederated Tribes, Colville Confederacy, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Colville Indians, Plateau Indians, Colville tribe

Alternate spellings: Sinxt

Registered Population: 8,700 (includes all Confederated Colville tribes) Several hundred are Sinixt Indians. There are also self-identified Sinixt people who have gone to live with their Okanogan relatives in British Columbia, where about 80% of their ancestral territory lies.

Ancestral Population: Population in 1800s: According to Lawney Reyes, the Sinixt numbered about 3,000 in the early 19th century, divided into several bands of sizes suited to hunting and fishing. He distinguishes the “Upper Sin-Aikst” around the Arrow Lakes, “above Revelstoke and around the Castlegar, Trail, and Slocan Valley area” from the “Lower Sin-Aikst in the Northport, Bossburg, Marcus, and Kettle Falls area in Washington State.” The latter constituted “at least eight large bands”.

Region:   Columbia Plateau

State / Province:   Washington, British Columbia, Canada Bands

Language Classification: Salishan -> Interior Salish -> Southern Language Dialects: Sinixt dialect.

Their language parallels the Okanagan, Sushwap, Skoyelpi (Colville), and Spokane 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:

Related Tribes: The Colville Indians formed a confederacy with the Chelan, Nespelem, Sanpoil, Sinixt (also known as Lake Indians), 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: The traditional territory of the Sinixt tribe was along the upper Columbia River, in the region we now call the West Kootenays. Sinixt villages once lined the banks of the Kootenay, Slocan and Columbia rivers. Hunting parties camped along creeks descending from the Monashee and Selkirk mountains.

Traditional Sinixt territory was centred in the Slocan Valley and around the Lower Arrow Lakes, and also included the lower Kootenay River, and the Columbia River from the “Big Bend” north of Revelstoke to just above (and often including) Kettle Falls in the south, as well as along the Kettle River, a tributary of the Columbia.

Once they obtained horses, they ranged farther east to hunt on the Great Plains. “The Sinixt were the mother tribe of the Pacific Northwest Salish,” says Sharon Montgomery at the Kakusp and District Museum.

“As the mother nation,” says Bob Campbell, “we often settled disputes among the bands.”

Original Reservation: Initially, the Confederated Tribes were given a reservation east of the Columbia that included three million acres. Three months later, it was taken away (because white settlers wanted it) and they were given a comparably large tract on the west side of the river on inferior land.

Initially this reservation extended all the way to the Canadian Border, but the northern half was taken away in 1892, which separated it from Sinixt traditional territory in British Columbia.

White settlers continued to encroach on reservation lands, and more tribes were brought in to share the Colville reservation lands. In 1900, Aropaghan, over James Bernard’s objection, agreed to have the land divided into individual allotments rather than held in common; he also agreed to include “half breeds” equally in the allocation.

Bernard journeyed three times to Washington, D.C. on behalf of his people: first in 1890 as interpreter for Chief Smitkin of the Colvilles, then in 1900 with Chief Lot and Chief Barnaby to negotiate the reservation boundaries, and finally in 1921 as chair of a delegation of the Confederated Tribes.

The McKenna-McBride Commission of 1916 forged an agreement between British Columbia and Canada stating that “…in the event of any Indian tribe or band in British Columbia at some future time becoming extinct, then any lands within the territorial boundaries of the province which have been conveyed to the Dominion…for such tribe or band and not sold…shall be conveyed to the Province.” (British Columbia 1916: 10-11).

In 1956, the government of Canada officially declared the Sinixt extinct. After a Canada/U.S. boundary survey established the 49th parallel border, the U.S. forced the Sinixt into the artificial “Colville Confederated Tribes” camp. Thereafter, they were trapped in the U.S. and not allowed to return to Canada.

In 1902, B.C. identified 20 surviving Sinixt as status Indians on the Canadian side of the border and allotted them a desolate rocky bluff at Oatscott at the north end of Lower Arrow Lake, far from the center of their homeland. Since the Sinixt seasonally migrated along the river, they rarely visited the inhospitable allotment.

In 1956, the last survivor on the government roll passed away. When researchers found no one at the reserve site, the government declared the Sinixt nation “extinct.”

In that same year, 1956, Canada began an engineering study to establish sites for hydroelectric dams on the Columbia. As the mining communities and smelters on both sides of the border depleted local timber, they required a new power source: electricity.

“James Dawson surveyed the Sinixt homeland in 1884 for the government of Canada,” says Marilyn James, a Sinixt Aboriginal advisor at Selkirk College. “Not for treaty purposes, but because they saw something valuable, the Columbia River, a hydrological resource they wanted to possess.”

Likewise, the U.S. surveyed the lower Columbia, and in 1936, the Bonneville Dam east of Portland inundated 35 Aboriginal fishing sites. The dam installed a fish ladder that was “successful enough,” according to Oral Bullard in Crisis on the Columbia, “to lull the public into a sense of security.”

Further up the river, the massive Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941, made no such concession to appearances. The dam flooded 250 kms of the Columbia, destroyed the Kettle Falls fishing site, inundated 20,000 hectares of forest and Aboriginal homeland, permanently blocked salmon migration, and eliminated 2,000 kms of spawning grounds.

Thereafter, salmon disappeared in the upper Columbia basin. The massive dam powered aluminum smelters and a plutonium production reactor at Hanford, Washington, critical to the nuclear bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the war, in 1947, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation called the Grand Coulee Dam “a monument to prosperity” created from “a barren wasteland.” In B.C., 15 dams were built in the Sinixt homeland. In 1954, Kaiser Aluminum proposed a dam on Arrow Lake.

The Keenlayside dam flooded 140 Sinixt archaeological sites. The Cominco smelter at Trail built a dam on the Kootenay River near the ancient Sinixt village of kp’itl’els.

The zinc and lead smelter has since dumped over 13 million tonnes of toxic slag, including mercury, into the Columbia River.

In 1968, B.C. Hydro commissioned a totem pole in Edgewood, beside the flooded Arrow Lake, to commemorate the “extinct race,” the Sinixt. “Two problems with that,” explains headman Bob Campbell. “One, the Sinixt never made totem poles, and two, we’re not extinct.”

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

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.

The Sinixt were strongly allied with the Skoyelpi (Colville) and the two tribes frequently intermarried. The Sinixt played a major but largely unheralded role in the fur trade, and also in the international dispute between Great Britain and the U.S. over the what the U.S. called the Oregon Country, which was known to the British Hudson’s Bay Company as the Columbia District.

The Sinixt and their allies had a very close relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and with the major trading post at Colville. Lower Sinixt chief See-Whel-Ken took his Sinixt band to winter near there for the first time in 1830-31.

Fort Colville was created to replace Spokane House, specifically to be closer to the Sinixt. The Sinixt supported the company in its efforts to prevent American trappers and settlers from entering and taking over the territory.

As fur traders, the Sinixt were among the most prolific of all the First Nations who traded at Fort Colville.

Traditional Enemies: The Ktunaxa (Kutenai) people who neighboured the Sinixt to the east were driven further into the mountains by the Blackfoot, who had obtained control of Ktunaxa territory in the foothills and northwestern plains.

There is ethnographic evidence suggesting the Ktunaxa and the Sinixt battled each other over the territory along the lower Kootenay River between the present cities of Nelson and Castlegar, British Columbia.

The Ktunaxa were considered the intruders, and the dispute was reportedly ended after the Sinixt mounted a large-scale raid into (Lower) Ktunaxa Territory at the South end of Kootenay Lake. The Sinixt later renewed their historic peace with the Ktunaxa, and allied with them, the Kalispel, the Flathead, the Coeur d’Alene, the Spokane, the Nez Perce, and others against the Blackfoot.

While the Sinixt never directly fought the Blackfoot as a group, it is very likely that individual Sinixt joined their Salishan neighbours (and the Ktunaxa) in war parties and buffalo hunts to the Western Plains.

The Blackfoot had very fine ponies, and raids upon their herds were a favored way of obtaining horses.

The Sinixt blocked all Non-Native access to their Canadian territories on a number of occasions. Virtually no non-Sinixt entered the Slocan Valley until the late 1880s.

Bands / Clans: The Sinixt were a Matrilocal people, with next generations choosing to reside with the wife’s family rather than the husband’s. In the early 1800s, there were at least eight distinct bands of Sinixt. Societies:

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.

Children were closely monitored by elders. At about the age of six, they began to be instructed in the legends of the tribe and family history, tribal ways and tribal laws.

At eight or nine, they learned to swim and to run long distances; boys were taught to make and use weapons and fishing gear, while girls started to learn plant lore and tanning, as well as how to care for young children, maintain dwellings, and prepare meals.

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

Burial / Funeral Customs: The dead were usually buried sitting up and facing East. 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: The Lake Indians often intermarried with the Swhy-ayl-puh (Colville), who had a very similar language; the territory of the latter was largely in the Colville Valley and intersected Sinaixt territory at Kettle Falls.

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: Sinixt religion was mainly for harnessing power. The sun, the stars, the water, and the different animals (especially the salmon and coyote) each had different powers. Children were sent on short excursions to search for protective spirits; they were usually required to bring back an object to prove that they had actually made the journey. As they grew older, until puberty, these journeys became longer.

Each person was expected to acquire multiple spirits, because each had different powers.

In 1837, Jesuit missionaries arrived in the area. St. Paul’s Mission at Kettle Falls was constructed with the help of Colville and Sinixt labor.

In the 1840s, the Sinixt experienced a major die-off, shrinking from about 3,000 to about 400 during the period of chief Kin-Ka-Nawha, nephew of See-Whel-Ken.

Besides diseases and incursions on their land, the salmon runs began to diminish because to the development of commercial fisheries at Astoria, Oregon near the mouth of the Columbia. Some saw the die-off as a failure of the powers of their traditional religion; Kin-Ka-Nawha was, himself, among the eventual converts to Catholicism.

Religion Today: Many Lakes (Sinixt) feel that to live ethically one must follow a moral code which maintains a reciprocal relationship between humans, the land, and the realm of spirits in which the ancestors dwell.

Elder Eva Orr calls this ‘keeping the Lakes way.’ The ideal of keeping the Lakes way requires that people not take for their own gain but instead give back by following a cultural ethic of egalitarianism, reciprocity and peaceful living.

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: In prehistoric times, the Sinixt were a semi-sedentary people, living in warm, semi-subterranean houses for the winter months. Summers were spent managing fishing, hunting, and other food resources in their mountain and lake-dominated homeland.

Reyes says that they wintered in the more wind-sheltered valleys, but summered by the Columbia. Pithouses in the Slocan Valley are among the earliest very large houses of this type, with some having diameters of over 20 metres (66 feet). T

he Slocan Narrows site also included some of the most recent very large pithouses. This and other evidence of a hierarchical and stratified society has led a leading scholar to state that the Sinixt’s society was among the most complex of the entire region.

Unfortunately, major hydroelectric projects along the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers have resulted in the flooding of many graveyards and the majority of Sinixt village sites.

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: Scholars have classified the Sinixt as “complex collectors” (as opposed, for example, to “hunter-gatherers”). Hunter-gatherer societies tend to live in small independent groups with equal social status, share resources, are largely mobile in their search for food, and usually try to avoid conflict with flight rather than initiating battles.

Complex collectors were also mobile in their quest for food, but lived in larger groups in semi-permanent locations, had distinct class distinctions where one class could command the actions of lower classes, and had family hunting and fishing grounds that were vigorously defended.

Fishing was the main meat staple of the Sinixt people. The people enjoyed a bounty of sturgeon, salmon, and the once-plentiful bull trout. Each summer, Sinixt families travelled 100 kms south along the Columbia River in white pine bark canoes to their fishing camp at Ilthkoyape — Kettle Falls, Washington — where they gathered red sockeye in dip net baskets with the Skoyelpi, their southern neighbours.

A designated “salmon chief” shared the catch among villages throughout the region.

The Sin Aikst used the distinctive Sturgeon-nosed canoe; about 15–17 feet (4.5–5 meters) long with a cedar frame covered by large slabs of pine bark, riding low in the water with downward-sloping tips to reduce wind resistance. The canoes were used for transportation to get to the fishing grounds, but were not used during the actual fishing.

Starting in June, mature salmon arrived at Kettle Falls, the farthest their territory extended down the river. The Sinixt approach to fishing caught only the salmon that were not strong enough to clear the falls, ensuring that only the strongest went on to spawn.

The Sinixt chewed pine pitch like gum, and had a range of herbal medicines. Sinixt bands traveled to Red Mountain near Rossland, B.C. to harvest huckleberries in August. Both of these events figured prominently in their culture.

Other staples included huckleberry, salmon, and roots (camas, bitterroot), but they also ate black moss, other berries (serviceberry, gooseberry, and foam berry), hazelnuts, wild carrots, peppermint, and various game meats (deer, elk, moose, caribou, rabbit, mountain sheep, mountain goat, bear, and after the coming of the horse, they also ventured east after bison).

They hunted in late autumn, but still often were short on food in late winter. The Upper Sin Aikst trained dogs to drive deer toward the Columbia, where hunters in canoes shot them with bow and arrow.

Before his death in 1934, Sinixt headman James Bernard described their abundant homeland: “We had camas, huckleberries, bitter root…. When I walked out under the stars, the air was filled with the perfume of wild flowers. In those days, the Indians were happy.”

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: In 1987, highway construction at Vallican in the Slocan Valley uncovered artifacts, graves and Sinixt pit houses. The government made no attempt to contact Sinixt descendants, but sent the skeletal remains to museums.

In 1989, elder Eva Adolph Orr — one of the last surviving Sinixt born in freedom but trapped in the U.S. — asked her son Bob Campbell and others to return and protect their sacred burial sites.

Eva Orr slipped back into Canada and supervised the repatriation and reburial of 61 skeletal remains near Vallican on the Slocan River.

The Sinixt employ a unique burial ritual, with the deceased sitting upright, facing the rising sun, that distinguishes their gravesites and confirms their claim on the land.

“It is our responsibility,” says Marilyn James, “because we are the descendants of those people. It is our responsibility to bring our ancestors home, rebury them, and protect their resting places. The Sinixt are the only nation in B.C. declared extinct, even though in 1995, Minister of Indian Affairs Ron Irwin admitted this was only a designation ‘for the purpose of the Indian Act. It does not mean that the Sinixt ceased to exist.’

“Well, if we did not cease to exist, we’re not extinct,” says Marilyn James.

Orr and the grandmothers selected Robert Watt as caretaker of the ancient Vallican village, but Canada deemed Watt a “foreign national” and deported him. In 1991, he launched a legal claim for the right to enter and remain in Canada, based on his Aboriginal right to live in his territory as described in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution. His lawyer David Aaron explains that Watt, Campbell and other Sinixt “are not considered Status Indians under the Canadian Indian Act, since they are not descendents of the 20 people recorded by the government on the [1902 Oatscott] reserve. But even so, they possess Aboriginal rights, including cross-border rights.”

A British Columbia court upheld the immigration decision, but a federal appeal court reversed the decision. However, the court claimed it did not have enough information to make a decision regarding his rights, and remitted the case back to Canada Immigration, who rescinded the previous order and then relaunched the process by deporting Watts again.

Watts has appealed his second deportation and charged the Crown with bad faith conduct for putting him through the circular loop. Aaron believes Watt can win his case and “this will open the door for the Sinixt to reclaim their Aboriginal land rights.”

Meanwhile, the Sinixt are making an Aboriginal title claim to occupy their homeland and be consulted prior any environmental disturbance.

In 2000, white protestors and other bands joined the Sinixt as they blocked a Slocan Forest Products road and clear-cutting operation along Trozzo Creek.

Bob Campbell is a headman of B.C.’s allegedly exterminated Aboriginal nation, the Sinixt. “I was born in a concentration camp,” Campbell says. “Miners had hunted us down like animals, settlers destroyed our villages, loggers shoved us off our land, and dams decimated the salmon.

Our ancestors were sent to an armed fort at Colville, now in the state of Washington. We were trapped south of the border, not allowed to return. In 1956, the government of Canada declared us extinct, but look: I’m not dead yet, and we’re back.”

“Indian status,” says Campbell, “is a statutory scheme of the Indian Act, which has been repeatedly found unconstitutional. These discriminatory laws are not what determine Aboriginal rights. We — our lives, our history, our people, our children — we determine our Aboriginal rights. I wasn’t an Elder when the decision was made to bring our people out of so-called ‘extinction,’ but now I am the Elder. When I’m gone my daughters will continue on and when they are gone their children will continue on. The Sinixt are back.”

Ceremonies / Dances: Every autumn now for 20 years, the Sinixt have hosted a public feast on their territory. During the 2005 thanksgiving banquet, Bob Campbell’s daughter Lola gave birth to Agnice Sophia Campbell — Eva Orr’s great-granddaughter — on Sinixt land. “This is the first Sinixt baby to be born in our territory in almost 100 years,” Campbell explains. “This is big.

Agnice has a Canadian birth certificate. After all the destruction, the land still survives. The Sinixt people still survive. Even the devastated bull trout survives in its last stronghold on the Slocan River.”

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.

Crafts: 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 or flint. Dugout log canoes were used by most groups, but usually just for transportation and not for fishing.

Until the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, the Lower Sinixt continued to fish in their traditional manner at Kettle Falls. The Upper Sinixt could no longer get that far south. They continued to elect a Salmon Chief. They fished with baskets on poles that caught the salmon who were not strong enough to clear the falls, and also with spears that had detachable tips, like a harpoon.

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. The whole tribe was led by one head chief (ilmi wm), but each smaller village of 50-200 had a local chief, whom they called a “thinker”. These “thinkers” would come together to form a council. 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: Bob Campbell (elder) Eva Adolph Orr (elder) Marilyn James (activist) Robert Watt (activist) Bernie Whitebear (1937–2000), (activist and founder of several “urban Indian” organizations, was declared Washington state’s “First Citizen of the Decade” in November 1997 Luana Reyes (c.1933—2001) (deputy director of the U.S.’s 14,000-person Indian Health Services Lawney Reyes (b. c.1931 – sculptor, designer, curator and author)

Historical Leaders: Kin-Ka-Nawha See-Whel-Ken Joseph Cotolegu Aorpaghan James Bernard

Catastrophic Events: There is historic evidence suggesting that the Sinixt were heavily depopulated by one or two smallpox epidemics that preceded the arrival of Scottish and Métis fur-traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The epidemic of 1781 was likely the biggest single outbreak, with accounts of that epidemic describing a mortality rate up to 80%.

David Thompson and other early traders noticed the pock-marked faces of older Sinixt and heard oral accounts of the epidemic. There is also evidence that the Sinixt were seriously affected by the major political upheavals that preceded the arrival of the Europeans.

The lives of the Sinixt people took a dramatic turn in the spring of 1811, when surveyor David Thompson, mapping the region for the North West Company fur traders, arrived at the central Sinixt village, kp’itl’els, at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, north of modern Castlegar.

“You white men,” Bernard says, “you came here… on a little piece of bark, with a few sticks tied together. You found us that day in plenty; you had nothing. You did not bring your wealth with you.”

Settlers and prospectors swarmed up the Columbia seeking pelts and minerals. “The first disruption of our people,” says Bob Campbell, “came from disease. The early smallpox epidemics may have been accidental, but then Hudson Bay traders brought diseased blankets and our people died from typhoid and tuberculosis. Pure and simple, it was genocide.

The trading companies paid a bounty for indigenous people’s scalps and genitals.”

After prospectors discovered gold in the Columbia in 1855, some 10,000 miners pushed north into British Columbia and clashed with native communities in the Fraser and Columbia basins. Miners burned villages and hunted “hostile” natives.

In a typical case, miner Sam Hill shot and killed Sinixt villager Cultus Jim at Galena in 1894. A local court acquitted Hill on grounds of self-defense.

Ore smelters required wood for fuel and construction, and sawmills flourished along the rivers. The large mill at Edgewood cleared the forests on both sides of Lower Arrow Lake and then moved south to the Sinixt heartland near Castlegar, denuding the forest there. The revered white pines disappeared from the landscape.

Treaties: 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.

Additional History:

In the News:

Further Reading: Keeping the Lakes Way Making Indian Bows and Arrows, The Old Way White Grizzly Bear’s Legacy: Learning to Be Indian The Indian Way – Life on an Indian Reservation Nch’I-Wana, the Big River: Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land

Additional Resources:  

SOURCE: Much of the information on this fact sheet came from an article written by Rex Weyler, who often writes on Canadian aboriginal and environmental issues.