Photo by Ann McCreary
Hart’s new book explores the history of the valley’s original inhabitants.

New book draws on extensive research

By Ann McCreary

A history that is unknown to most people — how the Methow Tribe lost its revered homeland in the Methow Valley — is detailed for the first time in a book by local author and historian E. Richard Hart.

In 1879, members of the Methow Tribe lost their traditional territory, home to the Methow and their ancestors for thousands of years, through a transfer of land to the U.S. government that was negotiated without their consent.

“Lost Homeland: The Methow Tribe and the Columbia Reservation,” traces the history of the Methow Tribe from its earliest ancestors through today, when most members of the tribe live on the reservation of the Colville Confederated Tribes.

Hart has worked for many years providing expert testimony in litigation involving Native American tribes. He began working for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation 20 years ago, helping three of the tribes — the Okanogan, Chelan and Methow — investigate the status of their hunting and fishing rights on their traditional lands

As part of that work, Hart gathered extensive background on the tribes, including interviews with Methow tribal elders. “I looked at traditional subsistence practices and all of their history in great detail,” Hart said in a recent interview. He produced a 500-page report for the Confederated Tribes on their hunting and fishing rights.

“Over the past 10 or 15 years, Indians and non-Indians suggested I write a book about the Methow,” Hart said. “So eventually the tribes agreed to let me use the material I had gathered for the tribes to produce a book.”

The history of the Methow Tribe’s lost homeland is largely unknown beyond Methow families and a few scholars and historians, said Jacqueline Cook, repatriation specialist for the Colville Tribes’ history and archeology program.

“This book is filling a void on both an academic level and a popular level,” Cook said. “No one has reached into the history of the Methow … and some of the smaller tribes. It’s really important for the Methow Valley people who have come there in the last 50 years, and for old timers whose families homesteaded there, to understand that there were people there before them, and we continue to be there.”

Out of the loop

“When Europeans first arrived in the region, the Methow lived along the Columbia and Okanogan Rivers and in the Methow Valley, a bounteous ‘breadbasket’ of traditional foods that today has become a recreation and tourist mecca,” Hart wrote in the book preface.

Photo courtesy of Karen West
This photo of a Methow Tribe family appears in “Lost Homeland.”

In 1879, a presidential order established a reservation “that fully encompassed the ancient territory of several tribes including the Methow, but did not acknowledge the Methow’s presence there,” Hart wrote.

Called the Columbia Reservation, or Moses Columbia Reservation, the vast reservation extended from the Canadian border on the north to the south shore of Lake Chelan on the south, and from the Cascade Mountains on the west to the Okanogan River on the east. It included most of the Methow Tribe’s traditional territory.

Hart’s book describes how the Methow were left out of the process that determined their future. Creation of the Columbia Reservation was supported by Chief Moses of the Sinkayuse-Columbia Tribe, who claimed to speak for the Methow and other affected tribes.

“But the Methow people were never consulted,” Hart said. “They were completely out of the loop. They didn’t like Moses and didn’t agree that he had the right to represent them and their land.”

Six years after it was created, the Columbia Reservation was opened to non-Indian settlement, and the Methow people were given two choices: Take allotments of 640 acres within their territory, or move to the Colville Reservation.

“The military was charged with telling all the Indians what their options were,” Hart said. But the military came to the Methow at a time of year when most of the people were higher up in the valley, collecting berries and roots. As a result, most never knew of the opportunity to get allotments, and only a few Methow live on those allotments today, Hart said.

“In 1886, when the reservation was opened [to white settlement] most Methow were simply moved to the reservation and lost everything they had here,” he said.

Hart hopes his history will raise consciousness about the past history of the Methow people, and their continued presence in their homeland. “I think more and more people in the valley are aware there was a Methow Tribe and there is a Methow Tribe today, and there will be one in the future,” he said.

Hart’s narrative of the Methow Tribe’s history is enhanced with quotes from Methow people. “Not only does he utilize archival material, but he personalizes it with the words of the Methow people who still work and fight to retain their homeland, culture and traditional ways,” said Cook, the repatriation specialist.

The book is illustrated with maps, documents and dozens of historical photos, many which have never been published before.

Karen West, a Methow Valley writer who worked as project manager for the book, helped Hart gather photos from a variety of sources including the Shafer Museum, the University of Washington, and the Washington State Historical Society, Hart said. They worked with the Colville tribal history office and Methow descendants to identify as many of the people in the photos as possible.

Before the book could be published, Hart said, it required approval from the Colville tribal attorney’s office, the tribal history office and the tribal council.

Proceeds from sale of the “Lost Homeland” will be shared with the Colville Confederated Tribes and Shafer Museum, which published the book. Hart said the book project and distribution of the book to schools on the Colville Reservation received support from Tom and Sonya Campion, part-time Methow Valley residents and supporters of the Shafer Museum.

Hart said he hopes the book will be used in Methow Valley public schools as well. “Lost Homeland” is on sale locally at the Shafer Museum, the Mazama Store and the Trail’s End Bookstore.

Events scheduled for ‘Lost Homeland’

A book release and signing by local author E. Richard Hart is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 10) at the Shafer Historical Museum in Winthrop. Hart’s new book, “Lost Homeland, the Methow Tribe and the Columbia Reservation,” tells how the Methow Indian’s traditional lands were given away in a land transfer without their consent. Music and refreshments are planned.

On Nov. 7, the Methow Conservancy’s “First Tuesday” program, titled “Lost Homeland,” features Hart talking about the history of the Methow tribe, the Columbia Reservation and the valley and river system that sustained indigenous hunter/gatherer populations for centuries. Hart will use slides of newly discovered images featured in his new book, and singer/songwriter Ken Bevis will perform original songs inspired by the beauty of the Methow Valley. The free program begins at 7 p.m., at a location to be announced.