Citizens of the Colville Tribe perform a first salmon ceremony in Washington. Photo: Ron Nichols / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Colville Tribes won't be changing name after landslide in referendum

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation won't be changing their name even though some have said it doesn't adequately represent their people.

In a referendum on Thursday, tribal citizens overwhelmingly rejected a name change. The results were a landslide -- 84 percent of voters were against the idea.

Despite the outcome, one leader believes the process was beneficial. Jack Ferguson, who chairs the tribe's election committee, said the debate helped inform citizens about the history of the "Colville" name.

“The process of considering this change has given us the opportunity to know more about the tribes’ name and the history behind it," Ferguson said in a press release. "It has helped to build awareness and also determine what the majority of voters prefer.”

Dr. Michael E. Marchand, the chairman of the tribe's business committee, was among the proponents of the Reclaim the Name movement. The Colville Reservation got its name from a Scottish businessman whose company made money by exploiting Native peoples, he said.

"The name has nothing to do with us really," Marchand wrote in a Facebook discussion about the issue last year, when the change was proposed. "The man was no special friend of ours but we did help make him rich. I always think it’s akin to naming yourself after Adolph Hitler or someone.”

Marchand and others wanted the tribe's name to reflect their connection to the "Big River" in their traditional territory. Though the tribe today consists of 12 different bands with their own histories, the Reclaim the Name movement noted that they have long depended on their waterways for subsistence, economic and cultural purposes.

"For centuries the Big River, or big water was our life's blood for all of our 12 tribes," a Reclaim the Name presentation stated.

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