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August 26, 2016

Meet Native America: Dr. Michael E. Marchand, Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Chairman Michael E. Marchand
Chairman Michael E. Marchand, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Photo courtesy of the Colville Tribes.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

I'm Dr. Michael E. Marchand, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?

It's Qualth-a-meen. It means Wolverine.

Where is your tribal community located?

The Colville Indian Reservation covers 1.4 million acres in north central Washington.

Where is your tribe originally from?

The 12 tribes that make up the confederation—their English and French names are the Colville, Nespelem, San Poil, Lake, Palus, Wenatchi (Wenatchee), Chelan, Entiat, Methow, southern Okanogan, Moses Columbia, and Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce—were from a large area, including parts of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. They hunted buffalo over an even larger area of the Great Plains in Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Alberta. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

I would choose the time in the 1970s when termination was stopped. The Klamath Tribe had just been terminated, and we were next in line. A determined effort by us and tribes across the nation stopped this policy, and we were saved.

How is your tribal government set up?

The Colville Tribes adopted a constitution in 1938. It replaced 12 traditional chiefs with a 14-person elected Council. The Council has full powers to manage the tribe's lands and assets, and all activities on the reservation.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes, but it varies amongst the 12 tribes.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Terms are two years long. Seven seats are up for election each year.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

My goals are to protect and manage our lands, protect and enhance our culture and traditions, and protect our sovereignty. Also to help our members achieve their own potentials.


Fisheries signingDuring an earlier term as chairman, Dr. Marchand signed the Columbia River Basin Fish Accords on behalf of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. From left to right: Col. Steven Miles, Northwestern Division commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Dr. Marchand; and Ralph Sampson, at that time chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council. Columbia Hills State Park, Washington; May 8, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Columbia River Basin Federal Caucus.


How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I worked my way up through the tribe's organization from bottom to top. Went to college. Lived on the reservation, hunting and fishing, participating in community events and traditions, and was lucky to have role models including grandparents and uncles and cousins who helped raise me.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandfather was a chairman, too, and he spent time with me. Dennis Banks was important too—I met him when I was a teen.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

My grandfather John Cleveland, the grandfather who was one of our chairmen. My family also descended from many of our chiefs, including Chief Silcosasket of the Entiat Tribe and Chief Aurapahkin of the Arrow Lakes Tribe. Both chiefs were important to our people in their day.

Approximately how many members are in the Colville Tribes?

We have about 9,400 members.

What are the criteria to become a member?

To be a member, a person must either be one-quarter Colville blood from the official 1938 rolls or else be a member of the Okanagan or Arrow Lakes tribes from Canada. Some of our people were cut off by the U.S.–Canadian border.

Are your languages still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

Our languages are in danger of being lost. Probably fewer than five percent of the people still speak them. But we are taking steps to save them and to teach the next generation.

What economic enterprises do the tribes own?

Through the Colville Tribal Federal Corporation we own sawmills, casinos, convenience stores, grocery stores, and a security guard company.

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Many, but a couple important ones are the Nespelem 4th of July Celebration and the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race, held the second weekend of August.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The most prominent attractions are Grand Coulee Damour tribal museumLake Chelan and many other lakes, and our three casinos.

How does your tribe deal with the United States and Canada as a sovereign nation?

Currently we have a lawsuit pending against Canada for lands confiscated from our people. We are very active in U.S. relations.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

Serve Mother Earth and your people as best you can and get yourself educated.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Tribal people need to step up and save the planet. A lot of effort was spent to destroy us, but we are still here. We need to take advantage of our life now.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 


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