Exploring P’Squosa Land and Wenatchi History

It is an honor to be asked to write a piece about my ancestors, the P’Squosa, and my current venture, Wenatchi Wear, for Explore Washington State. For reference, the P’Squosa are also the šnp̍šqáw̍š̍x (people in the between) whom, after colonization, were given the name Wenatchi. I am a member of the Colville Confederated Tribe — Wenatchi, Moses and Entiat bands and a descendant of the Blackfoot Tribe. My husband, Rob, and I launched Wenatchi Wear in April of 2019.

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sticker of mountains

Wenatchi Wear

Wenatchi Wear is passionate about creating awareness and empowering Indigenous communities through authentic threads. We design with a purpose, meaning each of our designs has a story behind it focusing on local Native American history. From there we produce our designs on garments, stickers, art prints, mugs and more. While we are able to reach a broader audience with important history, our top priority is to regain a fraction of the P’Squosa homelands. There are many Native Americans that live in the valley and surrounding area. To date, the Wenatchi Tribe does not own a piece of their original homelands. With no claim to a piece of territory, the P’Squosa are not able to host community gatherings, practice traditions, conduct tribal meetings, or  complete many other important matters on our original homelands.

Wenatchi red apple sticker

Representing My Culture

As we navigated launching our second business, I knew that it had to be more than just purchasing an item. I wanted to create a community founded on education while proudly representing my culture. Growing up in the valley, I realized that true Native American history is not taught in grade schools, which seems odd as the town we live in is named after the Wenatchi. Native American history is difficult to hear or understand as the culture has been romanticized for many years. I have been asked many times if there are any Wenatchi Tribal members still alive, which is a difficult question to hear. Yes, we are still alive and there are still members that live on their homelands. We are a part of the land and the land is a part of us. The P’Squosa have been here for thousands of years, before there was a written language and an official name given to us.

P’Squosa History

The land that is currently referred to as Wenatchee, Cashmere, Monitor, Dryden, Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee, and beyond were once destined to be the Wenatchi Reservation. The P’Squosa was given the name Wenatchi by the Yakama tribe, and our current towns, cities and rivers are phonetically named after the original stewards of these lands. The P’Squosa would travel along the Icicle, Wenatchee and Columbia rivers throughout the year fishing, hunting and harvesting berries. Many tribes would gather during the summer months along the Icicle River to fish salmon, and these waters were once described as flowing red when the salmon were plentiful. 

A few major turning points for the P’Squosa occurred during the 1855 and 1893 treaty agreements between several tribes and the government. The U.S. government proposed a treaty to the P’Squosa that would give the tribe a 36-square-mile reservation at the confluence of the Icicle and Wenatchee rivers and guarantee their hunting and gathering rights in an area called the Wenatchapam Fishery. However, when Wenatchi Chief Harmelt met with government officials to discuss the treaty, he requested the government wait while he went back to the tribe to discuss further with the tribe. While Chief Harmelt was away, the government officials met with the Yakama Tribe and proceeded to mislead the Yakama by lying and saying that the Wenatchi Tribe already agreed and signed the treaty. The Yakama proceeded to sign the treaty, giving them continued fishing and hunting rights. The treaty promising the P’Squosa their own reservation, was never an actual proposal the government intended to follow through with. The government failed to uphold two treaties with the P’Squosa primarily for monetary benefits.

The Fight to Regain Land

During this time, the railroad was being built in the Pacific Northwest, and the government officials were far more invested in this project. The result was disastrous to the Wenatchi Tribe. 

They became a non-federally recognized tribe, not only losing fishing and hunting rights, but were removed from their homelands to an environment that is far from their original home and way of life. Many tribal members were forced to move to the Colville Reservation or the Yakama Reservations. The 12 bands compose the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation: Chelan, Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce, Colville, Entiat, Lakes, Methow, Moses-Columbia, Nespelem, Okanogan, Palus, San Poil and Wenatchi. 

The Wenatchi have fought for over 150 years to regain land, and have been met with nothing but continued roadblocks. From my research, I have found that several attempts to regain a minuscule part of territory along the Icicle River were met with empathy and support with the only stipulation to explain, in a very colonial way, in great detail what the land would be used for. In 1998 the Wenatchi Advisory Board was formed by Wenatchi Tribal members. One of the main objectives of forming the board was to obtain fishing rights again. Many years of sweat, tears, planning and connecting with local historians took place to create a detailed timeline dating back prior to the 1855 treaties. Finally in 2010, the Wenatchi Tribe regained their fishing rights along the river on their original homelands. This monumental victory was made a reality by all of the tribal members that continued to advocate for our rights.

Wenatchi Wear hoodie

Inspired Designs

In the effort to continue to share our history, the majority of Wenatchi Wear designs are inspired by P’Squosa legends. We start out hand-sketching each design, and utilize our graphic design skills to create digital art. The stories of our designs can be found on our website, social media and on an informational card included with every purchase. There is so much local history that has not made it into school history books, but is very important to understand. From the original way of life where the P’Squosa were living off the land to the lost languages, stories, tales and repeated genocidal events that took place; these are lessons that should never be forgotten.

Wenatchi Wear will continue to be resilient and design modern art while sharing Indigenous history with our main goal always in sight: Obtain land back for my people. This will come through fundraising efforts, and/or a generous landowner willing to donate directly to the tribe. If you or someone you know is willing to donate land, contact me and I will be more than happy to get this long awaited, grateful journey moving forward. Once a piece of the homeland is obtained, my vision is to build a community center with a trading post. I know that I am continued to be guided by my ancestors. 

I ask you all to continue to purchase authentic Indigenous art. Support inspired Native companies, not Native inspired. 

I am Wenatchi and I am still here. 

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Mary Big Bull-Lewis

Mary Big Bull-Lewis is a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes - Wenatchi, Moses and Entiat bands & a descendant of the Blackfoot Tribe. She was born and raised in Wenatchee. Mary wears many different hats from mom to a teenager and three pups, wife, business owner for two ventures, baker, photographer, artist, medical professional, hiking enthusiast and more. In 2013 she and her husband, Rob branched out on their own and started a small graphic design business, R Digital Design. She is a graphic processor, bookkeeper, social media manager, scheduler, and everything in between to keep the wheels turning. In April 2019, after many months of planning, they launched a clothing brand that is passionate about creating awareness and empowering Indigenous Communities through authentic threads. Wenatchi Wear designs with a purpose, meaning each design is inspired by local Native American history, stories and legends. Mary starts out by hand-sketching the designs, cultivating stories to pair with each design and collaborates with Rob through the graphic design process. Mary recognized a lack of Native American history being taught in Central Washington and wanted to reach a broader audience for educational purposes. Her main goal with Wenatchi Wear is to obtain land back for her Wenatchi Tribe on their original homelands.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Chris Rader on August 3, 2020 at 7:03 am

    Hello, Mary. I’ve been interested in Wenatchi history for a long time, and have written about it in a few issues of the Wenatchee Valley Museum’s Confluence magazine. Randy Lewis is a friend who has shared information with me about his family and people – and I know he’s a friend of yours too. As an elderly Caucasian, I feel guilty and sad about the many injustices the U.S. government has inflicted upon the Wenatchi and other native peoples over the centuries. May justice prevail, including a homeland for your tribe! Seems like US Fish & Wildlife land outside Leavenworth (fish hatchery) would be a fitting place for Wenatchi ownership. Thanks for sharing in this newsletter, and I hope your Wenatchi Wear line thrives.

  2. Avatar barbara nanamkin on September 24, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Mary, this is Barbara Nanamkin, I really enjoyed this writing, and wanted to let you know I used it in our homeschool for our boys who are also Wenatchi band thanks for all your hard work.

  3. […] recreate on the stolen lands of the Wenatchi. Have you recreated here? Find out more ways to contribute to the tribe. Venmo: Wenatchi_Landback […]

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