Nicholson Family Tree and Why the Inchelium Cultural Research Center Makes a Difference in the Lives of Colville Tribal Members

After leaving the mission school, Narcisse Nicholson (my great grandfather) went to work for his older brother Alec and for cattleman Tom Ellis. In 1903 he was married in the mission church to Madeline, the great-granddaughter of Chief Sarseptkin. His is believed to be the first marriage in the then still new church. (Excerpt from Dean Nicholson’s class essay in 1994.)

HOW IT BEGAN | My cousin Dean Nicholson wrote about the Nicholson family tree for his Cultural Awareness course in 1994. Somehow my uncle Gary received it and passed it to me. As a young person who was in her early 20s I was perplexed about why he thought it would be something for me to archive. The paper went into a giant cardboard box until I rediscovered it in 2019. My interest in my family history was ignited by my participation into the EWU MA History program and as a tribal member I wondered about families records lost to time due to the death of elders and families losing contact with one another.

Then an opportunity arose in 2020 to connect with the committee of the Inchelium Cultural Research Center who were seeking non-profit status and needed someone to help them with archiving documents. This seemed like a great opportunity to align my interests in history, tribal identity and giving back to the community. It was also deep in the COVID-19 quarantine protocols. We initiated our work together over Zoom and emails.

Watch Nancy Michel, President of Inchelium Cultural Research Center describe the archival needs of the committee.

Nancy Michel describes the mission of the ICRC during our first Zoom meeting on 11/20/20.

The home of Narcisse was always open to anyone. More than once the notorious Canadian outlaw Johnny McClain stopped in on his way through the country. He would play with the children, have and evening meal, spend the night and ride on in the morning. Charlie Phillips would stop in and help Narcisse break wild horses. He had only one arm, having lost the other during a bank robbery. Narcisse was quite a bronco rider in his day and always had a wild bunch to tame. Narcisse expected who stopped by to stay for a meal. (Excerpt from Dean Nicholson’s 1994 class essay.)

MOVING ALONG AND SHARED MEALS IN INCHELIUM | Due to the COVID-19 restrictions the ICRC Committee and I did not meet until the summer of 2020 and the digitalization of the documents and archiving became a secondary goal. Considering the ICRC received it’s non-profit status but needed intake forms, documents and descriptions for roles of volunteers and for the group. I undertook this task from afar to assist the group and attended their monthly Zoom meetings.

During the early summer months, Dr. Cebula and I finally made a pilgrimage with Governor Inslee’s lift of some quarantine precautions to Nancy’s home in Inchelium where the archives were stored. We met the core group of women who worked towards creating the ICRC: Nancy Michel, Patti Bailey, Joyce Kohler and Tina Wynecoop. The only members we were missing were Shannon Rosenbaum, Richard Hart and Laura Stovel. We viewed the archives they assembled from retired EWU professor Kay Hill and her family that were documented on an Excel sheet and still needed to be scanned and digitalized. The cassettes were trusted to me to transfer to digital files with equipment at the EWU Library Archives using a form I created for checking out items for some real world experience. Nancy showed us the scorch marks on the trees outside her home and this fear motivated the group to find another place for the archives and the safety of the documents. We shared a meal with the group and the human companionship was a testimony to why these documents needed to be protected – past experiences need to be shared and passed on. In Indian Country this is especially needed considering the erasure of indigenous cultures.

View the the research report for Summer 2020.

Photo of the future home of the ICRC.

Narcisse passed away in 1968, having lived a long life and seen many changes; the development of productive orchards and hay fields where once there was only sagebrush and bunch grass, the coming of railroads and new highways and the intermingling of whites with Indians. (Excerpt from Dean Nicholson’s 1994 essay excerpt.)

PROGRESS AHEAD | Kay Hill’s family had a few more items in her home to join Nancy’s collection and photos of Kay throughout her life. Kay’s dementia progressed but her sons were involved with the ICRC. One son expressed an interest in his native roots but felt removed but he was reminded that he was always welcome to the ICRC when the archives were relocated and events occurred on the reservation. The goal was for ICRC to also host events in the community when the capacity was available. I met Hill’s son and Tina Wynecoop and we gathered any remaining archives. I drove to Inchelium to bring the items to Nancy’s home. While there, the cassettes were returned and Patti received the digital files. The recordings cannot be shared at this time but the Salish and stories were from people who have moved on.

I understood what Hill’s son meant since I also felt on the periphery of the tribal community since I grew up on the non-reservation side of the river and the connections to customs passed away with family elders such as my great grandfather Narcisse Nicholson, my grandfather Albert “Billy” Nicholson and my great aunt Joy.

Gallery of Documents Created for ICRC

Patti Bailey from the ICRC committee created a display at the future site of the ICRC at the Inchelium Community Center.

Statement from ICRC: Our organization has made great strides in planning to protect the evidences of our Upper Columbia River culture. We are announcing our plans to protect and preserve (and make available for research) our extensive collection. We will soon have a home to house the growing collection in Inchelium in order to protect both print and non-print items which attest that we have always existed o our ancestral landscape – and remain.

PURPOSE | The Inchelium Cultural Research Center (ICRC) brings together researchers, students and Indigenous communities in a place of dialogue and understanding to foster ethical, balanced, and respectful relationships between researchers and communities. This space will foster ethical, balanced, and respectful relationships between researchers and communities. At its foundation is dialogue. Speakers, workshops, community engagement, and sustained relationship building will generate research that will benefit Indigenous communities and offer a sense of belonging to our future generations about our tribal origins and ways.

MISSION | To create an accessible, welcoming space for cultural research, sharing and dialogue. To provide community members with an opportunity to store and contribute to the shared cultural record of our homeland; and To foster a meaningful connection between our community and the history of indigenous groups of and around Inchelium.

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