In the mid 19th century, the formerly nomadic aboriginal tribes in North Central Washington began to settle along prominent waterways to trade with Canadian and European explorers and settlers. It was not long before disputes over land ownership between natives and newcomers became common. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an Executive Order establishing the Colville Indian Reservation along the Columbia River, where Native Americans from 12 tribes were designated to live on several million acres of land. Twenty years later, the reservation was reduced to 1.4 million acres.
In 1940, seven years into the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, the reservoir behind the dam (Lake Roosevelt) began to fill. The water level rose rapidly, submerging around 18,000 acres of land in the Colville Reservation—inundating homes, ancient fishing spots, and historic cemeteries.