The “Eighth Wonder” changed everything for Native Americans. Construction of the dam disturbed burial grounds and destroyed ancient villages on the Colville Reservation, home to a dozen tribes. In 1940, the reservoir overtook 18,000 acres of the reservation, displacing thousands. Homes, schools and towns all moved.
“We were not even asked or consulted about what the effects the dam would have. … That we would lose our way of life did not matter to anyone. ... The federal government had decided to use the Columbia River for their own purpose in one giant step. For them, it was development. For us, it was disaster.” – Lucy Covington, Colville
Indians depended on salmon for sustenance. Since the dam blocked salmon migration, they considered the Grand Coulee an insult to their people and a threat to their very existence. The Bureau of Reclamation briefly trucked salmon around the dam, and built fish hatcheries to mitigate loss. The Bonneville Power Administration spends upwards of $400 million annually to aid fish passage.
In 1994, the Colville approved a $53 million settlement for land destroyed by the Grand Coulee. The tribe receives annual payments from the sale of hydroelectric power.