Leader, Historian and Advocate

Michael Finley, a former member of EWU’s Board of Trustees, was a champion of tribal rights and culture.


After a life spent in service to his Tribe and community, Michael Finley ’03, ’05, a noted historian, tribal-rights advocate and leader of the Colville people, died on Aug. 9.

Finley, who held both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from EWU, was appointed to the university’s Board of Trustees in 2014 to complete the unfinished term of a former trustee. He was later reappointed by Gov. Jay Inslee, and served until November 2022.

Over the course of his career, Finley  served as a three-time chair of Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, as well as president of the Colville Business Council. In these roles and others, Finley acted as a powerful advocate for the rights of the Colville people, often distinguishing himself during crucial, high-stakes tribal-rights negotiations — issues ranging from the protection of fish habitat to the return of Colville Ancestors’ remains.

But it was his work as a historian, Finley’s colleagues say, that was his true passion. Finley was a guiding presence in the Colville Tribes’ History and Archaeology Department, according to a tribute in the Tribal Tribune newspaper, and “an outstanding researcher, often finding overlooked or new data.” Finley also, the Tribune said, collaborated with noted scholars, interviewed dozens of tribal elders on cultural property matters, and served as chairman of the Colville Tribes when DNA evidence established that one of the oldest, most complete set of human remains ever discovered in North America was, in fact, an Ancient One of the Colville.

The book he co-authored with Richard Scheuerman, Finding Chief Kamiakin: The Life and Legacy of a Northwest Patriot, was hailed by reviewers as an “engrossing” exploration of a pivotal figure in Native history.

Finley was the recipient of a number of awards for these academic and professional achievements, among them EWU History’s 2011 Cecil Dryden Alumni Award for scholarship and service.

“He was an outstanding board member, an outstanding person, outstanding father, husband and leader for the Colville Tribes,” said BOT chair Jay Manning. “He was a great advocate for the Tribe and a great person to work with.” Michael Finley was 44 years old.