SPCC elders hear water rights, Kerr Dam updates
By Alyssa Nenemay
Nkwusm students treat the elder’s meeting with a Christmas carol performance in the Salish language. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The coffee was hot and the topics were hotter during the Salish and Pend d’Oreille elder’s meeting for December. The elders were loaded with information on the recent issues impacting the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.
Ira Matt and Robert “Buzz” Fyant of the Tribal Cultural Preservation Department gave the elders and update on their department’s activities.
The Preservation Department is planning for security improvements to the painted rock site in Perma. To avoid damage caused by traffic or smoke, boulders will be placed throughout the area designating parking and fire sections. The department will also be using a portion of a $25,000 grant they received to post notice signs throughout the site such as: “Tribal members only.”
The Department of Transportation sought tribal input on its plans for highway expansion in the Nine Pipes area. The expansion would encroach on the area’s wetland and vast animal population. To compensate for the habitat loss, the state suggested purchasing land in the Huson area outside of Missoula to establish a new wetland. The elders wanted more information on animal crossing plans.
Logging and road construction has led to damage to cultural artifacts in the Lewis & Clark National Forest and $20-30 thousand have been designated to investigate its severity. Although the parks’ staff includes a tribal liaison, preventative measures to protect cultural resources were not considered. At this point, the tribes are having difficulties seeking involvement in the investigation.
Burning, thinning, and restoration efforts in the Lolo National Forest has led to a discovery of six tribal burial sites. The consistency of the formations led to the area’s protection several years ago by the CS&KT’s Preservation Department. Buffer zones will be established around the site for future protection.
Concluding their update, Matt and Fyant informed the elders that the Jocko Bridge is complete with no new legal complications. Also, land purchased to construct Super Wal-Mart in Polson has been surveyed for cultural significance and was given the OK. Matt was pleased to announce that the corporation has maintained contact with the tribes as the project is progressing.
Kasey Murphy-Brazil, the new principal of the Nkwusm Salish language Immersion School took an opportunity to introduce herself to the elders’ committee. All three of the schools’ classes joined together to perform Christmas carols in Salish for the meeting. “They’re going to be the salvation of our tribe,” elder and Nkwusm instructor Pat Pierre said. “All of our students are speaking: from these little ones up.”
The school also took the opportunity to invite the public to attend their Christmas dinner on Dec. 21 at 11:30 A.M in the Arlee Community Center.
Robert Fyant and Ira Matt from the Cultural Preservation department update the elders on their department’s conservation projects. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Salish Kootenai College
Jeff Bendremer, director of the new Tribal Historic Preservation degree program at the Salish Kootenai College updated the committee on the department’s early operations. Former president Joe McDonald, who authorized the program several years ago, joined Bendremer.
Based in the Native American Studies Department, the Tribal Historic Preservation program is certified to offer students an Associate or a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in the field. First of its kind, the program will teach students to preserve, conserve, collect, and protect cultural resources. The program is already anticipating four graduates this spring and has the most tribal language requirements of any program at SKC.
“It’s very hard to live day-to-day and prove to the federal government that you are Native American,” said SPCC Director Tony Incashola. “A lot of times the courts will not take your word because you don’t have that piece of paper (degree). Now, because of this program, you will be able to have cultured tribal members, who have that piece of paper, represent us. This program is important.”
Bendremer concluded his update seeking input on meeting the fieldwork requirements for the program. Outsourcing to other colleges is an option as well as instructing students on the “no-dig” fieldwork method utilized on the Flathead Reservation.
Lolo National Forest
Representatives from the Lolo National Forest extended an invitation to speakers to participate in its annual winter story telling series. The park would like to promote the area’s history from time immemorial. They have also incorporated a new K-12 program for students to learn about the Indigenous history of the area. Salish elder Louie Adams has participated in the story telling event for several years:
“I tell quite a bit of stories about the history of the Bitterroot. The audience is mostly non-Native but it’s a good way to educate them of the area’s tribal history. Anytime I’m in the Bitterroot I’m home,” he said.
For more information on the Winter Storytelling Series call: (406) 273-4253.
The Nkwusm students meet and greet the elders following their performance. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Tribal Health and Human Services Department Head Kevin Howlett informed the committee that Tribal Council has approved the remodel and reconstruction of a new St. Ignatius clinical office. The 16-month project will cost $60 million. “Money for the project comes from money we’ve earned providing healthcare. Not a dime will come from the tribal council,” said Howlett.
Howlett shared drawn proposals of the project and explained that the department’s priority at this time is improving clinical service. “We can have a beautiful facility but it’s only as good as the service we provide,” he concluded.
Water Rights Compact
CS&KT attorney Rhonda Swaney updated the Committee on the current status of the Water Rights Compact negotiating process.
Swaney said the water rights compact document was finished and ready for public review. She informed the elders that the compact teams hosted meetings for public input and the tribes’ would be following suit with district meetings.
Giving a little history on the compact, Swaney said the Montana Water Use Act was passed in 1973, which required anyone with claims to register their water rights with the state or risk the threat of losing them. The CS&KT objected to the requirement and filed suit along with other tribes in federal court and lost.
The cause of the loss was the McCarran Amendment of 1952, which waived the United States’ sovereign immunity in cases concerning ownership or management of water rights. The Amendment enabled state courts to try suits concerning federal water rights.
As a result of the loss, the tribes accepted an invitation from the state to create a written compact that would quantify (outline) and secure the tribes’ water rights as well as create a streamlined management system for water uses within reservation borders for all residents–Indian and non-Indian.
The elders were interested in why non-Indian residents are having so much strife with the compact’s water regulations. Swaney explained that up until this point water use on the reservation has not been monitored.
The compact team hired hydrologists to investigate a reasonable amount of water distribution for crops and 1.4 acre-feet was found to be more than adequate. “The farmers either don’t know how much water they’ve been using or they’ve been over claiming the resources. The compact’s regulation was based on science,” she said.
Felicity McDonald was honored during the meeting for her ninetieth birthday celebration. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Brian Lipscomb, head of CS&KT’s Department of Energy, announced that as of Monday, December 3, he is the official chief executive officer of SX?NQ?E?ELS L SUW?E?M/ KSUKZIZMUMAZ gAdJAZMUKWAGITS , Inc. which is the tribes’ new energy corporation. Following the anticipated purchase and takeover of Kerr Dam in September 2015, the corporation. will be responsible for managing and operating the dam for the CS&KT.
The tribes have reserved $32 million over a span of several decades for purchase. Because the savings were provided using tribal revenue, the CS&KT membership is the corporation’s shareholders or owners. Through appointment, tribal council will act as the shareholder’s representatives in the corporation and will oversee the memberships’ investment.
CS&KT chairman Joe Durglo explained that tribal council has put more requirements on the management of SX?NQ?E?ELS L SUW?E?M/ KSUKZIZMUMAZ gAdJAZMUKWAGITS, Inc. than any other tribal corporation. Unlike the S&K corporations, which are able to retain earnings and expand with approval, the energy corporation’s earning will go to back into the tribes and it will not be allowed to expand. Durglo added that there is going to be a stricter reporting process in place as well.
Lipscomb said the tribes would be meeting with PPL Montana (the current owners) on Dec. 7th to continue the 60-day negotiation process that began on Oct. 16th. Currently, PPL’s asking price for the dam is $51,647,040; however, Lipscomb said costs associated with the price would be evaluated throughout the negotiation process.
In terms of the company’s anticipated revenue, Lipscomb said they do not have an exact account on how much PPL is currently earning from the dam. The tribes have hired specialists to gauge an estimated profit of $34 million annually in 2015.
When asked whether or not, the remaining Salzaar settlement funds would be used to cover start-up costs, Lipscomb said tribal council had not approved that option at this point. He added that if the funds were used, it would be considered an investment, and the tribes would receive additional interest.
When asked about his anticipated salary, Lipscomb took an opportunity to bring clarity to rumors. “My salary will not be $300,000 or anywhere near that,” he said. He explained that the tribes would be hiring a specialist to establish the corporations’ wages based on wholesale industry standards adjusted to the area–which would not include Seattle, WA.
At this point, the tribes are still in the developmental and negotiating process for SX?NQ?E?ELS L SUW?E?M/ KSUKZIZMUMAZ gAdJAZMUKWAGITS. As the shareholder representatives, tribal council has appointed three of five board of director members. As CEO, Lipscomb says he is in the process of finishing staffing and startup activities.