Winter Quarterly Meeting sets off the New Year
By Alyssa Nenemay
PABLO — The meeting was set off with a string of updates from each Tribal Council member. The crown jewel issues threaded throughout each update was the preparation work going into the looming Water Rights Compact and Kerr Dam takeover negotiations-both of which are reaching their deadlines.
Although the topic was updates, many of the council members used their time to send well wishes in the new-year and give thanks for the assistance offered to the tribes and council members throughout the past quarter.
Vice-Chair woman Carole Lankford (Ronan) said she met with Montana’s newly elected governor Steve Bullock (D) over the past quarter to discuss state level issues affecting the tribes. “He’s open to work with the tribes. I’m very pleased that he was elected,” she said.
Lankford was also given an opportunity to gain feedback on national issues when she attended the Whitehouse Tribal Nations Conference in early December. The conference featured several guest speakers including US Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and US President Barack Obama. Tribal leaders throughout the nation attended the meeting.
“The president told his cabinet that they needed to step up for tribal issues. (The conference) sends a strong message about how tribes are moving up in this world. We’re no longer second class citizens-like congress used to treat us,” said Lankford.
Tribal attorney Rhonda Swaney made an announcement on the looming water rights compact negotiation. “We don’t intend to give any more,” she said. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Tribal Attorney Rhonda Swaney gave a briefing on the work that had gone into the water rights compact negotiations over the past quarter. She said that most recently the team met with the Flathead Joint Board of Control to discuss their concerns with the written agreement. She said the meeting was necessary because the tribes’ water rights are split for irrigation and in-stream flows.
As a result of meeting, the tribal council has agreed to a single 1855 priority date for all of the tribes’ rights. She also said the tribal council has decided to give an exception to the 1.4 acre-foot allotment for special need irrigators based on an audit and proof of need. This exception would allow some irrigators a water allotment up to 2 acre-feet.
In spite of the tribes’ allowance for the changes to the water rights compact proposal, Swaney said the Joint Board of Control has been slow in their response. If the Joint Board of Control doesn’t agree to the compact’s terms, Swaney warns there will be no compact come the June 2013 deadline.
“There has been a proposed legislation to extend the compact teams further and the Tribes don’t agree,” said Swaney. “We don’t intend to give anymore. Tribal Council announced that if the compact is not approved in this legislation, we will be withdrawing our claims and we will go forward with litigation.”
Should the tribes be faced with litigation, Swaney estimated federal court costs could range up to $80 million. She said the compact’s proposed $50 million improvement to the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project would dissolve and individuals would need to file and pay for individual suites to protect their water rights claims.
Swaney was nearly brought to tears discussing how difficult it has been meeting with the tribe’s opponents in this compact. “Pat (Pierre) has offered our team prayers and wisdom to keep us going. If it weren’t for Pat, there were times when I don’t think we would have went back,” she said.
Energy Keepers Inc. CEO Brian Lipscomb updated the tribes on the current negotiations being made with PPL Montana for the purchase of Kerr Dam in 2015. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Brian Lipscomb, CEO of the tribes’ anticipated energy-corporation “Energy Keepers Inc.” announced that a five-member board of directors had been appointed. Tom Farrow being the Chairman and Dan Decker being the Vice-Chairman.
Lipscomb said the corporation has been in the process of construction, anticipating the 2015 Kerr Dam takeover. He said they had just finalized a condition assessment with MWH, which is the leading engineering firm in America.
“MWH produced a report that can be used to assure that we know what we are getting. They concluded that the dam is in very good condition for this type of facility. Some things need to be taken care of but nothing overwhelming,” said Lipscomb.
Lipscomb gave a briefing on the current negotiation process the tribes are involved in with PPL Montana for the purchase of the dam. He said a panel of three arbitrators will be appointed to determine the purchase price.
The arbitrators will be made up of a tribal representative, a PPL Montana representative, and both will appoint a third. Lipscomb said the tribes have appointed its representative but will not release the individuals name until PPL announces theirs.
Lipscomb was also faced with questions about PPL Montana being featured in recent headlines and how it would affect the tribes.
PPL Montana was faced with a state lawsuit regarding navigable waterways and the company’s dams. The State argued that the company owed rent for its title. The Supreme Court threw out the case because non-navigable waters can be considered private property. The state only has claims to navigable waterbeds.
Another lawsuit brought up was Matson vs. Montana Power Company. A federal class action suite was filed arguing that the waters could be held at higher points during certain times of the year and cause erosion to private property.
Lipscomb said he was unclear on the how the suite would be processed but he said Energy Keepers Inc. attorneys have concluded that yes, the tribes will need to anticipate being a party status to defend themselves following the takeover.
Next, Lipscomb addressed the fact that PPL Montana was rumored to have a desire to sell 19 of its power generators. He explained that several of the company’s power generators have not met air quality standards and are required by law to make improvements.
Lipscomb explained that because PPL Montana is non-regulated entity, it couldn’t receive funding to have the costs paid by the state. Rather than pay for the costs required to improve the facilities, Lipscomb said it is rumored the company would rather sell.
Finally, Lipscomb reiterated that the tribal council has not approved the use of the remaining Salzaar settlement funds for the costs or purchase of the dam. “The tribes could use the money to avoid taking out a loan and it would be paid back into the tribal entity as an investment. But tribal council has not approved this option,” he said.
Tribal Health and Human Services department head Kevin Howlett (not pictured) called for an introduction presentation to give meeting goers a sneak peak at the plans for the new $6 million St. Ignatius clinic. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Tribal Health and Human Services department head Kevin Howlett announced that the severe prescription drug abuse epidemic on the Flathead Reservation has led to an audit by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on the tribal health program.
“We are a part of the problem, no doubt. A lot of the drugs on the street are coming from our dispensary. But what part of the problem do we own? I want (the DEA) to audit all the physicians on and off the reservation. While we’re filling the scripts there are people writing them,” he said.
Howlett said the program fills up to 700 prescriptions a day, most of which are classified as narcotics. “There’s not one person here that hasn’t lost someone due to prescription drugs. How many lives do we have to lose before we say enough is enough?” he said.
Howlett’s presentation went on to reveal a floor plan for the new St. Ignatius clinical facility that will take 16-months to construct. The $6 million project will be paid for using funds earned through the program’s healthcare services. Howlett said they are already making plans to build a new clinic in Arlee.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done. I’m humbled by how far we’ve come but we have a long-long ways to go. Having the facilities and getting the staff to provide the best healthcare is the dream,” said Howlett.
In light of the Federal government’s recent Taxpayer Relief Act, Howlett assured that by law, the federal government cannot cut its funding for tribal healthcare by any more than two percent.
(L-R) Martin Papin, Jeri Roullier, and Eldon White of the People’s Voice introduced their non-profit organization. The group asked for a response to a petition they submitted with Tribal Council. (Alyssa Nenemay photos)
The People’s Voice
A newly certified non-profit organization called “The People’s Voice,” introduced themselves to the Tribal Council and meeting goers. The People’s Voice said their intent was to serve the community as an advocacy support group.
“We would like the people and tribal council to understand that we are tribal members. We speak for tribal members, family, and children. We just want the respect of the people,” said secretary/spokesman Jeri Roullier.
The group asked tribal council about the status of a 1,414-signature petition they presented recently. The intent of the petition was not explained to CKN, however it was confirmed that the petition related to the Tribal Council’s ruling on the remaining Salzaar Settlement funds.
“The petition that we received was essentially asking for, at least the way we could interpret it, a referendum and secretary election. That was a confusing issue because they are two different things. For the petition to be valid it is supposed to address a single issue and this petition address two different issues,” said tribal attorney Ranald McDonald.
McDonald explained that under the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal constitution there was a referendum process, not an initiative process. A referendum process is not designed to make Tribal Council take action, it’s designed to approve or disapprove of an action taken by Tribal Council.
Aside from the confusion, technical errors included residency could not be confirmed for some of the signatures and some pages submitted had signatures that did not explain what the petitioner was signing.
Tribal chairman Joe Durglo said Tribal Council has plans to formally respond to the petition. “There is a fairly detailed process in petition gathering and there was a whole series of problems that were identified. We will formally respond and we can have that set up for next week,” he said.
Tribal member Ruth Swaney had several issues she wanted to present to the Quarterly meeting. She asked that Tribal Council bring to a referendum vote-the count of all Native American blood for enrollment criteria. To strengthen her reasoning Swaney explained that the current membership is the result of centuries of inter-marriage amongst tribes. “All of us have ancestors with tribal blood not from here,” she said.
Next on her list was the suggestion that Tribal Council change the July and January Quarterly meeting dates because they coincide with cultural events (the Arlee Powwow and Jump Dances). “We’re in conflict with these events that are important to us as Indian people,” she said.
Finally Swaney expressed her support for the purchase of Kerr Dam. “Kerr dam is worst and best thing that ever happened to us,” she said. “…That dam is everything. Without that dam you give up not only your percap but very much of the tribal programs that we use now…We’re going to suffer cutbacks and this tribe lives off federal dollars. It’s going to be a challenge on these leaders to make the right decision.”
Pend d’Oreille/Kootenai elder Patrick Pierre took an opportunity to advise meeting goers of traditional means of resolving modern issues facing the tribes. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
Pend d’Oreille/Kootenai elder Patalik Pierre had several issues he wanted to address. He began by encouraging and thanking the tribes and council for their support of the Nkwusm Immersion School, where he is a language specialist.
“A lot of these guys couldn’t survive on their own out there and that’s why we have the Nkwusm School. (The students) are going to know who they are and know why they’re doing what they’re doing when they lead this tribe,” he said.
Pierre also addressed the reservation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. “How many of you still go to the mountains for your medicine? I do. This is why I don’t have a doctor down town. I take a sweat when I feel bad and when I come out I don’t feel bad anymore. We can’t let them poison us so that we go to them for their medicine,” he said.
Next on Pierre’s list was the encouragement of unity amongst the reservation’s tribal community. “We’re not all separate entities-individuals on our own out there. We are one-we have to stay together. That will keep our reservation intact. If we become divided we’re no longer going to be here,” he said.
In closing, Pierre addressed the recent tragedy that struck the reservation when an intruder murdered tribal member Doug Morigeau in his Dixon home. The incident left this wife Cheryl wounded.
“I cannot think of anyone more kind and better person than Doug morigeau. No matter where I saw him he’d make his way to shake my hand. If that can happen to him that means it can happen to any one of us. If kindness does not protect us than we need to go deeper. Some of us probably don’t even pray anymore. Prayer should be alive,” said Pierre.
In closing Pierre offered the tribal people a word of advice. “When you see someone you know-greet them. If you don’t know them greet, them anyway. That person is waiting for you to say something nice to them. There’s nothing impossible. Every problem has a solution,” he said.