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Flathead Joint Board of Control meeting faced tough questions

By Alyssa Nenemay

Although the Idle No More protest had a light attendance, coordinator Ruth Swaney (2nd Right) took an opportunity to unofficially debate a Western Montana Water Users Association Board member on the topic of the CS&KT Water Compact. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Although the Idle No More protest had a light attendance, coordinator Ruth Swaney (2nd Right) took an opportunity to unofficially debate a Western Montana Water Users Association Board member on the topic of the CS&KT Water Compact. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

ST. IGNATIUS — As three members were sworn into the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project’s Joint Board of Control during its May meeting, members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes gathered in an “Idle No More” protest to bring attention to the tribes’ water rights.

With a Lake County police officer in tow, meeting attendees and protesters awaited the arrival of a notary to solidify the new board members. During the wait, a flyer was distributed throughout the room entitled: “Flathead Reservation Myths and Facts.”

The flyer addressed 10 points that mocked the CS&KT’s rights and status as a sovereign nation including: “On the Flathead Reservation, if your heritage is one quarter French, one quarter Scotch, and one quarter Irish, you can receive regular payments of Federal (tax payer) money for existing. (True if Tribal Member).”

A racially targeted flyer entitled “Flathead Reservation Myths and Facts” was distributed to attendees during the Flathead Joint Board of Control Meeting. No one at the meeting would take responsibility for drafting the letter or disclose its source. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) A racially targeted flyer entitled “Flathead Reservation Myths and Facts” was distributed to attendees during the Flathead Joint Board of Control Meeting. No one at the meeting would take responsibility for drafting the letter or disclose its source. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Click image to see a larger version.

Several meeting attendees came to CKN expressing distaste or apologies for the flyer but no one was willing to take responsibility or give information on its source. A woman who was seen distributing the flyer said “they” gave it to her and she didn’t read it before she handed it out. When asked who “they” were, she refused to respond.

With a head count of ten, the crowd of protesters was lighter than coordinator Ruth Swaney expected but she made the most of the situation by challenging Western Montana Water Users Association board member Steve Killorn in an unofficial debate on the tribe’s Water Rights Compact.

“You see? It’s this anti-Indian sentiment that will never let us move forward to find a solution in this community. A lot of the opposers to the compact are opposing the tribes not the compact itself. This information is all wrong by the way,” Swaney said as she waved the flyer.

Frequent contributor to the Valley Journal’s opinion page Michael Gale was in attendance at the FJBC meeting. Gale has been very vocal in his stance against the Water Compact, tribal sovereignty, and the tribe’s water rights. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Frequent contributor to the Valley Journal’s opinion page Michael Gale was in attendance at the FJBC meeting. Gale has been very vocal in his stance against the Water Compact, tribal sovereignty, and the tribe’s water rights. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

The WMWUA is comprised of anonymous opponents of the tribe’s Water Compact. The group was the center of controversy recently as an election complaint was filed due to the group distributing a flyer to voters on the Joint Board of Control’s election day.

According to the Missoulian, the flyer WMWUA distributed was entitled “Important Information: Your Water Rights Are At Stake“ and it addressed seven points that supported their claim. “I want to go on the record and say that the Western Montana Water Users Association had nothing to do with that piece of paper,” said Killorn.

The WMWUA proved its political pull as open Water Compact opposers succeeded in the FJBC’s election. Jerome Laskody of the Mission District succeeded over 24-year chairman Walt Schock and Shane Orien defeated open compact supporter Susan Lake in the Flathead District. Wayne Blevins was the only member to be re-elected for his seat in the Flathead District.

With a Lake County officer in tow, the Flathead Joint Board of Control held its monthly meeting to certify its new members. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes chose to attend the meeting in protest to bring attention to the tribe’s water rights. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) With a Lake County officer in tow, the Flathead Joint Board of Control held its monthly meeting to certify its new members. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes chose to attend the meeting in protest to bring attention to the tribe’s water rights. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

The FJBC is a state chartered organization that represents the non-tribal Flathead Indian Irrigation Project’s water users. The board played a key role in the CS&KT’s Water Compact negotiations, which is a joint management system that had been drafted over 30 years between the state, tribal, and federal governments. As part of its obligations, the state required the FJBC’s approval for the FIIP Water Use agreement component of the compact.

Although the board had approved the FIIP Water Use Agreement, the MWMUA filed a writ of mandate with the Lake County Court challenging the board’s authority to do so and in turn, stalled the compact’s submission (in its entirety) to the 2013 legislature.

Western Montana Water Users Association board member Steve Killorn (Center) said that the organization had nothing to do with the racially charged flyer that was distributed during the Flathead Joint Board of Control meeting earlier this month. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Western Montana Water Users Association board member Steve Killorn (Center) said that the organization had nothing to do with the racially charged flyer that was distributed during the Flathead Joint Board of Control meeting earlier this month. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

Last month, the Republican led Montana state Legislature rejected the CS&KT Compact and newly elected Governor Bullock rejected a bill that would extend the negotiation process. The commission appointed to develop the compact will dissolve in June, leaving many issues unresolved.

At this point the tribes have not commented on what their next move will be, however they are faced with the possibility litigation to protect their water rights. According to tribal attorneys litigation could mean up to 30 years in federal court with an estimated cost of $30 million.

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