Senators Tester and Walsh meet with CSKT and SKC
By Adriana Fehrs
Senators Jon Walsh and John Tester sit with CSKT figures. Walsh and Tester visited the reservation, on their statewide tour, to listen to the concerns and issues of CSKT and SKC. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
PABLO — Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh visited CSKT and SKC on Saturday February 22 as one of the stops on their tour of Montana, to Pablo to visit with officials over the needs and concerns of tribal members.
The Montana Tour began last Tuesday in Great Falls, leaving Pablo as the second-to-last stop. Senator Tester says the purpose of meeting is “We want your input. When we go back to D.C. we want to accurately represent all of you,” and “over the past several years the relationship between the State of Montana and Indian Country has improved, and we want to continue the communication to keep improving our relationship.” John Tester was recently appointed to the Indian Affairs Committee and to the Veteran’s Board.
Montana Senator Jon Tester stands with Sierra Howlett (pictured left), his Native American Liaison, and April Charlo (pictured right), the new executive director of Nkwusm. While at SKC Senators Tester and Walsh listened to SKC administrators on funding issues for education. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
Walsh and Tester met with officials from CSKT in the Tribal Council Chambers. The meeting began with introductions, and then a prayer led by Tribal Council Member Vernon Finley. Fish and Wildlife was first on the agenda.
Tom McDonald, Manager of the Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation, talked to the Senators about aid funding, equal treatment and job creation. The Federal Excise Tax Program that collects on sporting goods (such as tags, ammunition, guns, fishing poles/tackle) limits the Tribe’s participation. The distribution of tax revenue does not go back to the Tribe, and McDonald says “we pay taxes, and we do not receive funding back, the Indian Tribes are not treated the same as the rest of the state.” McDonald says to amend the issue the Tribes should be allowed the opportunity to compete with the state for the funds. McDonald then brought up the issue of invasive species control. Current legislation does not include the Tribes in partnerships or funding, and funding could create jobs that would prevent and manage invasive species.
The next topic on the agenda was Law and Order Funding. Teresa Wall-McDonald, CSKT Tribal Council Support, talked to the Senators about the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant. Wall-McDonald told Walsh and Tester that there is no allocation to tribal nations, and that CSKT has provided stats to justify grants for drug and task forces, but have not received much funding themselves. Wall-McDonald requests that a Tribal allocation would be created for the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant, which would allow for Tribes to compete for funding.
Senators Jon Walsh and John Tester listen to Sierra Howlett, their Native American Liaison, while she speaks to crowd at SKC. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
Next, Jim Durglo, Department Head of CSKT Forestry, requested a Senate Committee on Indian affairs oversight hearing on CSKT Forestry issues.
The Cobell Land Buy Back Program was next on the agenda. Teresa Wall-McDonald informed the Senators that CSKT is seeking a modification that allows landowners to receive more than just three offers. Wall-McDonald says “it’s ludacris to limit our Tribe to three offers when they have the equipment already out there, all geared up.” Wall-McDonald also went on to urge a change in the probate-processing saying, “The BIA has the authority to handle probates more often by using more attorneys decision makers. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs could direct the Department Of the Interior BIA to implement a probate strategy that would reduce backlogs during the Cobell Land Buy Back Program.”
April Charlo, executive director of Nkwusm, Thanks Senator Tester for his support on the newly passed education bill. Charlo then laughs about how she used to babysit his Native American Liaison Sierra Howlett. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
The Columbia Basin Treaty was discussed next. CSKT has been a part of the Columbia River Sovereign review since 2009, and the Tribes have not been included in the development or implementation of the Columbia River Treaty, which has had negative impacts on resources protected by tribal treaty. Tom McDonald proposed to the Senators that a modernized treaty should be implemented. CSKT is willing to work with the Department of State in a consultation process.
Second to last on the agenda is veteran’s issues and the language program. Vernon Finley explained the two million grant to work on the preservation of native languages in Montana. CSKT says they will continue to inform Tester and Walsh on issue concerning both.
Lastly on the agenda, CSKT asked Senator Tester’s thoughts on the water rights compact. Tester says, “You guys negotiate for the best interest of your Tribe. You guys have to sign onto the bill, and I’ll take it to D.C. I’ll support it.”
Ron Trahan, Tribal Council Chairman, shakes Senator Jon Walsh’s hand during the gifting of the Flathead Reservation Map to Senator John Tester. CSKT gave Tester the gift as a thank you for his support on Native American issues, and for his appointment to the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
To conclude the meeting with Senators Tester and Walsh, CSKT presented Senator Tester with a Framed updated land status map, dated December 2013, illustrating Tribal ownership on the reservation. Teresa Wall-McDonalds says, “we appreciate your efforts and all of CSKT wants to thank you.”
The Senators then traveled across the road to visit with a few SKC administrators. Sandra Boham, Vice President of SKC, Traci McDonald, Dean of Students, Administrative Secretary?Anita Bigspring, and Jim Durglo, chairman of the board of directors at SKC, were some of the administrators present to touch on funding issues for education.
SKC figures talked to the senators about signing onto a bill that would provide funding in Montana for adult education. Currently there are no tribal colleges that provide adult literacy education.
Appreciation was also expressed to the Senators for support in a $1.2 million climate education grant. SKC was able to graduate five students with a climate studies degree.
April Charlo, executive director of NÂusm, thanked Tester and Walsh for their support of the education bill. Walsh says, “We believe the best way to improve education is through early education.”
Ron Trahan, Tribal Council Chairman, stands with Senator Jon Walsh during the gifting of the Flathead Reservation Map to Senator John Tester. CSKT gave Tester the gift as a thank you for his support on Native American issues, and for his appointment to the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
Next, SKC administrators talked to the Senators about limited funding for teacher education. They informed Tester and Walsh that only eight percent of teachers and only three percent of special education teachers in Montana are native. More grants are needed to develop more Native teachers.
Boham, brought up the issue of faculty training and limited housing on campus. She said, “our role is to be inclusive, we want the students to benefit. Funding to help staff further their educate and training would benefit our students. There is not a lot of money our there to do this though, and it would be wonderful to figure out how to help the staff.”
Boham went on to explain the housing situation for the SKC. “Housing on SKC is an issue. Municipal cannot handle more water usage.” Tester responded by telling them to seek help from the city municipal water plant first, and then seek out help from the county municipal water system.
The senators ended their visit with a tour of SKC and continued to their last stop in Missoula.