CSKT quarterly gives updates on pressing topics
By Lailani Upham
Snyelmn drum group listens quietly with attendees as CKST Tribal Council members share their ideas at the Spring Quarterly on Friday. (Ashley Upham photo)
PABLO — The turnout for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Spring Quarterly was not overcrowded this past Friday. The custom opening of a prayer was first on the agenda; and an honor song shared by Snyelmn drum group.
All CSKT Tribal Council representatives were present.
The morning was packed with announcements and reports from the CSKT tribal lands department on the Land Buy Back program, the CSKT Economic Development Office; Energy Keepers Inc.; and on the Substance Abuse work group.
Teresa Wall-McDonald, CSKT Tribal Lands Department Head shared a short presentation on the Cobell Land Buy Back Program. It is a portion of the Cobell settlement that includes funds for tribes to purchase fractionated ownership interests from willing trust landowners. The funds are being allocated to tribes because so many Reservations were opened to non-Indian settlement by the U.S. government, over the objections of the tribes.
The Buy Back program is a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund that enables the purchase of the land by eligible tribal governments and may help tribes rebuild economies and increase tribal land holdings.
She shared a concern of the program that someone would get a purchase offer of two dollars; some might ask if it was really worth the effort to spend the time the gas the money to forward to the tribal complex and find a notary. “We said the tribal members time is more valuable than that. So under the council’s direction they said let’s make it more meaningful for the tribal member. We want to pick up these small interests and so they said let’s have a $75 minimum payment.”
Wall-McDonald added that the other thing is that individuals with IIM accounts might get a small amount for the payment of an interest in a lease. And IIM generally doesn’t update until the balance in that account reaches $15. She said some may wait years until they get a check; for some people this is persuasive enough to sell, and others may not want to sell. She included that this is a willing selling program.
She noted that when an individual gets a purchase offer from the Department of Interior, there is a beneficiary call center that individuals can call and ask questions, or they can bring the letter into tribal lands department for questions.
“We have $7.3 million and we hope to make the program work for those individuals that want to sell. The long-term goal for the tribal council and all of us is to keep the $7.3 million here so it doesn’t disappear at the end of our cooperative agreement,” she stated.
Wall-McDonald welcomed everyone to come into the tribal lands to ask questions.
Janet Camel, CSKT Tribal Economic Development Director sid that CSKT received $442,000 from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) to complete a three-year Sustainable Economic Development Project.
The CSKT Tribal Economic Development Office worked with tribal consultants from the Next Seven Group to apply; Camel stated it is an honor to receive the highly competitive Social and Economic Development Strategy grant.
She announced a workforce survey will be mailed out to tribal members from ages 18 to 60 in mid-May.
“It is extremely important that the membership complete it and mail it back.”
She explained through the survey the office would be able to develop a strategic economic development plan.
“It will help us study the regional economy and determine where there is the best potential for sustainable job opportunities on and near the Reservation. The information we gather about the local economy, and from tribal members about career goals, job skills, and education and training needs, will help us create a sustainable economic development strategy and training program.”
A team of tribal staff is directing the Project, including the Economic Development Office, and department heads or representatives from Personnel, Department of Human Resource Development, Social Services, Kicking Horse Job Corps, Forestry, Tribal Lands, Education, the Tribal Finance Office, Sovereign Leasing and Finance, and Salish Kootenai College. The Montana and Lake County Community Development Corporations, Job Service, the University of Montana, and the Montana Department of Commerce are additional project partners.
She said a follow-up survey would be sent out in June to those who indicate they are self-employed, own a business, or have interest in owning their own business to tailor the strategy to their entrepreneurial training needs.
Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers Inc. shared a Kerr Dam update, stating that with the conveyance price they did get a favorable ruling from the arbitration panel and the work by the attorney team was impressive.
“We felt like we were very prepared as we went into those hearings. The panel that we were providing testimony to was very thorough in their questioning; and so at the end of the day they concurred with the tribes that the major portion of the dispute, which is the inclusion or not of the mitigation costs would not be part of the estimated conveyance price. So our difference of nearly $30 million was settled. We went into that argument of an estimated $14 .4 million PPL Montana went into that argument with an estimate of $49 million and some change and where we came out was $18.3 million.”
He told the group to keep in mind it is an estimated conveyance price and is based on the book value. “It could change from now and the time we take over if there is another additional capital improvement at the plant itself. We think about that as we go forward from a planning perspective; we need to keep that in mind as continue to establish the capital needs for the company.”
He stated in the next several weeks Energy Keepers will be planning with the CSKT Tribal Council as their role as the shareholders.
The next step of acquisition he says that the Tribes needed to file a notification to the parties that they attend to acquire the project on September 5, 2015 — and it was completed on March 4, Lipscomb stated.
He added there still is a lot of work to be done before Kerr Dam is obtained; he likened the work to a “marathon.”
He explained that the property taxes that are $1.3 million a year that PPL Montana pays are primarily supported for services provided by Lake County and Polson Schools and that there are additional funds that go to the Big Fork School District and the Flathead School Districts, but not near as much as Polson.
“So obviously we need to contemplate whether or not it would be wise for us to continue a payment in lieu of taxes, because when the tribes buy it that will no longer be a taxable asset.”
He said they are working with the CSKT tribal council and Polson Schools and Lake County to determine what those services are and what might be a prudent path forward and make sure important services are not lost.
A question arose that once the tribes take over management of Kerr Dam; would the taxes stop? Lipscomb clarified that the CSKT Tribal Constitution does not allow the tribes to tax to provide services. He added that, “There are no expectations going forward.”
Lipscomb said, “We have been in conversations with the entities and they understand the tribes are not obligated to pay this, however the tribes are considering this because it provides services to the tribal members and want to understand what the services are; and make a good decision in going forward.”
A question was asked what is being done to get competent staff to manage the dam. Lipscomb stated several strategies were being discussed, “One is we have hired tribal member trainees that PPL Montana is obligated to and is providing training to become operators of the dam itself.”
He said additionally tribal members have been hired who are qualified educationally and are getting additional training.
Also, they are currently searching for engineers and looking for an information technology person.
He added that Energy Keepers is a tribal preference company, however it is based on qualifications. “National searches are another strategy and the last resort is to go hire a recruiter,” he explained. If there are not many tribal members in positions he said they will try to figure out how to build a capacity to get more in the company.
Lipscomb touched on the $850,000 Department of Energy funded feasibility study when the group was operating as the CSKT Department of Energy on building a biomass plant on the Reservation.
He said the project was kicked off a month ago and is primarily taken from forest management waste activities where it is currently getting burnt and stashed in piles around the Reservation.
“We are excited, it will provide us with a feasibility assessment that will provide a clear picture of whether or not it is economically viable.”
He said it will help determine what kind of capital investment it might entail and provide job opportunities and narrow down the type of revenue that might generate from it, and figure out how extensive the work might be.
The plant would be a combined heated power plant and the heat would be generated to buildings such as the tribal complex and others, Lipscomb explained.
“We are looking at the heat demands and looking at the extensive study of the power market itself.”
He said the study would look at the fuel supply and see how much material is available in Western Montana that would be accessible to the tribes for the facility.
He said the study should be completed in August, however updates along the way will be made to the CSKT tribal council.
Jamie Hamel updated the attendees on the recent community-involvement Substance abuse work group.
She went over the CSKT Tribal Resolution No. 14-036 and how the tribes recognize that substance abuse is devastating and impacting families in a negative way.
Hamel shared how the drug problem has resulted in a lot of cultural identity loss.
She announced that the tribal council funds all the programs such as DHRD, Tribal Health, and Social Services and each has seen how these programs have been overwhelmed with impacts of the substance abuse on the Rez.
She stated that the work group has had three meetings since their first meeting on March 4. There are plans to hire a facilitator and have one in place by the end of April.
The work group has already done some short-term goals such as PSA’s on the radio, she said
CSKT Ronan Tribal Council Representative Carole Lankford piped in to acknowledge other groups out in the community that are doing work to battle the problem as well.
She added, “I seen something out of Fire Control that if you are on certain drugs don’t even apply.”
It starts in the community she said. It involves all of our families. We put some strong policies out there and one is no longer assisting parents who have babies who are hooked on opiates or meth. It might sound awful, but we need to make sure those parents know.
“We are taking some active role. We encourage the community to get involved. Housing is for families and children, not drug users to come in and start selling and that kind of stuff.”
Jason Adams, SKHA Housing Director asked the SKHA board to approve him to be a part of the work group to since SKHA does have a zero-tolerance drug policy in place long before he was in his position. “I want to make sure that whatever comes of this group that we are in concert with the effort of the tribes. Ultimately it is the tribes’ effort. All of us are working on decisions are made by the tribal council.
Adams mentioned some things are already happening in the work group in the little time it’s been going on.
Kevin Howlett, Tribal Health Director, spoke on the issue of drug abuse and said, “It is very personal.” Howlett shared he lost family members to addictions. “It’s very personal to every one of you that is dealing with addictions in your family,” he added.
“We recognize that when patients aren’t writing the scripts, somebody is writing the scripts and we have a good idea who it is.”
He said Tribal Health filed a formal complaint to the State Board of Medical Examiners and state physicians on the Reservation that were prescribing large amounts of hydrocodone to pregnant women; not one but many. That complaint was dismissed by the State Board of Medical Examiners, because no statute exist that prohibit them to the quantity they can prescribe.”
“We are not done. We are going to be working with the governor’s office, the Department of Public Health and Human Services; I testified before a joint senate house committee two weeks ago, asking what can we do to change the laws in Montana.”
Howlett said that locally the clinics have imposed some restrictions on dispensing of narcotics in their pharmacies. “If lose it, we are not refilling it.”
There are limits, and through their pharmacies they will continue to work with the prescription monitoring program that is a state-wide program where when someone comes to get a prescription filled it goes through a computer system with a board of pharmacies; and it can tell whether that prescription has been filled before and it allows them get a grip on people that are doctor shopping and prescription shopping at different drug stores.
“It’s not a problem just on Reservation but across the state; but it’s particularly acute on Indian Reservations because we have not had any controls.”
He did add there are a lot of things that can be done such as getting laws changed; getting a hold of the purse strings that pay these doctors.
“I don’t think we should be doing business with those kinds of people. All of us need to join hands, one step at a time, one family at a time. I applaud this effort; it is never too late to start. Let’s come together as a community and not let some evil thing to control our families and community.”
An attendee commented that people need to say something when they see illegal prescription drug pushers.
Another asked, “Why can’t we have doctors or providers that will not be over-prescribing drugs?”
Howlett chimed in and said, “I think we will reach a point where we can say we don’t want to do business with you, but right now Indian Health Service has contracts with these people and as long they’re practicing with prescribed standards of care they are not doing anything illegal. But if we were managing the program, which I hope we will come October, we can decide the parameters. That’s where it will make a difference where we will make the decisions not the federal agency.”
Howlett explained that the laws in Montana are weak when it comes to quantities of prescribed medications. He shared that at the legislative hearing he attended not long ago, the pharmaceutical companies sold to the doctors a real good bill of goods that if you develop a tolerance to opiates, give them more, that is what the medical opinions were he stated. And now they have proven that has been a false theory he added. But the laws in most of these states were watered down. Now you are seeing states like Washington that are clamping down by saying those aren’t the scientific facts anymore.
Tribal member Lois Friedlander took the floor and said, “I’m just afraid with all of this focus of how ill our communities are that we will go out and blaming the victim like we usually do. If we are going to heal anything it has to start with very early education. There are kids leaving their parents and coming to social services, they want new parents. We got to target and focus on saving those children. It’s going to take money; I don’t see us pouring money into state entities that really don’t help our people out. I think that if Energy Keepers has a million dollars to invest anywhere we need to put up barriers and take the sickest of the sick put them in there for detox and there has to be facilities ministered by our people from our cultural perspective.”
She said if young people do not choose the college route that they should be offered leadership courses. “What’s wrong with our youth is they are not empowered. They feel hopeless and helpless. When hopeless sets in then suicide ideology sets in. This comes down to money. We need to invest in the safety and the health of our people if we are going to get well.”
She added that opportunities should be provided for youth and not take benefits from them saying it is drastic measures; instead she said to take them in a place where they are monitored to chop wood for people/elders, dry meat, mow lawns and more so they may be productive and find their way back (to health).
CSKT Chairman Ron Trahan assured Friedlander it is the heart of the work group and why it got started and urged her to get involved with the planning.
“The people here in the communities have seen that and they are gaining on what they need to do to go forward.”