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DOI Secretary Sally Jewell makes historic visit to CSKT

By Adriana Fehrs

Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan (L) stands with Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L) and U.S. Senator Jon Tester in the tribal council chambers on August 20. Jewell says she is surprised and delighted that she is the first from the DOI to visit CSKT. “You are all pioneers. CSKT is a model for others to follow. We’ve often turned to you, and you’ve all aided [the DOI] tremendously through this Land Buy Back process.” (Adriana Fehrs photo) Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan (L) stands with Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L) and U.S. Senator Jon Tester in the tribal council chambers on August 20. Jewell says she is surprised and delighted that she is the first from the DOI to visit CSKT. “You are all pioneers. CSKT is a model for others to follow. We’ve often turned to you, and you’ve all aided [the DOI] tremendously through this Land Buy Back process.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

PABLO — It’s the first time in history a Department of Interior head has visited the Flathead Indian Reservation. DOI Secretary Sally Jewell stopped by CSKT headquarters to discuss the future of the Cobell Land Buy Back Program.

A rather large crowd gathered in the Tribal Council Chambers on Wednesday, August 20 to hear Jewell and U.S. Senator Jon Tester speak on current CSKT issues. “CSKT has concerns, but they often have solutions to go with them,” says Tester.

It was a momentous day in history on Wednesday, August 20 when Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L) and U.S. Senator Jon Tester visited CSKT to listen to concerns of the tribes. It is the first time CSKT has been visited by a DOI head. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  It was a momentous day in history on Wednesday, August 20 when Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L) and U.S. Senator Jon Tester visited CSKT to listen to concerns of the tribes. It is the first time CSKT has been visited by a DOI head. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

The Cobell Land Buy Back was the major topic discussed. 566 Federally recognized tribes are subject to the Land Buy Back Program, with $1.9 Billion allocated. So far, $95 million has been paid out, and 250,000 acres of fractionated lands have been consolidated in Pine Ridge and Rosebud tribes in South Dakota, Makah in Washington state, and Fort Belknap in Montana.

CSKT identifies 1,300 tribal members sharing 328 unique tracts on the reservation. The Land Buy Back Program has set aside $7.4 million alone for CSKT to purchase roughly 38,400 acres.

Jewell says, “The reason why we are in this mess is because tribal members pass away, with no written will, and then the land is distributed out to their children and then the land becomes unworkable. Our goal is to educate, so this doesn’t continue, and with funds from the Land Buy Back Program, we can consolidate lands so the tribes can develop the land, or do whatever with it.”

Energy Keepers Inc. CEO Brian Lipscomb (L), and Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (R) visit at the bottom of the view point of Kerr Dam. Lipscomb updated Jewell on the dam acquisition. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Energy Keepers Inc. CEO Brian Lipscomb (L), and Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (R) visit at the bottom of the view point of Kerr Dam. Lipscomb updated Jewell on the dam acquisition. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Jewell says she is surprised and delighted that she is the first from the DOI to visit CSKT. “You are all pioneers. CSKT is a model for others to follow. We’ve often turned to you, and you’ve all aided [the DOI] tremendously through this Land Buy Back process,” says Jewell. CSKT is one of the few tribes to handle land assessments on their own.

In Jewell’s has two-and-a-half years under the Obama Administration left, and she aims to develop deeper bonds with CSKT. “From Cobell to water rights, these are all important steps forward for a culturally rich tribe. Thank you for being pioneers, and I promise this won’t be the last time you see me.”

Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), takes the microphone from Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman. It’s the first time in history a Department of Interior head has visited the Flathead Indian Reservation. Jewell gave her thoughts on the Cobell Land Buy Back. “CSKT charts a path neither easy, nor often traveled, but we can make progress,” says Jewell. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), takes the microphone from Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman. It’s the first time in history a Department of Interior head has visited the Flathead Indian Reservation. Jewell gave her thoughts on the Cobell Land Buy Back. “CSKT charts a path neither easy, nor often traveled, but we can make progress,” says Jewell. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Jewell and Tester, Chairmen of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, say they are here to help expedite the land buy back. “We’re already 20 months into the program, and it’s designed to end in ten years. I would like to take the cap off of this [program], it would take a lot of the pressure off. We really don’t have a lot of time left,” says Tester. Making sure assessments are fair, and appraisals are accurate are a large part of expediting the process.

Currently, assessments are complete and hundreds of initial offers are ready on at least 25 of the tracts. CSKT says a minimum payment of $75 has been set.

Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), takes a walk with Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman, at the tribal headquarters. Jewell’s has two-and-a-half years under the Obama Administration left, and she aims to develop deeper bonds with CSKT. “From Cobell to water rights, these are all important steps forward for a culturally rich tribe. Thank you for being pioneers, and I promise this won’t be the last time you see me.” (Adriana Fehrs photo) Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), takes a walk with Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman, at the tribal headquarters. Jewell’s has two-and-a-half years under the Obama Administration left, and she aims to develop deeper bonds with CSKT. “From Cobell to water rights, these are all important steps forward for a culturally rich tribe. Thank you for being pioneers, and I promise this won’t be the last time you see me.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Tribal members voiced their concerns about continual postponements, and frustrations are beginning to rise. “A lot of that is on the DOI’s part. The reality is to set realistic expectations. It’s a shared obligation, and we haven’t always done that. It’s a big job, and setting realistic expectations are complicated,” says Jewell.

Jewell says that fractionated landowners can expect offers in the mail on or around September 5, after which, the tribal members will have 45 days to accept or reject the offer.

“CSKT charts a path neither easy, nor often traveled, but we can make progress,” says Jewell.

Ron Trahan, Tribal Council Chairman, responded by saying “Thank you for taking the time to listen to us in our homeland.”

Tribal councilman Vernon Finley (L) stands with Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (C) in the rain while they listen to updates on the Kerr Dam from Energy Keepers Inc. CEO Brian Lipscomb (R). “It’s really fantastic what you’ve done,” says Jewell. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  Tribal councilman Vernon Finley (L) stands with Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (C) in the rain while they listen to updates on the Kerr Dam from Energy Keepers Inc. CEO Brian Lipscomb (R). “It’s really fantastic what you’ve done,” says Jewell. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

After the morning meeting Jewell and Tester, accompanied by CSKT officials, traveled out to the Kerr Dam, to speak with Brain Lipscomb, Energy Keepers Inc. CEO.

CSKT is in year 38 of a 40 year plan. The tribes will take over the dam in September 5, 2015. Lipscomb says, “CSKT is the first tribe in the nation that will take on the endeavor of owning their own hydroelectric generation facility, and we are very excited.”

Lipscomb goes on to explain that owning the dam will do four things for CSKT. “Owning the dam will allow CSKT to regain landscape that the tribes depend on, regain resources which is the first time in 80 years, assure a continued stream of income and economic benefit, and lastly it will offer job opportunities; there will be 21 staff onboard.”

Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), poses with Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman, with her parting gift - a large map of the land status of the Flathead Indian Reservation. (Adriana Fehrs photo).  Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Sally Jewell (L), poses with Ron Trahan (R), Tribal Council Chairman, with her parting gift - a large map of the land status of the Flathead Indian Reservation. (Adriana Fehrs photo).

The last license was issued 30 years ago. CSKT contested the licensing but the courts ruled to let the license run its course. “CSKT was given the right of first refusal, and for 30 years CSKT has been budgeting to buy the dam,” said, George Waters, President of George Waters Consulting Services.

“There are not a lot of hurdles left to owning the dam,” says Lipscomb. “It’s really fantastic what you’ve done,” says Jewell.

Jewell’s visit came to an end in the Tribal Council Chambers where Trahan gifted a large map of the land status of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

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