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Ryan Zinke visits CSKT Council

By Adriana Fehrs

Ryan Zinke (C), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, sits with his Campaign Manager Alan Mikkelsen (R), and listens to concerns and comments from the Tribal Council and several CSKT employees. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Ryan Zinke (C), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, sits with his Campaign Manager Alan Mikkelsen (R), and listens to concerns and comments from the Tribal Council and several CSKT employees. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

PABLO — Ryan Zinke, the Republican congressman-elect for Montana’s at-large congressional district, made his first visit to CSKT at the Tribal Council Chambers Tuesday of last week. Zinke says it’s his way of reaching out to the areas where he received low votes.

“I have great respect for Indian country and Indian nations. I want to honor my campaign pledge, and I haven’t spent a lot of time in Indian country, and I want to correct that,” says Zinke in his opening statement to the Tribal Council.

During his meeting, Zinke says that he is aware of which areas of Montana voted for him, the Flathead Indian Reservation not being one of them, and is taking the time to visit the areas where he did not receive a significant amount of votes. He says it’s his way of letting those people know that he will still represent them during his time in Congress.

Ryan Zinke (R), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, sat before the Tribal Council last week as a part of an outreach effort. Zinke’s Campaign Manager, Alan Mikkelsen (L), of St.Ignatius, sits with him. Ryan Zinke (R), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, sat before the Tribal Council last week as a part of an outreach effort. Zinke’s Campaign Manager, Alan Mikkelsen (L), of St.Ignatius, sits with him.

Zinke also hopes to build a close relationship with CSKT - one where the tribes can communicate their issues and concerns with him. St. Ignatius Tribal Council Representative Patty Stevens responded by saying, “I hear you say that you don’t know a lot about the native American issues, so we will probably disagree on a lot things, and that’s okay, but allow us to provide you with information and education when you are making decisions.”

After Zinke concluded his remarks, the Tribal Council shared their opinions and concerns with the congressman.

Tribal Council Vice-President Carole Lankford asked Zinke about his stance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), A.K.A. Obamacare. Zinke gave a short response. “Obamacare is a sinking boat, and we need a lifeboat, something better after Obamacare fails. I think we can develop a better system. At the end of the day, you’re going to subsidize healthcare.”

Dixon Tribal Council Representative Terry Pitts (C), thanks Ryan Zinke, Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, for meeting with the Tribal Council on Tuesday, December 2. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Dixon Tribal Council Representative Terry Pitts (C), thanks Ryan Zinke, Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, for meeting with the Tribal Council on Tuesday, December 2. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Anna Whiting-Sorrell, Tribal Health and Human Services Director of Operations, Planning and Policy, said to Zinke that the ACA has given many tribal members the opportunity to purchase insurance for the first time in their lives.

Next, Arlee Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant shared her concerns about eliminating Obamacare and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fyant told Zinke that the average tribal member have Indian Health Service (IHS) as their primary insurance, which is, on a per-capita basis, funded less than state prisoners.

Fyant then shared her concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline’s effect on clean water. “The Keystone pipeline doesn’t directly affect our reservation, but it still affects the Fort Peck reservation, the Rosebud Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, and the Ogallala aquifer which is in the center of the U.S. Clean water is our lifeblood.” She says the tribes recently passed a resolution to oppose the pipeline.

Ryan Zinke (L), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, chats with Kevin Howlett (C), CSKT THHS Director, and Anna Whiting-Sorrell (R), THHS Director of Operations, Planning and Policy, before his meet-and-greet with the Tribal Council. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Ryan Zinke (L), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, chats with Kevin Howlett (C), CSKT THHS Director, and Anna Whiting-Sorrell (R), THHS Director of Operations, Planning and Policy, before his meet-and-greet with the Tribal Council. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Zinke responded by saying that he is a proponent of the keystone pipeline, but he agrees with Fyant that Montana’s waters are crucial for life.

On a separate note, Zinke informed the Tribal Council of his support of the CSKT water compact. He says he hopes the information in the water compact will persuade people to think rationally about their stance on the settlement, rather than feel with emotion, which he feels that most people are doing.

Carolee Wenderoth, CSKT Lands Department, updated the congressman on the Cobell Land Buy Back Program.

Wenderoth says in mid-December, the Cobell Land Buy Back Program Manager and his staff will be visiting CSKT to discuss extending the cooperative agreement, which ends at the end of December.

She says the Tribes are asking for an extension in order to gain additional funding to make more appraisals and offers on fractionated lands on the reservation.

Ryan Zinke (L), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, poses for a picture with Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan (R), during his meet-and-greet with the Tribal Council last week. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Ryan Zinke (L), Montana’s Republican congressman-elect, poses for a picture with Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan (R), during his meet-and-greet with the Tribal Council last week. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Wenderoth says the program allocated $7.3 million to 41 tracts of land, but the land appraisals were about $15 million, and the Polson area was the only section of the reservation to receive appraisals. “In only one-fourth of the reservation were we able to payout fractionated landowners. If we want to carry out the land buy back for the whole reservation, we need additional funding, which as of right now, we are not sure where that will come from; it might take a policy change to move aside more money.”

Zinke concluded the meeting with a few positive words. “Thank you. I want to be a friend. At the end of the day, we are Americans and Montanans first, and I believe we can always work out our issues. I look forward to coming back.”

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