Char-Koosta News

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Meth, compact and language dominates Quarterly Meeting

Tribal Council representatives update membership

By Lailani Upham

CSKT tribal council members tune in to hear the report on the Water Rights compact by CSKT tribal attorney Rhonda Swaney at last week’s Spring Quarterly meeting. (Lailani Upham photo) CSKT tribal council members tune in to hear the report on the Water Rights compact by CSKT tribal attorney Rhonda Swaney at last week’s Spring Quarterly meeting. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — After roll call and a prayer by elder Pat Pierre a few council members gaze toward the window – to watch for drum group Yamncut, a regular at opening meetings. The group was unable to make it.

After a few glances out the lobby windows, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley offered up an honor song and the Spring Quarterly meeting was in session last Friday.

Several of his fellow council members started their remarks with gratitude for the powerfully felt solo.

On the minds of the council members were the meth problem, the CSKT water compact and the language revitalization.

Elmo Representative Len Two Teeth opened by saying, although he has seen many tribal members in a battle of some sort, he is also seeing things move in positive direction, especially in the Kootenai language. He said there are groups in the community working on proposals to do more to revitalize the language.

CSKT Representative Lloyd Irvine said the tribes have been working on the CSKT water compact for 15 years and he did not understand the ways or thoughts of the non-tribal members in the fight against the compact. He inserted that education is the way to bring understanding, and the language had much to do with explaining tribal views when it came to genuine understanding.

Irvine also touched on issues at the national level of the Trust Reform and Economic Development, where the Department of Interior is taking action to improve the trust system with tribes that better defines the relationship in respect to tribal sovereignty.

“Keep an eye out for those bills that are coming down in Congress. It is critical to Indian Country,” he said. Irvine stated he was pleased to know that legal groups National Congress of American Indians and Native American Rights Fund were working on the issue.

Shelly Fyant, Arlee representative, spoke on her monthly district meetings in Arlee, which focused on the meth problem in the area. She explained local guests such as Tribal Law and Order, environmental officials, SKHA officials and others were invited to meetings to educate community members.

She added any information on upcoming meetings will be posted in the Char-Koosta newspaper.

Fyant did include that five buildings were tested in Arlee and most tested negative except for the Senior Citizens Center. She said currently Tuesday and Thursday meals would be held at the Arlee Community Center until the building is cleaned up. “It is really bad news, but is the reality,” she concluded.

She reminded the group of her initiatives while on Tribal Council are health and wellness, and true sovereignty of the tribes. “The first year was of learning of the tribal programs and departments and this year she is beginning to launch a food sovereignty initiative. She will be educating the community to grow their own food and bring in local tribal ranchers to help with the effort.

St. Ignatius Representative Patty Stevens said health and wellness was also a top priority of the tribes, “That means every thing we do as a council,” she said, “the language revitalization, water rights, Medicaid expansion, and land – that we are all working toward that goal.”

Stevens learned Salish Kootenai Housing Authority policies are very thorough. She said it is unfortunate how high the health and financial costs of meth in a unit or building, and rehabilitation and preventive work has become.

She added to Two Teeth’s update on the Kootenai language revitalization efforts in the communities is encouraging, as currently there are less speakers of Kootenai than Salish.

CSKT Ronan Rep. Carole Lankford pointed out the life-size cut outs of tribal members across the hallways of the tribal complex are an effort of the CSKT Tribal Education department to highlight tribal member graduates of colleges and universities, or those in successful careers.

Lankford said district meetings at the Ronan Senior Citizens building were meth awareness and education.

She said the budget season is approaching and obstacles are in the forecast; however, there are discussions for a Ronan Community Center and Pablo Longhouse, and currently funding is being sought for architectural work on the projects.

The community center is projected to be on a 15-acre lot on the north end of town.

No set date has been discussed on the launch of such projects.

Dixon Representative Terry Pitts extended gratitude to all who were present at the meeting and gave credit to fellow council leaders on the work that is happening across the communities regarding the meth issue. He added it is everyone’s responsibility to make a difference and change the problem. “You need engage, you need to know what you children are doing. Each of us have knowledge, each of us have experience. We’ve lost, we’ve learned. We all have had family members that have been affected by this. We can’t wait for programs to do it. We need to walk out of here and take it personal,” he said.

He spoke on how the council works together as a group and will continue to do so. However, pointed out the challenges they face – such as the near future of sequestration.

“We have to be far-sighted, but the most thing is we have to stand up for our rights,” he said. "To do that is a real commitment.”

He said attending the upcoming water compact hearing on April 11to be heard and show support should be a priority for the community.

He said the tribe is providing rides to and from Helena and hopes many will jump on board.

Arlee Representative Bing Matt encouraged getting the word out that the tribes is offering rides to the CSKT water compact hearing. “We need the support. We need to let them know, we are not here to mess around but need to get this thing done.”

“It’s disheartening to hear what they have to say about the tribes, ‘It’s not theirs;’ it’s tiresome,” Matt said. Despite the testimonies and what all the tribes have walked through seems to be not enough, said Matt.

Matt said that at the national level, discussions are underway to tax casino jackpots as low at $600 and add taxes to per capita payments for minors. Matt said it’s an issue he is working to oppose.

Rep. Ron Trahan spoke on the discouraging aspects of drug addiction plaguing families across the reservation, but said if adults that are bound by the addiction, they need to take responsibility and admit they have a problem and get help. He explained there are programs in place to guide one into freedom of the dependence; however steps have to be taken by the addict and the community. “It takes all of us to do something."

Trahan said that the water compact is the last big war to fight and everyone needs to band together in support.

Chairman Vernon Finley shared in his experience of attending meetings on the state and national level and said the one thing he learned was it is all “theater.”

“It’s all been rehearsed,” he said. “How the actual vote got there was decided long before they ever got to the House or floor.”

He added it became clear during the water compact hearing. “So whether the compact passes – I think it is already determined.”

Although it is in Finley’s opinion the decision may have already been made, he says it is still important tribal people to be present during the upcoming water compact hearing to show that tribal people care about the outcome.

Finley said the tribes’ lobbyist, Shane Morigeau, represents the tribes well, and is respected at the Capitol.

The video recording of the quarterly meeting in it’s entirety will be available at in two weeks.

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