Char-Koosta News

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Fall quarterly meeting hears from the Elders, honors Chib Espinoza, gets the lowdown on the fire season

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

PABLO — The early sunny, brisk, Friday morning began with fresh donuts, old-style perk coffee, a few scattered seats of attendees, some elders, and the Yamncut drummers at the Fall Quarterly meeting. 

The last 2017 CSKT Quarterly meeting completed the year with honors, updates, compliments and hardly not a lot of complaints — nevertheless, the standard critiques made a typical appearance.

The community crowd trickled in as elders, Stephen Smallsalmon, Pat Pierre, Shirley Trahan and Clara Charlo took the open floor to share thoughts and insights to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council.

Stephen Smallsalmon is the first to take the mic during the “elders speak” portion on the meeting agenda. (Lailani Upham  photo) Stephen Smallsalmon is the first to take the mic during the “elders speak” portion on the meeting agenda. (Lailani Upham photo)

Elders speak
Elder’s words and tribal council updates circled the room with nearly each person expressing gratitude to the drummers.

“The drum sounds good. It’s good to see so many helping out (singing),” said Smallsalmon. Smallsalmon shared memories of his folks and how leaders in the tribes were acknowledged. Smallsalmon asked for help with oil to heat his home. He said he was denied assistance due to the over income limit for help. He believed that he should be eligible to the assistance after serving at Nkwusm Salish Language Immersion School for 16 years. “I and Pat should have the help. Leaders long ago had the help. I think we are leaders,” he said to the council members.

Elder Pat Pierre spent a few minutes on respect for funerals in the community. “A long time ago we used to take time off for funerals to pay respect. I think it would be good to respect that today and help each other out during funerals,” said Pierre. Pierre said a priority of the tribes should be to bring home tribal artifacts kept in far and near institutions and be cared for by their own.

Attendees fix their attention to elder Pat Pierre as he talks on the importance of respect to one another. (Lailani Upham photo)Attendees fix their attention to elder Pat Pierre as he talks on the importance of respect to one another. (Lailani Upham photo)

Elder Shirley Trahan, usually is a listener, took the floor at the request of a council member who called upon her acuity. Trahan shared with attendees and council about the little things that matter to an elder and that is to do what you can for them. “Bring them a meal, take them to the doctor if they need,” she said. “In turn they might teach you something you didn’t know before.”

Clara Charlo agreed with Smallsalmon to help elders no matter what. “Yes they might be working, but they are teaching our kids. They are elders and we should help them.”

Charlo also shared her concern for infants born to drug addiction on the Flathead Reservation. “I don’t know what to do, but wish we could do something. It’s a scary world,” she said. Charlo suggested additional funding should go to drug addiction efforts.

Chib Espinoza lights up as elder Pat Pierre reaches for an “atta boy” hug. (Lailani Upham photo) Chib Espinoza lights up as elder Pat Pierre reaches for an “atta boy” hug. (Lailani Upham photo)

Pablo “Chib” Espinoza
After the rounds of elders and tribal council updates the atmosphere shifted to recognize and honor 40-year CSKT employee Pablo “Chib” Espinoza. “He is not only a good employee, he gives 100 percent all the time,” said supervisor Tom McDonald, CSKT Natural Resource Fish and Wildlife Division Manager. Espinoza came on board with the tribes in 1977 and on board with CSKT Fish and Wildlife as a Game Warden ten years ago, said McDonald. “He’s been with us for ten years and I hope another ten more,” said McDonald.

McDonald praised Espinoza as a huge motivator to his fellow employees. “Chib demonstrates a perfect employee, that’s pretty hard to find,” said McDonald. “And he always has a solution with a criticism. He is always striving for a solution in a conflict or problem,” said McDonald. He added Espinoza is also an effective role model to kids. After raving about Espinoza’s fitness dedication as well, he added, “He’s like a jolly green giant to them.” McDonald was a bit emotional after telling the affect Espinoza had on his own grandson after a recent day hike.

CSKT Game Warden, Pablo “Chib” Espinoza is presented with a Pendleton blanket from CSKT Tribal Council for his “excellent” service with the tribes since 1977. CSKT representative Troy Felsman and Chairman Vernon Finley carry out the honors of wrapping Espinoza with the gift. (Lailani Upham  photo) CSKT Game Warden, Pablo “Chib” Espinoza is presented with a Pendleton blanket from CSKT Tribal Council for his “excellent” service with the tribes since 1977. CSKT representative Troy Felsman and Chairman Vernon Finley carry out the honors of wrapping Espinoza with the gift. (Lailani Upham photo)

Jim Williams, FWP Regional Manager of the Kalispell office, praised Espinoza. Espinoza’s professionalism on and off the reservation has made the relationship with neighboring local, federal and state agencies a success, said Williams.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Captain Lee Anderson said nothing wavered with his colleague. “His demeanor and behavior never changed.” Anderson commended Espinoza for his diligence in investigating poachers. Anderson worked with Espinoza for 10 years.

The 2017 Fire Season
CSKT Division of Fire management officer Ron Swaney highlighted and recognized local, state, federal and visiting tribes team efforts in the 2017 wildfire season that was named one of the worst in state history. “We found ourselves in the middle of a very stressful high paced environment and we rolled up our sleeves and got after it,” said Swaney.

Swaney said many of the front liners never get the recognition they deserve and said the Department wanted to express to individuals and agencies for helping out and bring awareness to the larger picture of what it takes to keep fires at bay and communities safe. “It was quite a blur. We had a 55-day span of no precipitation.” He added that long-time Division of Fire employee Bob McCrea was the rock of the program. “He’s a ninja warrior. He led it. I think of his dedication put forth that we have built a solid program.”

Swaney said the combination of CSKT Division of Fire staff, Tribal Forestry, Natural Resources, Preservation and Division of Lands departments stepped up to meet the increased workload caused by the wildfire season. “We created a safe work environment, took care of our people, protected the natural, economic, and cultural resources of the Tribes while protecting the homes and resources of those who reside on the Flathead Indian Reservation,” Swaney said.

Yamncut singers lead the meeting with an honor song at the Fall Quarterly meeting on Friday morning (Lailani Upham  photo) Yamncut singers lead the meeting with an honor song at the Fall Quarterly meeting on Friday morning (Lailani Upham photo)

He praised the team efforts from ground to air support to effectively stabilize a very unstable situation. “We were not alone in our fight. We got support from other Tribes" - following Indian (BIA) Fire Programs, Navajo, Oklahoma (both Eastern and Southern Plain Regions), Mescalero Apache, Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, Winnebago, San Carlos Apache, Spokane, Ft. Yates Sioux, Flathead Agency BIA, Northwest Region BIA, BIA-NIFC, the local Tribal Member Best Value Contract Equipment, all 11 Rural Fire Districts that service the Flathead Indian Reservation Communities, Ronan RFD, Polson RFD, Pablo RFD, Mission RFD, Charlo RFD, Dixon RFD, Arlee RFD, Frenchtown RFD, Hot Springs RFD, Chief Cliff RFD, Rollins RFD.., our local Tribal and County Law Enforcement, Lake County an Tribal DES, Tribal Council and Lake County Commissioners.” Swaney added that agency partners also included Lolo National Forest, DNRC – NWLO AND SWLO, FWS, BLM, Bitterroot National Forest, Flathead National Forest, Northern Rockies, Missoula Inter-Agency Dispatch Center, Missoula Smoke Jumpers, Rob Berney from Torne Bay Alaska.

With roughly 300 employees working the 2017 CSKT fire season there were 62 starts with a total of 33,702 acres burned; 13 lightning cause and 49 human caused, according to Swaney’s report.

Casey Ryan, CSKT Division of Water hydrologist, added reports from the Interagency BAER Team who were called in to assess the Blue Bay and Liberty Fire that included assessment of the watershed, cultural, fisheries, wildlife, and forestry and vegetation resources. “Further, the reports prescribe specific Emergency Stabilization Treatments for each fire area in order to protect health and human safety and prevent loss to critical cultural and natural resources.”

Nkwusm Salish Language School students hosted and served a homemade lunch for attendees.

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