Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Tribal Council incumbents and candidates voice important issues to voters

By Alyssa Kelly
Char-Koosta News

Eight of 10 candidates had the opportunity to give their pitch last week. Topics of the forum included the drug and suicide epidemic and tribal sovereignty. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Eight of 10 candidates had the opportunity to give their pitch last week. Topics of the forum included the drug and suicide epidemic and tribal sovereignty. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

PABLO – Nine of the 10 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council candidates made their pitch Wednesday, December 6 to a crowd of over 30 people during the Two Eagle River School forum.

The forum was part of project for the school’s Tribal History and Government class taught by Jamie Stevenson and was designed to teach students about the election process for local tribal government.

From filming and timing questions to facilitating and acting as a host–students worked the entire event. Questions on the agenda included the local drug and suicide epidemics as well background information on candidates vying for seats in the Arlee, St. Ignatius, Ronan, Polson, and Elmo districts.

The candidates were asked their views on addressing the local drug epidemic.

Elmo district incumbent Lenard Two Teeth discussed “Community Strong,” a group made up of local agencies and community members organized in 2014 by the tribal council to develop a strategic plan to address the drug epidemic on the Flathead Reservation. “As council representatives we are elected and given the task to address critical issues in our community,” he said. “We started this group and then nothing became of it. We need to be held accountable. We have lost lives to this epidemic–there are tribal infants being born and going through withdrawal.”

Male students monitor the candidates’ response time and managed the notices. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Male students monitor the candidates’ response time and managed the notices. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Ronan candidate Teresa Wall-McDonald shared her experience working with a family member opting to receive emergency assistance with treatment for substance abuse. McDonald said they waited over 10 hours before being transported. “I think it’s the Tribal Council’s responsibility to take the leadership role in working with the community to address this,” she said. “We need to provide healthy choices and that includes a treatment center. We need a system that is more responsive. This is not due to a lack of resources.”

Arlee district incumbent Shelly Fyant said the Tribes were scheduled to meet with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on December 18 and 19 to develop a tribal action plan in order to address substance abuse issues on the reservation. “They will be meeting with us to establish and action plan that is appropriate for our Tribe and membership,” she said. “That could including reviewing our law and order code or establishing a treatment plan depending on our need. This is an opportunity for us.”
The candidates were asked their views on the addressing suicide on the Flathead Reservation

The Montana Department of Public Health reported that there have been 20 suicides in Lake County between November 2016 and November 2017–a significant number of which were committed by young people.

Female students acted as hosts and had the opportunity to ask the candidates questions, give direction, and explain the forum rules and regulations. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Female students acted as hosts and had the opportunity to ask the candidates questions, give direction, and explain the forum rules and regulations. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Polson incumbent Vernon Finley said the youth suicides needed to be assessed. “Suicide has many faces,” he said. “There are a lot of suicides that have gone hand in hand with drugs. Maybe we experienced such hardship that we never wanted our children to experience that and we haven’t prepared the next generation for how to deal with hardships like a first heartbreak. We need to listen.”

St. Ignatius incumbent Patty Stevens said she attended the three-day “Mending Broken Hearts” conference, which provided information on the connection between historical trauma and suicide epidemics in Native American communities. “This is a grassroots effort and it starts by addressing your own trauma beginning with your first memory,” she said. “It is really tough stuff but it went into how historical trauma affects every part of your life.”

The candidates were asked their views on protecting tribal sovereignty and land.

St. Ignatius candidate James Steele, Jr. suggested tribal members stay active and informed on local, state, and federal government issues. “You have to know what sovereignty is and who is attacking it,” he said. “We are a sovereign nation meaning we work with other government entities and that means you have to pay attention to who is in these offices and what their stance is on the Tribes. On our own reservation, we have a county commissioner who is speaking out against our land trust rights.”

Over 30 guests attended the tribal council forum hosted at Two Eagle River School. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Over 30 guests attended the tribal council forum hosted at Two Eagle River School. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

Polson candidate Charmel Gillin gave historical perspective on tribal sovereignty and its relation to treaties established between tribes and the United States government. “Protecting tribal sovereignty is going to take foresight,” she said. “It’s making sure that Washington DC upholds the treaty obligations that our ancestors fought for. We need to govern ourselves well so we don’t let go of what was fought so hard for and hold each other to certain standards as leaders.”

Due to the land buy back program, CSKT went from owning 30 percent of the Flathead Reservation land base to currently owning 62 percent. Arlee candidate Jim Malatare discussed his support for the land buy back program. “Land ownership is directly related to our sovereignty,” he said. “This is our home and we need to take care of ourselves.”

Polson candidate Louis “Junior” Caye discussed an economical perspective on sovereignty. “There are all these businesses going up on the reservation and where are we?” he said. “We need to start looking into working with the right people to get these businesses started for ourselves. How many years are we going to answer the same questions? We need to get these things going for ourselves.”

Students from Two Eagle River School hosted a forum for the 2017 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal council election. The forum was part of a learning project for a Tribal History and Government class taught by Jamie Stevenson. (Alyssa Kelly photo)Students from Two Eagle River School hosted a forum for the 2017 Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal council election. The forum was part of a learning project for a Tribal History and Government class taught by Jamie Stevenson. (Alyssa Kelly photo)

In accordance with the CSKT Constitution and Bylaw, the role of the Tribal Council includes protecting and preserving tribal property, wildlife, and natural resources, cultivating arts and culture, administering charity, and protecting the health, security and general welfare of the tribal people.

The Tribal Council is also responsible for advancing the legal rights of the tribes and its members, negotiating with federal, state, and local governments on behalf of the membership, manage sales of the tribal land base, appropriating tribal funds, enacting and adopting resolutions and ordinances, maintain law and order, regulating economic ventures and maintaining a tribal fund, and among other duties safeguarding and promoting the peace, safety, morals, and general welfare of CSKT.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council election was held on Saturday December 16. The Tribal Council is made of 10 members representing eight districts.

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