Char-Koosta News 

Part 2 of Winter Quarterly article published last week 

PABLO — No one knows what goes on in the voting booth or behind closed doors until later. 

What happened in the Tribal Council election voting booth for the election of five contested Tribal Council seats was the election of four new district representatives, and the reelection of one incumbent.

Two incumbents — Tribal Council Chair Ronald (St. Ignatius District) and Hot Springs District Rep. Leonard Gray — chose not to run; Ellie Bundy McLeod was voted in to replace Trahan, and Michael Dolson won the Hot Springs open seat. Martin Charlo won the contested Pablo District seat, and James “Bing” Matt won the Arlee District seat, a position he held before. The lone incumbent elected was Dixon District Rep. Anita Matt.

They joined St. Ignatius District Rep. D. Fred Matt, Ronan District Rep. Carole Lankford, Polson District Rep. Charmel Gillin, Elmo District Rep. Leonard TwoTeeth, and Arlee District Rep Shelly Fyant on the 10-member governing body. 

What happened behind closed doors in the Tribal Council chambers — as is traditional — before the opening of the Winter Quarterly was the naming of the Tribal Council Chair. Out of that body politic session, Fyant was tabbed to be the Chair of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council prior to the opening of the quarterly in the Tribal Council chambers. Fyant will serve for the next two years as the Chair. She was the third female chosen to that position.

New Tribal Council Chair Shelly Fyant

New Tribal Council Chair Shelly Fyant visits with the tribal membership during a break at the Winter Quarterly.

In her address to the folks at the Winter Quarterly Chairwoman Fyant thanked Trahan, Gray, outgoing Arlee District Rep. Myrna Dumontier, and outgoing Pablo Rep. Dennis Clairmont.

“There is a lot of hard work that goes on up here and I want to thank them for their contributions,” Fyant said. “We are a very diverse Tribal Council. I hope we can work together to fulfil the responsibilities of the Tribal Council.”

Fyant, who has two years remaining on her second term, said she would reach out to the constituents by holding district meetings, by the phone, and in public. She characterized her service as baptism by fire at the Montana Legislature when a couple of political hot potatoes — the water compact, and SKQ Dam — were on the front burner. “It was like drinking from a fire hose, a steep learning curve,” she said. “I promise and hope we can all follow the visions of the Tribes, make investments in our Tribes and community, protect the reservation and its natural resources, and preserve the right to control our own destiny. I will work hard for the betterment of the Tribes. Keep us accountable.” 

She said the 2020 Vision — a metaphor for her administration goals — would focus on self-governance, policy making and shepherding the Flathead Nation’s Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact to fruition.

“We have to leave animosity at the door; our job is to work for the membership,” she said. “With 2020 vision and focus we can accomplish good things.”

Legal Department Managing Attorney Rhonda Swaney

Legal Department Managing Attorney Rhonda Swaney updates the tribal membership on the Flathead Nation Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact.

CSKT Legal Department Managing Attorney Rhonda Swaney gave a presentation on the FRWR Compact. Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.) recently submitted the compact bill entitled Montana Water Rights Protection Act in the Senate. It has the backing of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) co-sponsored the compact bill. Once it passes the muster of Congress it will be sent to President Trump for his approval then back to the CSKT for its acceptance and signature.

“The Tribes, the State of Montana and the federal government sat down and negotiated this for a long time,” Swaney said, adding that long time is more than 30 years. “Hopefully it will be over soon.”

It is a very complicated bill due to the CSKT’s 1855 Hellgate Treaty that acknowledges the Flathead Nation’s time immemorial rights in its aboriginal territory. The CSKT are the only Tribal Nation in Montana with such rights. It is also complicated by federal and state legislative acts related to water rights in the state.

The MWRP Act quantifies the CSKT water rights on and off the Flathead Indian Reservation, provides $1.9 billion for rehabilitation of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project that will create approximately 6,000 jobs, unitary management of surface and sub-surface water, other water-related projects to improve water quality, instream flows, water conservation, 90,000 acre-feet of water a year from Hungry Horse Reservoir, the transfer of ownership of the school trust sections on the reservation to the Tribes, and the restoration of the National Bison Range back to the CSKT, among other things.

Swaney said there has been criticism about the bill from the membership but added that negotiation with the state and feds was better than litigation. However, litigation is still on the table if the compact does not get ratified by the federal government. 

She said that with the compact the Flathead Nation’s quantification of aboriginal water rights would be forever.

To learn more about the CSKT water rights attend one of the upcoming Water Rights meetings: 

• 6 p.m., Wednesday, January 22, at the Polson, Indian Senior Center

• 3 p.m., Sunday, January 26, at Pablo, Tribal Complex

• 6 p.m., Tuesday, January 28, at Dixon, Dixon School Community Center

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