Char-Koosta News 

RONAN — Last Wednesday the Lake County Board of Commissioners presented a scathing criticism of Senator Daines and other supporters on the Montana Water Rights Protection Act, the federal legislation that would ratify the Tribes’ water settlement and water rights compact. After the meeting, Tribal officials said the Lake County Commissioners have a long history of opposing numerous CSKT efforts. Throughout the presentation the three commissioners — Gale Decker, Bill Barron and Dave Stipe — said they weren’t anti-tribal but were concerned about the impacts of the MWRPA on Lake County physical and fiscal resources. They also complained that they didn’t have a seat in the many-years long negotiation process to resolve the Flathead Nation’s claims against the State of Montana and the United States. Neither the MWRPA, nor the compact resolve any claims by or against Lake County.

Commissioner Decker told the audience packed into the Ronan Community Center that everybody on and off the Flathead Indian Reservation needs to be aware of the impacts of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act (MWRPA). Though he didn’t provide any clear specifics, he said the Montana Legislature-passed Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact legislation differed from the MWRPA introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and that was a concern of the Lake County Board of Commissioners. The MWRPA was co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.) and Daines, and has received praise from nearly all statewide elected officials.

Commissioner Gale Decker

Commissioner Gale Decker holds up a copy of the CSKT Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact passed by the Montana Legislature.

The MWRPA has the backing of the Department of Interior, the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration as well as many diverse agricultural groups in Montana. It also has opposition in Montana.

“There are multiple differences between the [MWRPA] settlement and the Compact,” Decker said. “We saw some very troubling things in the Act and its effects on Lake County, and also off the reservation in neighboring counties.”

Decker referred to the MWRPA and its settlement provisions as a “contract” containing ambiguous language that needs clarification or removal. He said that changes to the perceived ambiguities can be made in the MWRPA prior to its passage. The examples of ambiguities provided by Decker, however, refer to language that is contained many other water settlements that were previously approved by Congress. Also, he also said funds needed be provided to Lake County for mitigation of its impacts. However, long-standing federal policy prohibits Indian water settlements from providing direct benefits to non-Indians and local governments, like Lake County.

Decker provided the audience a bit of background information on the MWRPA and called it “bad bill that shouldn’t be supported by anybody” including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Commissioner Bill Barron said the commissioners are concerned about the 6,000 jobs will be created through the life of the re-construction. The concern is that many if not most will be from off the reservation, and will be Indians from other reservations. The influx would also include drug cartel members.

Barron claimed that Lake County would need a 200-300 beds jail to accommodate the increase of crime that will make the crime related to the Bakken oil fields pale in comparison.

The CSKT FRWRC was first introduced in the Montana Legislature in 2013 but it didn’t get out of the House Judiciary Committee. A second introduction in 2015 at the Montana Legislature was ratified. Sen. Tester carried the bill to the U.S. Senate in 2016 but it didn’t have the backing of the Obama Administration due to its $2.3 billion price tag and Sen. Daines backing due to that and other concerns of his.

Following tweaks to the original FRWRC bill including cutting its cost to $1.9 billion, renaming it the Montana Water Rights Protection Act and other things to sate the concerns of Sen. Daines, he introduced the bill in this Senate session. 

One of the big contentious MWRPA bones seems to be the $1.9 billion settlement funds attached to accomplish, among other things, the reconstruction of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Approximately 85 percent of the acreage served by FIIP is non-Indian owned. It was constructed in the early 1900s and through the years inadequate maintenance has led to serious damage to the irrigation infrastructure that results in waste of water diverted from Flathead Indian Reservation rivers and streams. An estimated 40 percent of irrigation water reaches its destination.

“It appears that the senator, if he can secure the blessing of Congress, is going to load a plane with $1.9 billion in taxpayer dollars and fly it to the Pablo Tribal Complex without revealing to the public the nature of the claims required to justify the amount. The senator is willing to take the tribes’ word that the damage claims are real and verifiable,” Decker stated in a column in the Missoulian in late January.

Decker said the commissioners are concerned and want to know how the funds would be expended. He also floated the abandonment of FIIP.

“Maybe, it’s time to abandon [the irrigation project],” Decker said. “Different agencies have run [the project] and it hasn’t worked. Maybe it should just be abandoned and cut the losses.”

Ronan Community Center

There were so many people at the Ronan Community Center that they ran out of chairs for some.

Decker then added that he wasn’t for the abandonment. The CSKT have looked into that and the cost of abandonment and rehabilitation of its footprint would cost over $1.6 billion.

Decker expressed concern about the CSKT distributing portions of the MWRPA settlement funds to tribal members through per-capita payments. However, there is no avenues to do that in the MWRPA and Sen. Daines is on record confirming that.

Commissioner Bill Barron said the commissioners are concerned about the influx of people as a result of the re-construction of the FIIP infrastructure. It is estimated that 6,000 jobs will be created through the life of the re-construction. The concern is that many if not most will be from off the reservation, and will be Indians from other reservations. The influx would also include drug cartel members. 

Barron claimed that Lake County would need a 200-300 beds jail to accommodate the increase of crime that will make the crime related to the Bakken oil fields pale in comparison. 

The commissioners also expressed their concerns that the Tribes would have jurisdiction over county roadways and public and private right-of-ways on the reservation via the MWRPA, though nothing in the MWRPA contains such a statement. Sen. Daines countered that in a Jan. 10 press release.

Elaine Willman

Although the Lake County Commissioners stated that they’re not anti-tribal, their presentation could certainly gin up the anti-tribal sentiment of some of the folks there, like Elaine Willman (far left of the four women), former chair of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA). The organization advocates abolition of tribal treaties, sovereignty and governments.

“The MWRPA (Montana Water Rights Protection Act) does not extend tribal jurisdiction over county roads or rights-of-way,” Daines stated. “MWRPA helps facilitate rehabilitation of the FIIP [Flathead Indian Irrigation Project] and will have no bearing on any current court proceeding.” 

The commissioners were also concerned about the National Bison Range, the school trust land exchanges, the 90,000 acre-feet of water from Hungry Horse Reservoir, private property rights, off-reservation water rights, impacts on local infrastructure, payment in lieu of taxes, and Public Law-280.

Decker said that Lake County should consider dissolvement, with portions of Lake County becoming portions of Flathead and Missoula counties because of their much higher mill levies than Lake County. Thus, they would be better able to address the fiscal drains, the commissioners believe would be created by the MWRPA.

(4) comments


What is really sad is the weaponized use of the term "racism" by the tribe and tribal members whenever they can't come up with logical reasoning. The Commissioners are not racists, but for daring to point out the glaring deficiencies in the settlement portion of the compact (S3019), the Commissioners have to put with the circulated lie amongst the CSKT that they are racists. They are not. The CSKT has no interest whatsoever in coming to reasonable accommodation that works for everyone who now and for a century have called this area home. The CSKT sees $$$$, and an opportunity to subjugate all non-tribal members if they can play this game in courts far, far removed from the realities of life on this reservation--and they're going for it. Also, it is a lie to say DOJ and the Trump administration support the compact; they have never said that. What they have said is they support a negotiated settlement over a litigious one. Try a little honesty on for change. A negotiated settlement is a better answer, but the CSKT is clearly far more interested in a court room adjudication and see it as far more advantageous to their wallets. If the CSKT was interested in a fair and communal solution, they would let the Commissioners see the mysterious and hidden "damages" claim, but they won't. The CSKT is pulling a fast one on doesn't care about relations with the locals. The questions of the commissioners should be addressed and answered fairly, and the CSKT should stop playing the race card in an effort to obfuscate the issue and hide their true intentions.


Spanky, your entire comment suddenly spells racism, it’s sad, the year is 2020 and the human race should have evolved. Unfortunately, some individuals are paralyzed with fear (definition of racism) that exacerbates their distorted thoughts acting upon these distortion causing destruction. The state of MT has terminated that CSKT is more qualified than Lake County to manage vital resources.

Furthermore, Commissioner Gale Decker is racist, from personal experience attending Ronan High School, as a student while he was employed as a teacher and coach. Mr. Decker openly made racist comments about Native Americans in the presents of Native American students exerting, “White privilege” over vulnerable Native American children.

Needless to say, CSKT tribal members have educated themselves (lawyers, doctors, psychiatrist, nurse, biologist, mental health professionals, MBA’s, etc.) I have two master's degrees and don’t need any handouts. It’s apparent since CSKT membership empowered themselves through education they can no longer be bullied by Lake County or any other outside entity.

I was born and raised in the boundaries of the CSKT reservation and eventually moved away years later. It’s amazing living outside of CSKT and Lake County boundaries that color or race is not an issue nor does anyone see color or race. It never comes up in conversations or negations.

My elders have taught me to stop being the problem and start finding solutions. I have traveled all over the US and CSKT reservation is the most beautiful place compared to other places, envy by all. We have CSKT leadership and employees to thank who work diligently in protecting its resources and upkeep.

Note-CSKT members and I have to pay for our education cost if we choose to further our education beyond high school. I am still making payments on my student loans. I also pay Lake County, State, and federal taxes even though I live in another state. I hope this clears up any inaccuracies that Native Americans don’t.


It is so sad, that it's 2020 and we have not beyond our own fears of racism and operate under the good old boys system. CSKT members are now highly educated and are doing a awesome job in managing our resources.

Mr. Decker's comment about his fear of the money going into tribal per capita really insulted me as a tribal member, and our leaderships. It is sad that individuals like Mr. Decker, Mr. Stipe, and Barron can't move beyond their own fears of racism. I have a lot of faith and respect for our tribal leadership and division managers.


I made a comment refuting this post and it was immediately pulled, of course. Way to go Charkoosta; just can't allow any dissenting opinions, can you? I point out facts you can't refute nor can your members and immediately it is pulled. True to from, I'm afraid. I guess that's why we see so few comments on any of your stories (fictions?).

FROM CHARKOOSTA: Your comments were pending approval. We were unable to clear your comments that you made on a Sunday when our offices were closed.

(Edited by staff.)

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