Char-Koosta News 

Signing the Oath of Office

Newly elected Tribal Council Representatives Tom McDonald, Carole DePoe Lankford, Len TwoTeeth, and Jim Malatare sign the Oath of Office.

PABLO — The Tribal Council Chambers at the 2022 Winter Quarterly meeting had a pre-pandemic feel to it. For the first time since the spring of 2020, there was a sizable chambers audience, that with social spacing, and seemed to blanket the entire room. Nearly 60 people not counting Tribal Council members and administrative staff provided a taste of normalcy — a calm harbor from the rough waters of the ever-changing variant waves of COVID-19.

It was good to see Pend d’Oreille Elder Stephen Smallsalmon in person, instead of via Zoom, or not at all via Zoom. Also good because of his recent gall bladder health scare that required surgery that hospitalized him for 11 days and chiseled 35 pounds off his frame. He gave the opening prayer following the swearing in of the newly elected Tribal Councilmembers. 

And it is always good to hear the soulfull heart beat of the Yamncut Drum with the rhythmical singing during the flag and honor songs.

The added importance of the swearing in of the newly elected Tribal Council members added to the emotional vibe. 

It all added up to an uplifting all-aboard spiritual flow wafting through the air in the chambers available for anyone who cared to hop aboard. 

Swearing in of newly elected Tribal Council Representatives

Tribal Court Judge Dave Morigeau

Tribal Court Judge Dave Morigeau signs the newly elected Tribal Council Representatives’ Oaths of Office.

Tribal Court Judge Dave Morigeau swore in the five newly elected councilmembers that included two incumbents, two new members and one previous serving member. 

Incumbents Carole DePoe Lankford, Ronan District, and Len Two Teeth, Elmo District, and newcomers Jennifer Finley, Polson District, and Tom McDonald, At-Large seat, and former Jim Malatare, comprised a 30 percent change of the guard. 

The five join James “Bing” Matt, Arlee District; Anita Matt, Dixon District; Michael Dolson, Hot Springs District; Ellie Bundy, St. Ignatius District; and, Martin Charlo, Pablo District on the Tribal Council. Except for the Arlee District, those seats will be up for re-election in two years. The Arlee seat will be transformed to the second At-Large seat in the next election.

Election of Officers

Tom McDonald

Tom McDonald, the first ever At-Large Tribal Council Representative, was named Chairman of the Flathead Nation Tribal Council on a vote by his fellow Tribal Council Representatives.

Following the swearing in was the ceremonial election of the four Tribal Council officers, who all received unanimous support from their fellow Tribal Council members. Former Director of the Natural Resources Department Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Division Tom McDonald was chosen to serve as Tribal Council Chairman for the next two years. Wildlife Biologist Whisper Camel-Means is McDonald’s replacement as head of the FWRC Division.

McDonald called his election by his Tribal Council peers humbling and an absolute honor, and looks forward to his tenure on the governing body and working to achieve the goals and address the issues the Flathead Nation has on its plate.

Len TwoTeeth was elected Vice-Chair; Ellie Bundy was elected Treasurer, and Martin Charlo was elected Secretary. 

Yamncut Drum

The Yamncut Drum provided the spiritual ambiance at the 2022 Winter Quarterly with their flag and honor songs.

Rhonda Swaney Honoring

Recently retired CSKT Legal Department Managing Attorney Rhonda Swaney was honored for her many years of service to the people of the Flathead Nation. She officially retired on December 31, 2021, however all indications are that her work with the Flathead Nation will continue in a different manner.

Swaney is a consequential leader whose accomplishments will long positively affect the destiny of the Flathead Nation. None more so than the settlement of the Tribes’ Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact (FRWRC). That, along with her election to the Tribal Council in 1994 when she served as the second female to serve as Chair, are the spires on top of her many accomplishments in service to her people. 

Swaney was involved in the effort in some way, shape or form throughout the long hard-fought battle of perspectives on water and its usage that took more than 30 years to settle.

In the end it was the forward-thinking perspective of the consequential tribal leaders, who in 1855 negotiated the Treaty of Hell Gate. It was Article 3 in particular that was the rebar of the foundational argument of the settlement. That along with the Winters Doctrine, the Tribes historical research and legal expertise, the Tribal Council leadership and the Western water rights legal concept of “First in time, first in line” that armed the Flathead Nation with a bullet proof legal argument that eventually came to fruition with the U.S. Congress’s passage of the Montana Water Rights Protection Act in late 2020. It became enacted when President Donald Trump signed it into law as part of the Omnibus spending bill in late December 2020. The MWRPA was co-sponsored by Montana’s Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont) and Steve Daines (R-Mont). 

“One of the most important issues Rhonda worked on in her illustrious career was water rights. Rhonda had a long history of working on water rights,” said Legal Department Attorney Dan Decker, Jr. “From her time on the Tribal Council to her time as the Natural Resource Department head, then in her recent role as managing attorney, Rhonda was a guiding member of the Tribes’ Water Rights Negotiating Team who worked diligently for many years to accomplish the Tribes’ water compact approval by the Montana Water Rights Compact Commission and the [Montana] Legislature.”

Swaney began working for the Legal Department in 2005, and had served as the managing attorney since 2014. Prior to her career for the CSKT, Swaney worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Northwest Regional Office in Portland, Oregon. After that she became the head of the Natural Resource Department, the environmental crown jewel that carries out the long held Ancestral beliefs that all of creation deserves protection. 

“Our deepest heartfelt thanks for your many years of service,” Chairman McDonald said, adding that she is part of the CSKT family, and is always welcome in the fold. 

One by one the other Tribal Council Representatives thanked Swaney for her service to the Flathead Nation, and for the getting the settlement of the FRWRC over the goal line. The $1.9 billion settlement will be as consequential as the long-ago tribal leaders’ signage of the 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate. It will shine a new light on the long-held importance of the sustenance of sacred water those past leaders maintained — a spiritual brew of belief, reality and law that will sustain those yet to come.

Swaney, who was present via zoom, quickly refracted the praise to her colleagues and all who worked on the FRWRC settlement. 

“I had the opportunity during my career to work on so many interesting and important things and I just want to say thank you... And I want to thank all those who worked with me, all the teams that I was on were all very talented tribal members and non-member employees because we did this… I certainly didn’t do it myself,” she said.

Elders Speak 

Pend d’Oreille Elder Stephen Smallsalmon

Pend d’Oreille Elder Stephen Smallsalmon addresses the folks during the Elders Speak section of the 2022 Winter Quarterly.

Pend d’Oreille Elder Stephen Smallsalmon recalled the times gone by and some of the forlorn events that the tribal people did to commemorate the New Year. He said he didn’t want to see the Salish language go the way of some of old ways that no longer exist or are practiced to the extent they used to be.

Smallsalmon praised the election of McDonald as Chair of the Tribal Council and thanked him for his work with the tribal cultural youth Smallsalmon worked with during the summers.

“I’m just happy to be here and have a full house here,” he said. “I hope I’m here in another two years and still teaching the (Salish) language at Nkwusm.”

He implored the Tribal Council to ensure that the needs of the Elders are met and to lessen the bureaucratic hurdles they face in seeking assistance.

Then speaking in Salish, he said he hopes the Tribal Council would continue to support the effort to teach Salish because without the tribal languages the Tribes will cease to exist as a distinct people.

Council Representatives Updates

Tom McDonald and Len TwoTeeth

Tribal Council Chairman Tom McDonald and Vice-Chair Len TwoTeeth accept the congratulatory skin touch with folks at Winter Quarterly.

Each of the 10 members gave brief updates of what they have been involved with since the Fall Quarterly.

• Councilwoman Lankford said when the administrative restructuring effort is fully completed it would better meet the needs of the tribal membership, and she promise to never forget who she is working for. 

• Councilwoman Matt expressed her sympathy for the families who have lost love ones. She relayed the tribal members in her Dixon District are concerned about the proposition to have a Bison Range entrance on Ravalli Hill.

• Councilman Charlo said the Tribal Council is moving on from the “ugly things that happened” recently, in reference to the internal Tribal Council brouhaha, that in all likelihood cost former Chairwoman Shelly Fyant and Polson District Councilwoman Charmel Gillin successful re-election bids.

• Chairman McDonald thanked Councilman Charlo for his keeping the COVID-19 issue on the front burner, and for his technical expertise in development of the system that allows for the Tribal Council meetings to be broadcast.

• Councilman Dolson said it was good to see a large in-person audience after about two years of virtual meetings. He expressed concern about the effect COVID-19 is having on the education and mental health on the youth. 

• Councilman Matt also expressed happiness to have an audience in the Council Chambers. He said he was pleased with the voter turnout but said it should go up. He expressed a bit of sorrow that the old Elders are nearly gone, and that a new generation of Elders will be at the helm soon. He is concerned that don’t have the solid link to the traditional old ways nor know or speak the tribal languages.

Earnest “Bud” Moran

Former Tribal Council Chairman Earnest “Bud” Moran congratulates the Tribal Council members.

• Councilwoman Finley said “You have hired me to work for you. All the (tribal) people are my new boss. I will work hard for you and the people who haven’t [yet] been born.”

• Councilwoman Bundy said she continues to work on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People issue and went to the reintroduction of bison on the Rocky Boys Reservation. Some of the bison were donated by the Flathead Nation.

• Councilman Malatare said it was good to be back on the Tribal Council eight years after his last term ended. He said he would like to see the Tribal Council work together better and make Elders services easier to navigate. “There has to be a better way to serve the Elders,” he said.

• Vice-Chair TwoTeeth said he was humbled by his reelection and that he would never forget who entrusted him with the honor to serve the people, and implored them to not be hesitant to bring their issues with the Tribal Council to the Tribal Council. That would make the Tribal Council better.

• Chairman McDonald said he was pleased with the selection of Len (TwoTeeth) as the Vice-Chair and that would make his job easier. 

“I am honored to be here, to be selected by the nine other members on the Tribal Council,” McDonald said, adding that he is looking forward to be part of the shepherding the water compact settlement forward. “We have the obligation to protect the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin.”

McDonald is also ready to take a proactive approach to Climate Change, as well as protect the Flathead Reservation community from the effects of the out of state migration to the area.

“This is the last best place. The migration to the west will continue,” he said. “We have the job ahead of us to keep our community whole.”

Calling All Warriors

The Tribal Education Department video “Calling All Warriors” was viewed. Its focus was the personal responsibility in the battle against COVID-19. It is available for viewing on YouTube.

Initiative Update

Administration Executive Director Rick Eneas gave a presentation on the structural reorganization of the administration that, among other things, takes the Tribal Council out of the administrative decision-making loop and streamlines the administrative and departments decision making. The reorganization end goal is to create social and economic self-sufficiency.   

To reach that goal there are seven priorities: to fully integrate traditional tribal values in the tribal system; eradicate homelessness; improve and promote mental health; address drug and alcohol addiction; increase employment opportunities for tribal members within and without the tribal system; foster business opportunities; and, ensure food security and sovereignty.

Eneas gave a few examples on what some of the some of the seven priorities would accomplish when they become fully in effect. 

Eneas said an informational “Dashboard” is being developed to keep tribal members informed on the reorganization effort and the opportunities available on it. 

There is an overload of issues the new Tribal Council has to address and if past is prologue the foundation to accomplish them is there. It is the tact the Tribal Council uses that will determine the outcome.

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