ST. IGNATIUS — The last meeting of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee until September was another informational filled gathering that touched many bases of interest.
Kyle Felsman told the Elders Committee that the Preservation Office is in full summer mode with staffers’ boots on the ground on and off the Flathead Reservation conducting field cultural surveys.
Preservation is presently negotiating with NorthWestern Energy related to mitigation of cultural resources damage along the Bonneville Power Administration power line right-of-way from Hot Springs to Anaconda.
NorthWestern Energy is presently in the application process to renew its 20-year lease of the BPA power line. Preservation has made a counter offer to NorthWestern Energy’s initial mitigation offer. However, Felsman said Preservation has not heard back from Northwest Energy.
NATURAL RESOURCES DEPARTMENT
Natural Resources Department Director Rich Janssen informed the Elders and folks in attendance about coal mining in British Columbia by Teck Resources Limited, a mining conglomerate that includes Teck Coal Partnership Limited that manages the coal mining operation there. The coal mining is along the Fording River and its tributaries that drain into Kootenai River Drainage that flows into Montana fills Lake Koocanusa, and eventually the Columbia River.
Janssen said the coal mining operation wastes runoff has negative effects of the waterways flowing through the mining area. There are five large open-pit coalmines along the Fording River and its tributaries that drain into the Kootenai River Drainage; the mined coal is sold to China, Southeast Asia, and other Pacific Rim nations.
A top runoff concern is selenium, a non-metallic chemical element with chemical similarities to arsenic that would affect the health of the fishery and wild life of the Kootenai River Drainage.
Selenium is found in metal sulfide ores and is used for glassmaking and pigments, as well as a semiconductor in electronics and photocells.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Park’s research of the Kootenai River fisheries have found that selenium levels are increasing in fish samples.
According to non-governmental entity Environment Canada reports, the Fording River is “so heavily polluted that fish are hatching with terrible deformities and dying by the thousands.”
A pair of ongoing Environment Canada investigation reports “make it clear the problem is far worse than has been hitherto publicly acknowledged, with selenium poisoning causing westslope cutthroat trout to have misshaped heads, bent spines, deformed gill plates, and missing fins.”
The reports indicate that dissolved selenium levels in some Ford River tributary streams were up to 300 times above British Columbia’s guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. The report also found spikes of selenium content in some tributaries that “caused 100 percent mortality in eggs and emerging fry.”
The report estimates that an estimated 180,000 trout die annually in the Fording River because of selenium poisoning. The selenium levels in the upper Fording River have reached levels that have the potential to completely eradicate fish populations in the river.
The British Columbia Environmental Assessment office has given the green light to Teck Coal’s mining operations.
“We want to lower the selenium impacts in the Kootenai River Drainage,” Janssen said. “We want to keep the area pristine for both America and Canada. Tecl Coal has said ‘trust us’ but I am skeptical of that. Mining is not going away soon.”
Janssen said he would be going to the area in August to view the mining operations.
“A lot of people are concerned about this but it’s not getting a lot of media attention,” Janssen said
Mike Durglo, Jr. gave an update on the Climate Change Adaptation Committee efforts. He said he would like to conduct further Elder interviews to be incorporated in the upcoming update of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes 2012 Climate Change Plan document.
“We were one of the first Indian tribes to develop a Climate Change Plan in 2012,” he said. “We have the funds to update the plan. What we have found out since is that environmental changes related to climate change have been happening faster than we predicted back then. This is something we have to do for the future generations.”
Climate Change Adaptation Committee member Jim Durglo said a focus of the updated Climate Change Plan would be the effects of climate change on tribal resources including cultural resources.
“We want to get a better understanding of how climate change affects us as Indian people and our resources including our cultural resources,” he said. “We need to recognize the impacts more broadly. The new plan will have a cultural approach. All things as well as our health and wellbeing are affected by climate change.”
“There are seasonal impacts on our culture. Berry picking and bitterroot, camas and medicinal plants harvesting would be affected with seasonal changes,” Jim Durglo said. “Our spiritual beliefs, a big part of who we are as tribal people and our language will be affected, and not in a good way. Everything we do has place-based impacts on the land and water, and the global future.”
Ann Carlson, Climate Change Advisory Committee member, told the Elders that learning the tribal perspective with time immemorial observations of the climate is the way to move forward with climate change remedial plans.
“What you’re doing here as a tribal community can be a model for others,” she said. “People see the changes but don’t know what to do about it as a community like you do. Life ways with a world view is important and visionary.”
TRIBAL COUNCIL UPDATE
Elmo District Tribal Council Rep. Leonard TwoTeeth brought the Elders up to speed a few issues.
TwoTeeth said a portion of U.S. Highway 93 would be dedicated as a memorial section in honor U.S. Marine Louis Charlo who was a part of the Marine group that raised the first American flag on the summit of Mount Suribachi during the World War II battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. Private Charlo was felled by a Japanese sniper’s bullet a few days later on March 2, 1945.
“The memorial in honor of his service is long overdue,” TwoTeeth said. A dedication ceremony will be scheduled in the near future.
TwoTeeth brought the Elders up to speed on the Big Arm 60-lot RV park project. A non-Indian developer was given a permit to develop the park by the Lake County Planning Department.
The CSKT objected to the project because the road to that portion of land behind the former school was not part of a community plotting process. The roads were originally constructed to access tribal allotments and homesteads.
“During the homestead era, the roads were built so Indians could access their property. Many of the roads up there are managed by the county but are not plotted,” TwoTeeth said. “We maintain that the Tribes have jurisdiction of that road, Boulevard Road.”
TwoTeeth said the CSKT wouldn’t have objected to that permit if the county went through the tribal process. “They could have applied for the easement under protest, we would have awarded it,” TwoTeeth said. “They didn’t apply so we closed the road, the villa site roads.”
On the Kicking Horse Job Corps issue, TwoTeeth said that the President Trump Administration plans to close the Anaconda and Trapper Creek Job Corps facilities run into a political fire storm and that the proposed closures have been rescinded. Not so for Kicking Horse.
The CSKT are currently reviewing what the future uses of the KHJC site might be. TwoTeeth said a committee should be formed to decide the future of the site.
Journalist and author Alix Christie told the Elders of the upcoming book she authored about Angus McDonald and wife Catherine will soon be published. She spent four years researching the subjects and has a written draft manuscript she would like the Elders Committee to peruse. The historical novel is fact-based fiction, she said.
“History is very important and Indian history is not known to all,” Christie said. “This is a multi-cultural story of a family of a Scotch fur trader rich with tribal traditions.”
Part of her research led her to Dr. Joe McDonald and he was on hand to promote the effort.
“I have learned a lot about my family because of the research Alix did,” McDonald said. The key research item for McDonald was a map of the McDonald cemetery along Post Creek that Christie found through her research for the novel. “She has done a good job of researching for the book.”
Elder Shirley Trahan, who is reading the draft manuscript, said, “It is a very interesting well-written read, a story of my great grandparents.”
The SQCC Elders Committee regular monthly will take a summer hiatus and resume in September.