PABLO — It was a sparse crowd as seems to be just the way it is at the summer Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes general membership open meeting. Although the crowd was sparse, maybe 25 or so people due to the Fourth of July holiday, the discussions were not.
The day opened with a prayer by Stephan Small Salmon and a Flag Song by the Brothers Drum. The Brothers Drum members are all Trahan kin and military veterans.
“Today, I am happy, but I am also sad,” said Ql̓ispé Elder Small Salmon. Last year he was named War Dance Chief by the Arlee Celebration/Arlee Espapqeyni Committee during a regular monthly meeting of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee (SQCC) Elders Committee. That naming of the position formally held by his late-father Mitch Small Salmon. “Last year after I got it I heard there were complaints. This year the complaints continue. That makes me sad you know, when someone tells me what to do.”
Small Salmon said despite that he was feeling good about the recent release of a movie — “The Last Beyond” — that featured a much younger Small Salmon when it was filmed 14 years ago. “It’s taken 14 years to come out of the can,” Small Salmon said in his best Hollywood jargon. The movie recently premiered in Bozeman about a month ago. The Western movie was filmed in the Bozeman area way back when but now it is seeing the light of day, or the dark of the cinema or it will be once the distribution gets finalized. Nonetheless Small Salmon said the wait was worth it, as was the filming that included Small Salmon roughing it up with his furry, clawed and toothy-fanged bear adversary. “I had to put my hand in the bear’s mouth.”
Raven Rogers thanked Small Salmon for serving as the Séliš-Ql̓ispé War Dance Chief, praised recent Yale graduate Sam Wall, and gave a shout out to military veterans.
Delores Abel Plumage, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, whose husband Jack Plumage is a member of the Gros Ventre Tribes of Fort Belknap, has lived there for 40 years. She will be seeking a third term as a commissioner on the Blaine County Board of Commissioners. Delores is the daughter of Steve Abel and Bernice Pichette. She is the first woman and first American Indian woman to serve on the Blaine County Board of Commissioners.
“I feel very good when I come back on the (Flathead) reservation,” Plumage said.
Plumage gave a little backdrop on what it’s like to be the first American Indian woman to serve on the Blaine County Commission that includes the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. At times she feels more welcome on the Board of Commissioners than she does in the Fort Belknap Tribal Council chambers, she said.
Plumage is a Democrat while her two fellow Blaine County commissioners are Republican males. “I have to make alliances,” she said. “I learned to work with Republicans.”
However no matter how good the alliances are certain things like water and politics can gum up the process when it comes to Federal Indian Reserved Water Rights Compacts.
“We are having problems with the Fort Belknap compact, it’s been ratified in the state but changes can be made in the U.S. Congress,” Plumage said. The hitch in the giddy up that could see some congressional changes is the proposed land exchange of Bureau of Reclamation land in the Little Rockies. The land was previously a part of the Fort Belknap Reservation but was carved out in the late-1800s when gold was found in the Zortman and Landusky areas. “I would like to know what’s going on with the water compact on the Flathead Reservation. Over in eastern Montana they are saying it’s having problems. The ranchers in eastern Montana don’t support the Salish Kootenai water compact. It’s controversial and it’s a battle we all have a dog in. Over here I hear it’s not in trouble. I am very interested in getting updates. I ask what’s going on. Blaine County knows what’s going on over here. It’s the $2.3 billion the CSKT are asking for. The Department of Interior says that’s too much money. Every compact is interrelated and political. The Blackfeet and Crow tribal members are allowed to vote on their water compacts. When I want updates I talk to (Sen. Jon) Tester or (Rep. Craig) Gianforte aides. Updates are very important. I want updates.”
“It’s no accident that we’re the last to settle the water compact. We are hard to deal with because we won’t accept less,” said St. Ignatius District Tribal Council Rep. Fred Matt. “If the Flathead settles for this (water compact) it sets the stage for the rest of the tribes… We’ll hold the hard line.”
“You are tribal citizens, state citizens and American citizens,” Plumage said. “We have had a lot of scraps at Blaine County but we’ve worked things out. You’re not into anything new you’re in for a fight. You need to be at the table to find out what’s going on.”
“One of the advantages we have over other tribes is our legal staff,” said Ronan District Tribal Council Rep. Carole Lankford. “Our combined professional staff and our legal staff are good for us. We’re cautiously providing the membership with information.”
“Lake County and the state probably know more about your business than tribal members,” Plumage said.
Tribal Council Updates
It was part Cliff Notes and rough drafts but no novels when it came to Tribal Council updates.
“It’s been sad times for me personally,” Lankford said. “And hard times up here.”
“I don’t have a lot to report,” said Pablo District Tribal Council Rep. Dennis Clairmont. He has been on the Yellowstone bison hunt tour, working with Missoula County on upgrading the Council Groves historic area where the Séliš, Ksanka and Ql̓ispé negotiated its 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate with Oregon Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens, and the Mud Creek (Old U.S. Highway 93) and U.S. HIghway 93 intersection near Pablo. “I deal with the issues the best I can.”
Arlee District Tribal Council Rep. Shelly Fyant said she continues to work on the Missing and Murdered Indian Women, runoff from mining in Canada and food sovereignty. She read a letter from Victor Matt on the Matt family’s desire to manage the 2020 Arlee Celebration/ Arlee Espapqeyni.
“I want to thank the drum and those who keep our culture alive. My heart is for my people, always has been, always will be; that is something that will never change,” said Arlee District Tribal Council Rep. Myrna Dumontier. “I use the past as my foundation to build our future on. I hope to continue this work far into the future.”
Veteran Tribal Councilmember and former chair Fred Matt said he is still playing catch-up. “You always have moving targets on the council even if you’re an old vet,” Matt said. “A couple of weeks ago I toured the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. It’s alarming how old and dilapidated it is. It needs to be fixed. The pumping plant is in a terrible state of disrepair.”
Matt said he is serving on the Inter-Tribal Timber Council, a position he served in his previous incarnations as a Tribal Councilmember. The 2023 national convention will be held on the Flathead Reservation in June 2023.
Polson District Tribal Council Rep. Charmel Gillin said she recently represented the CSKT at the Tribal Leaders Summit meeting with Gov. Steve Bullock.
“Everyday we have to recognize the need to stand up for our rights,” Gillin said. “The dialogue tends to take its own shape through the organic process. We have to stand up for things that need to be addressed. The governor and his staff have been very receptive but we hold our ground.”
Dixon District Tribal Council Rep. Anita Matt said her district meetings participation continues to grow turnout-wise and subject-wise. “We are bringing people together for a lot of good discussions,” she said. “We recently had a community clean up at the Dixon Agency and we will continue to work with the Agency community. We are still working on getting a community building.”
Matt serves as the president of the Montana-Wyoming Region Inter Tribal Agriculture Committee. She said there are 23 issues on the Farm Bill that affects tribal agricultural operations. The Flathead Nation will host the regional Inter Tribal Agriculture meeting June 29 and 30.
Elmo District Tribal Council Rep. Len TwoTeeth said he continues to work on the proposed Big Arm RV park roadway case. “The case will have huge impacts in Indian Country,” Twoteeth said of the case pitting Lake County against the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes over a road right of way issue.
“This Tribal Council is a busy one,” said Tribal Council Chair Ronald Trahan. “What is our battle today? Two point three million dollars is not a big amount of money. We’ll fight for this.”
“He didn’t want this,” Trahan said of the recognition of recently retired CSKT financial manager Vern Clairmont. The longtime tribal bean counter’s retirement was short lived. He and his two sons have set up a financial advisory business that will keep them busy. Rick Eneas has replaced Clairmont. “It’s hard to see these people leave.”
“He didn’t want any big fanfare,” Matt said. “You deserve this. The Tribes relied on you.”
“I didn’t plan for this. I came in this morning to thank you, the Tribal Council and our Tribes for almost 45 years of employment,” Clairmont said. “Throughout the years we got a lot of things accomplished.”
Clairmont said his retirement was good “for about a month.” He and sons Jeff and Jason decided to set up a financial consultant business entitled Raven Consultants, LLC.
“We will be working with other tribes, national tribal organizations, Indian housing organizations to tighten up their accounting,” Clairmont said. “It’s going to be a fun adventure for me to work with my sons.”
Clairmont said the Honor Song by The Brothers Drum after being draped with a Pendleton blanket by Chair Trahan and Lankford made his day.
“People don’t know how good it is to hear the drum,” Clairmont said.
CSKT Legal Department attorney Jordan Thompson gave an update on some of the CSKT legal issues, in particular the Water Rights Compact and the Big Arm RV camp road right of way issue.
Thompson said the tour of FIIP infrastructure was eye-opening tour of a “terrible situation to see. The irrigation project destroyed the environment, destroyed the hydrograph and destroyed the tribal culture. How do you fix that?”
The FIIP was built for the benefit of the Flathead Nation membership but a few years after it was built in the early 1900s the reservation land was allotted to eligible tribal members then was opened to non-Indian homesteading. The irrigation project built to turn free roaming Indians into Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of agrarian land tillers didn’t work. Due to homesteading the irrigation project went from near total Indian irrigators to about 10 percent of irrigators. It remains that way to this day, 90 percent of the irrigators served by FIIP are non-Indian.
Despite that, Thompson said the Tribes’ Steven’s 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate armor the CSKT with off-reservation rights that the other Tribal Nations in the state lack. They also have the first in time, first in water rights. The State of Montana signed off on the CSKT water compact in 2015. It is now in the hands of the U.S. Congress.
“They have to pass the legislation that was introduced,” Thompson said, adding that criterion and procedures will look at the costs and liabilities of claims. “With the compact they will try to fix the damages done, restore the project facilities that are inefficient, rundown. How do we modernize the facilities to be more efficient, to be better for the fish, how do we manage return flows. Usually all irrigation water is used not returned to the streams.”
Restoration is also needed for degraded land resources and waterways and cultural ways lost or damaged.
Thompson said the water compact is good for the CSKT and State of Montana. “It’s a win-win for the Tribes and State. Let’s agree on that and let’s get public support,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic we’re on the right track to get the legislation reintroduced in the next legislative session.”
“Have you heard about the project bill and the funding bill,” Plumage asked Thompson.
He said he heard the project bill would get passed and the funding bill would come about later in the process. “The underlying issues won’t be changed,” Thompson said.
“That’s where negotiations come in,” Trahan said.
When asked about water management dispute resolution process, Thompson said the CSKT Water Compact does have such an entity — Unitary Management Committee — comprised of two tribal member representatives, two non-Indian representatives and one federal representative.
Thompson said the Big Arm RV park road right of way issue came about last winter when the Lake County Planning Board issued a permit for the RV park. The Tribes maintain that according to the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act that the taking of CSKT lands ended with the act.
The county platted villa and town sites in the area but they were never developed and the roads never built. The roads in the area that were developed served tribal home sites and homesteads. The Tribes maintain that since the plats and roads were never developed they revert back to tribal land ownership.
Delores Plumage was asked to deliver the closing prayer.