ST. IGNATIUS — Once again there were a wide array of issues and updates on them on the agenda for the February Salish Pend d’Oreille Committee Elders Council meeting. Besides that, Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Director Tony Incashola reminded folks of the upcoming Salish Language Conference in Spokane the second week of March at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino.
Incashola reminded folks of the importance of the two culture committees in maintaining the language and traditional ways of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai people.
“We continue to maintain the wishes of our Ancestors and Elders. They were strong because they hung on to our ways of life. Our language and traditions are the foundation of who we are,” Incashola said. “The stories that come from thousands of years ago help us, guide us, keep us alive. Maintaining them is the only way we’ve survived for thousands of years. We are not the same as others, we are unique. If we lose our ways, we become the same as others. Remember we were here before America — we are Natives of this land, the first ones. And now we are the holders of our culture and our future. Always think seven generations ahead. When each generation thinks that the seven generations never end.”
The cultural-sensitive sites at the confluence of Martin Creek and the Clark Fork River might get a bit of breathing room, according to Grey Johnson of the Preservation Office. A real estate developer is proposing to build boat docks in the area to serve nearby homesite development. Johnson said the Avista Corp., which owns and operates the Noxon Rapids Dam that creates the Noxon Reservoir has been working with the Preservation Office on the issue since it became an issue of concern due to the tribal cultural sites in that area.
Johnson said, Avista has been working with the developer on dock relocation and redesign to eliminate the encroachment on the cultural sites. Avista has also considered buying the land closest to threatened site and keeping it development-free. Johnson suggested that the site could, among other things, be used for tribal cultural gatherings ala a river honoring.
Kyle Felsman said the University of Montana has reached out to the Preservation Office about the tribal artifacts they have at the campus. UM wants to establish a board to manage the artifacts, and want the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ and other tribes’ input in management of the artifacts.
Also, an Environmental Impact Statement is being prepared related to the operation of the 14 dams in the Columbia River Basin.
Chronic Wasting Disease
Steph Gillin, NRD public information and education spokesperson, provided an informational presentation on Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). It is a type of neurological condition which can be very contagious. It usually infects moose, elk and deer. Once infected, the disease causes a spongy degeneration of the animal’s brain. This results in abnormal behavior, the loss of the normal bodily functions, emaciation, and finally, death.
CWD is not a virus but a prion or abnormal shaped proteins. The abnormal prions have not been known to accumulate in the meet of infected animals but have been found in the eyes, brain, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleens.
Symptoms of infected animals include emaciation, excessive salivation, lack of muscle coordination, difficulty in swallowing, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. Subtle behavioral changes like loss of fear of humans or other abnormal behavior are often the first signs noticed.
In Montana it was first detected in October 2017 in the eastern part of the state in deer. It was first detected in western Montana in 2019 in Libby.
Presently there isn’t any evidence that CWD is a health risk to people.
Gillin said the Tribal Wildlife Management Program is monitoring the CWD issue and would like the participation of tribal member hunters on the Flathead Reservation. To that end they want hunters to bring the harvested animal’s head, and second vertebrae within two days of harvest to the Tribal Wildlife Management Program office at 406 6th Avenue East in Polson.
“We want to test the animal to see how CWD is moving on the landscape,” Gillin said, adding that so far tests on-reservation harvested animals have been negative for CWD. If found infected carcasses must be deposited at a Class 2 landfill such as the one in Polson.
For more information, contact the TWMP at 675-2700.
Gillin also informed the Elders Council that the CSKT are considering taking on operation of more check stations in western Montana. She said the AIS Program is looking at assisting the Blackfeet AIS check station near Browning, and the Clearwater (Highway 200-Highway 83) Junction check station.
Tribal Artifacts at SKC
Preservation Office Director Mike Durglo, Jr. says the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Forest Service maintain that the tribal artifacts stored at Salish Kootenai College belong to the federal authorities. The federal authorities are currently in the process of centralizing storage of all such antiquities and artifacts in the Northwest to Saint Louis, Missouri. However, the feds are willing to contract long-term storage of the artifacts at SKC, if the CSKT have a proper facility for such storage. The storage facility at SKC does not meet federal standards, and the feds will eventually quit paying for the storage there and relocate the artifacts to Saint Louis.
Most of the artifacts at SKC were unearthed during the construction of Libby Dam and are Kootenai Tribes related. Ninety percent are Kootenai related.
“They destroyed the land there and now have something that doesn’t belong to them,” Incashola said of the same old, same old ways of the non-Indians.
“I really believe that they should give them back to the rightful owners,” Durglo said. “It is cultural patrimony and they are sacred and they should just give them back.”
Perma Curves Highway Project
Representatives from the Montana Department of Transportation gave an informational update on the five-mile Perma Curves reconstruction project. The group was comprised of Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen, Miki Lloyd, project engineer, and Patricia Burke, safety engineer as well as Kathy Harris, KLJ consultant.
The Preservation Office has been working with the group by conducting a cultural resource study of the area. Kyle Felsman, Preservation, said MDT and Preservation have established a good relationship working together on the project.
Lloyd said the road in that section of Highway 200 was constructed in 1924 and hasn’t had any major construction work since. However, there has been major reconstruction projects on many sections from Ravalli to the Idaho border. She said the five-mile section is unsafe and that needs to be rectified.
“We have a new approach in improvements that help with the safety with minimal road reconstruction,” Lloyd said, adding that the five-mile section is constrained due to the Flathead River on the south and the rock cliffs on the north side of the road. “We are here today to your input.”
“Our challenge is to reduce the crashes and fatalities in that area,” Vosen said. “We can reduce the speed limit there, that can be a component but speed limits can create additional concerns. People might think it’s too slow and attempt unsafe passing. If reduced speed was the answer, we would be doing more of that. If it can be an effective tool there, we’ll work on that.”
Vosen said MDT can’t change speed limits, that is the mandate of the five-member Montana Highway Commission. “We engineer the project, study speed, gather data and make recommendations to the commission. They review our data, get public comments and make the decisions.”
Thompson Smith, SPCC historian, said MDT could educate the public more and with signage about the expectations of the roadway driving environment.
Vosen said that driving expectation on Highway 200 are set on the Ravalli to Perma section then the Perma curves upset those expectations.
Does MDT widen it, straighten it, set speed limits, put in better guard rails. It is a quandary that MDT must address while considering the concerns of the CSKT.
“The curves are not that bad if you follow the speed limit,” said EC member Shirley Trahan. “I object to the plan you have.”
Vosen said the presentation wasn’t a preconceived plan but a public informational effort about the safety concerns in that section of Highway 200 and that any construction work there is many years down the road.