PABLO — A couple of things were the main topics expressed at the 2021 Winter Quarterly. COVID-19, which seems to have amped up its bitter harvest on tribal folks, shadowed the meeting; however, the monumental settlement of the Flathead Nation’s Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact lightened the atmosphere a bit.
The decades-long slog related to the Flathead Nation’s Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact finally came to an end last week when the Tribal Council unanimously voted to ratify the Montana Water Rights Protection Act at its regularly scheduled meeting.
Pend d’Oreille Elder Stephen SmallSalmon expressed longing for the old times gone by when jump dances and Blue Jay ceremonies were celebrated during the holidays.
“Now that’s all gone,” he said, adding the Elders back then spoke of a pandemic would be coming in his future. “They said we would get through it.”
However, the clock is ticking, SmallSalmon said, and folks his age get lonely with the passing of family and friends but despite of that he wants to hang around a bit longer and continue his mission of teaching the Salish language.
“Help us (Elders) out, we only have a few more years left on this earth. I want the (COVID-19) shot,” he said. “But, I’m happy. When I wake up in the morning, I am so happy, I’m still alive.”
Tribal Council Updates
Ronan District Tribal Councilwoman Carole Lankford understood SmallSalmon’s COVID-19 concern and the loss of tribal members; she had COVID-19 but didn’t have the serious symptoms.
Lankford gave kudos to the all the folks through the years who have worked to get the water rights compact accomplished.
“I remember 36 years ago when Joe Felsman, Fred Matt, Mickey Pablo were talking about water rights [negotiations],” Lankford said. “I wondered, why? Now I know why. They were looking to the future… In the long run we did the best we could. We’ve accomplished a lot.”
The MWRPA $1.9 billion settlement requires the rebuilding of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (FIIP), and restoration of the National Bison Range to tribal trust land and under CSKT management.
The FIIP reconstruction project is a multi-year project that is expected to create around 6,000 jobs over the life of the reconstruction and many permanent jobs during and following reconstruction. It will also have major positive impacts on the regional economy, and the Flathead Reservation ecology.
Pablo District Tribal Councilman Martin Charlo said 2020 and COVID-19 has meant adjustments for all in everyday life and resulted in untimely deaths of many tribal members.
“We’re resilient people, we can get through this,” Charlo said, adding his appreciation for the “essential frontline workers” of the CSKT.
Charlo lauded the CSKT purchase and rebuilding of the Starlight Motel in Ronan. It has been rechristened Morning Star and will be used for supportive housing managed by the Defenders Office.
Charlo said the recent legalization of marijuana, and medical marijuana are issues the Tribal Council has to address.
Arlee District Tribal Councilman James “Bing” Matt, also lauded the reconstruction of the now Starlight Motel, and expressed hope that 2021 will be better than 2020.
St. Ignatius District Trial Councilwoman Elle Bundy expressed satisfaction of the Tribal Council accomplishments this past year and gave thanks to employees of CSKT for the work they do.
Dixon District Tribal Councilwoman Anita Matt said she was pleased with historic and monumental settlement of the Flathead Nation’s Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact.
St. Ignatius District Trial Councilman Fred Matt said we are living in “trying times.”
“Let’s remember all those who have left us due to the pandemic and by other ways,” Matt said. “I feel like folks are looking down on us. I remember talking to George Waters (CSKT attorney in Washington, D.C.) at Mickey’s (Pablo) funeral and him saying that we would do everything in our power to get the National Bison Range under our umbrella.”
Matt was the Tribal Council Vice-Chair when Pablo passed away and became the Chairman due to the untimely death of Pablo. He expressed gratitude for all the folks involved in making the National Bison Range restoration a reality.
Polson District and Hot Springs District Tribal Council Representatives Charmel Gillin and Mike Dolson respectively thanked the membership for the honor of serving them.
Elmo District Tribal Councilman Len TwoTeeth said it’s been a difficult time due to people dying of COVID-19, and not being able to hold regular funeral services. He said he missed attending the Elders Committee meetings, that are on hold until COVID-19 comes under control.
TwoTeeth paid his respects to Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre, and Kootenai Elder Ig Couture, who were the Elder representatives on the CSKT water rights team that negotiated with the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission.
“It was always good to see them there, always,” TwoTeeth said. “The meetings always ended with Pat saying whose water this is.”
Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said 2020 has been a difficult year but there were bright spots. Among those were, the Flathead Nation being chosen to be the first Tribal Nation to roll out the Tribal Community Response Plan that addresses and combats American Indian and Alaska Native missing and/or murdered people cases.
Fyant also discussed the good relationship with the Missoula County Commission and the Missoula Municipal Council, and their acknowledgement of the Bitterroot Salish Ancestral Homeland that includes the Missoula area. The Commission and Council is in the process of renaming some streets and bridges after Salish people or placenames. The County recently decided to rename Mullen Road. The new name is “Sxwtpqyen,” which is Salish for “Place Where Something Comes to a Point.”
Teresa Morigeau was honored for her voluntary work cleaning up litter along Terrace Lake Road.
“Teresa is someone willing to step up and clean up Terrace Lake Road,” Lankford said. “I’m pleased to acknowledge you and let you know how much we appreciate you.”
Water Rights Honoring
The Tribal Council honored three CSKT Legal Department attorneys — Rhonda Swaney, John Carter and Ryan Rusche — for their work on the Flathead Nation’s Federal Reserved Water Rights Compact. Each were presented with a Pendleton blanket and expressed thanks for the recognition.
Water Rights Update
Rusche gave an update on the recently ratified Montana Water Rights Protection Act. (See Historic Water Rights act becomes law)
Rusche highlighted the history of Federal Reserved Water Rights Compacts that are founded in the 1908 Winters Decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. The SCOTUS ruled that when the U.S. Congress or the president sets aside land out of the public domain for a specific purpose, such as an Indian reservation, national park or national forest, a quantity of water is reserved based on the amount necessary to fulfill the specific federal purpose.
Also, the McCarran Amendment In 1952 mandated that Federal Reserved Water Rights had to be negotiated and adjudicated in state courts.
“Five years ago, we rolled out our settlement claims that would provide benefits for the CSKT,” he said, adding a timeline from then to now. “Now the compact has to be signed off by the Secretary of Interior.”
Rusche said the MWRPA acknowledges the CSKT’s water rights on the Flathead Reservation.
“The compact confirms the [CSKT’s] 1855 water rights and control of water on the reservation, and instream flows on and off the reservation,” he said, adding that the MWRPA includes 90,000 acre feet of water from Hungry Horse Reservoir, and the water can be used for present and all future CSKT needs. “It also provides for the restoration of the National Bison Range to tribal trust ownership and inclusive management by the CSKT. It is now your National Bison Range.”
Rusche highlighted the funding apparatus for dispersion of settlement funds. It’s not Department of Interior funding. All of the Federal funds contribution of $1.9 billion will be deposited in a CSKT Trust Account under the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994.
“This is a great, great day for the Tribes,” he said.
Fyant said she was pleased that folks before her on the Tribal Council had the fortitude to do the right thing for the membership in pursuit of the FRWRC.
“During trying times our people came together,” she said. “It’s so awesome that these things are coming together. This is a good way to start the New Year.”