County's letter on CSKT water compact talks stirs controversy

This map shows the areas affected by the water rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana. Image from Montana Water Stewards

Commissioners in Flathead County, Montana, voted 2-1 to send a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock (D) regarding a water compact for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The compact has been controversial among water users on an off the reservation. It failed to pass during this year's legislative session so the county decided to draft a letter with an eye towards the 2015 session.

But the letter, and certain passages, drew criticism. The county commissioner who voted against sending it tried to strike a portion that calls on the state to engage in negotiations "free of racism [and] partisan politics."

Other residents said the letter was confusing. They said it could be interpreted to mean that the county supports the compact and one person accused the tribe of racism because he is not allowed to be a member.

“I am not allowed to be on that tribe,” Derek Skees, a former Republicans state lawmaker said at a public meeting last week, The Hungry Horse News reported. “I am not allowed because of my race to say what I feel is wrong. Therefore, this is regulation without representation, and honest, I think this is why the Tea Party happened in the first place.”

The county was supposed to hold a public meeting to discuss the compact but commissioner Pam Holmquist, who voted against sending the letter, postponed it to sometime in November.

The 1855 Treaty of Hellgate promises water on and off the Flathead Reservation for the tribe.

Get the Story:
Racism, partisan politics cited in compact letter (The Hungry Horse News 10/29)
Commission chair delays talks on water compact (The Big Fork Eagle 10/29)
Commission Votes to Send New Letter to State About Water Compact (The Flathead Beacon 10/24)

Related Stories:
Opinion: Support water compact for Salish and Kootenai Tribes (3/7)
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes trapped in water war (4/22

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