Flathead: Road to Self-sufficiency

Before the Anglo American invaded the home of the Native Americans, Native Americans were successfully governing themselves. They managed to keep peace and administer justice though using their own customs, laws, and traditions. After the white invasion, the United States government recognized the need to let a “sovern nation” (such as the Indian nations) make and govern themselves by their own rules, “make their own laws and to be ruled by them”(Williams v Lee, 1958). Like the other Montana tribes the Flathead (Confederation of Salish and Kootenai tribes) went through three main stages of government: Tradition, Transitional, and Contemporary before making themselves self-sufficient and able to govern themselves successfully.

History of Flathead Reservation

The Hellgate Treaty established the Flathead reservation in 1855. Governor Isaac Stevens presented this treaty to the tribes and although the tribes agreed on the treaty they did not agree on the location of the reservation. Victor a Flathead was named the first head chief of the reservation and in 1856 Dr. R.H. Landsdale was the first Flathead Indian Agent (www.edheritage.org/flathead/timelineflathead.htm). On the Flathead reservation there were several different tribes combined. The Salish (meaning people who speak Salish) who became known as the Flathead and consisted of four tribes: Flathead, Pend Oreille, Kalispel, and Spokane and the Kootenai (Ktunaxa meaning “licks the blood”) that consisted of three tribes: Lower Kootenai, the Upper Kootenai, and the Kutona. These two groups of people were quite different. The Salish was seen as progressive while the Kootenai were conservative and traditional. The Salish believed the Kootenai as inferior and didn’t want to intermarry with them. “The Salish Indians, especially the Flathead, were open to other cultures, both Indian and white, and intermarried frequently. In contrast to the Salish traits of friendliness and hospitality, the Kootenai were known for their social reserve and caution and preserved a more undiluted bloodline” (Clow, 162). Because of this open-mindedness the Salish were able to except change and were willing to explore differences and advantages of other cultures. The Salish had a greater population (75%) on the reservation than the Kootenai (Clow, 163). The Flathead reservation was prime land capable of planting crops, raising livestock, hunting game, and fishing.

As prime land decrease due to settlement, Montana tried to negotiate with the Flathead but with no luck. 1904, Joseph M. Dixon executed the Flathead Allotment Act. With this act land was divided up in allotments and the surplus sold to non-Indians. July 4, 1907 the Secretary of the Interior, James Garfield\'s train was met by nearly five hundred mounted Flatheads when he arrived on the Reservation. Indian leaders told him they opposed opening the reservation to homesteading (www.edheritage.org/flathead/timelineflathead.htm). The effects of this Allotment Act was that 61,000 acres used for Montana school land, 18,500 acres for Nation Bison Range, tribal usage, Indian agency, town sites, power/reservoir sites, and missionary churches and schools (Clow, 164). 2,390 Indians received either 80-acre agricultural allotments or 160-acre grazing land allotments (Clow, 164). With the Indian allotments Indian owned land only equaled one-fifth of the total land on the reservation. The total acres within the Flathead reservation was 1,245,000 however only 245,000 were received by Native Americans (Clow, 164). In 1909 President William H. Taft opened the reservation to non-Indians, however the official opening happened May 2, 1910. By 1960 the tribe only owned one out of every seven farms on the reservation. 1983, less than 4% of reservation acreage belonged to Indians. 1984, population of Indians was around 19%, the lowest of all Montana reservations (Clow, 164).

In 1994 there are 6,792 tribal members enrolled, 3,975 lived on the reservation, and 25% of the members are under the age of 18 (Bryan, 122). Currently there are 6,800 enrolled members and 3,700 live on or near the reservation (www.mtsbc.org/fladhead.htm). There are twice as many Salish as Kootenai and over 20% of the enrolled members have one-half or more Indian blood. As of 1960 the blood quantum for enrollment is one-fourth Indian blood. There are 1,242,969 acres on the reservation. 92% of the land is Indian owned; 52,000 acres on the reservation are used as refuges and parks. Such as Ninepipe, Pablo wildlife refuges, and National Bison Range (Bryan, 122).

Flathead road to self-government

Traditional Government

The traditional form of government for the Flathead