Dying in Indian Country - The Roland Morris Story

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National Bison Range Controversy

     What is the current controversy?  Matt Gouras, Reporter for the Associated Press, wrote in November of 2006 "The American Indian tribe that has shared management of the nation’s only federal wildlife refuge for bison wants to ditch the unusual arrangement and take over full management. But the Interior Department said negotiations are on hold until ‘‘significant’’ personnel issues are resolved."

We hope that the following background will clarify some issues for America's park vistors.


    Bison Grazing at the National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana - 1996 Copyright Lisa Morris

  1. Original empitus for the NBR
        1. March 2006 Controversy Update                      

National Bison Range (NBR)

       Moiese, Montana 1996

 - Initial version first posted in 1997 -
      MICHAEL T. PABLO, Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, wrote in the initial request for a compacting agreement with the federal government over management of the National Bison Range:  "Buffalo, then and now, form an inextricable bond between our people and our earth." 

    What exactly does that mean?   Many, including tribal members living in the valley, found the statement puzzling.

    If Michael Pablo had intended to infer some type of spiritual bond, his ancestor and Bison herd entrepreneur, Michel Pablo, didn't seem to be aware of one.  In the book "Hides, Heads, and Horns", Michel is quoted as saying to Kootenai Brown that he "saw where he could sell his buffalo to parks and museums and make a good thing of them." 

Michel Pablo's partner, Charles Allard, also wrote in 1886;  "Buffalo breeding is as good an investment as real estate," for hides sold for $100 a piece, and mounted heads at $200 to $500.    

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  Original Empitus
   The original impetus for the National movement for the preservation of the Buffalo began with the American Bison Society (ABS) in 1905. In 1907, attention was centered on lands within the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana because they were about to be opened and offered for sale.  The National Bison Range was established in 1908 at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt and  was created by an act of Congress.  The lands were reserved from mostly unallotted lands on the Flathead reservation.  Total appropriations for the 18,500 acres, fence and miscellaneous items, including the payment to CS&KT;  $50,700. This amount represented fair appraised value at the time.  

    In late 1996 FWS rejected a request by the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho to take over the operation of the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery.  The reason for the rejection, according to the Great Falls Tribune, was when looking into the purpose for the Fish Hatchery, there could be found no evidence that it had been run for the specific benefit of the Tribe.  "It's really more of a global issue with salmon management in the Columbia Basin," a representative said.  Evidence shows that the same holds for the NBR.
   In fact, from a 1926 article written by Cora E. Van Dusen, it is noted that the Range was established in 1909 for the purpose of preserving the American Bison.  In those years, there was wide interest in the preservation of wildlife. According to the 1905-1907 annual report of the American Bison Society, CSKT ancestor Duncan McDonald also stated upon hearing of the ABS plan, "I hope they will do it...every Indian will be glad if the Government can and will save them, and keep them where they can be seen. And if there is anything I can do to help, I want to do it."

   Also, a letter written for then Rep. Pat Williams in the summer of 1995 reiterates that the purpose of the Range was "...for a permanent National Bison range for the herd of Bison." and "...as refuges and breeding for native birds."  Also, "...suitable for (1) incidental fish and wildlife oriented recreational development; (2) the protection of natural resources; (3) the conservation of endangered and threatened species..." 
There was not a mention of it being for the Tribes. 

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Origin of Livestock -

    The American Bison Society raised $10,560 through the donations of the American Public, including the nickels and dimes of children throughout the nation.  With that money: 

1. Thirty four head of the Buffalo were purchased from the Conrad estate in Kalispell, in addition to the herd leader and a cow, and donated to the Federal Range. (These buffalo included decendent buffalo of the buffalo sold by Pablo.)  

2. Two more buffalo were donated by Charles Goodnight of Texas, although the male died before it arrived. 

3. These Thirty-seven formed the original herd and arrived to the Range on October 16, 1909. 

4. In November 1910, three more head were donated from the Corbin herd of New Hampshire.   

The Bison Range is now home to a variety of animals, the originals of whom were donated by:

1. Boone and Crockett Club of New York 

2. Yellowstone Park 

3. The city of Missoula, Montana, and 

4. The Canadian National Parks Service                                   

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1972 Payout -

  Later, in 1972, when the tribe determined that they desired more for the entire reservation land, including the Bison Range, and US Claims Court agreed, Congress paid the Tribe a second time.  This time, the total amount given to tribal members and the tribal government was $26 million, which included $6 million plus interest.    Each man, woman and child who were registered with the CSKT by March 17, 1972, were personally given $3,955.15. (April 27, 1972 issue of The Flathead Courier and the March 16 and 23, 1972 issues of The Ronan Pioneer.)

    For the past 90 some years, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has successfully managed the range, and has become a leader in the nation for its biological weed control.   An independent survey from the University of Idaho indicated a very high visitor satisfaction rate. 

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    Today, Under the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have requested to compact (contract)  with the Department of Interior to manage the National Bison Range (NBR) in Moiese, Montana.  They argue that the Range is a place of historical, cultural, and spiritual significance to their people.    The United States Government tells us that their desire is to downsize and cut costs to the tax-payers. 

In the Original Negotiation Requests;

   MICHAEL T. PABLO WROTE:    "The National Bison Range is ... the heart of the tribes traditional homelands, lands that have been occupied from time immemorial."    

Is that True?

From "The Flathead Indians" (1974), John Fahey writes:

  "linguistic evidence indicates the various Salish speakers lived together in the interior of British Columbia several thousand years ago before separating into bands that preserved the language and some of the folk tales.  Some bands remained inland; others migrated to the ocean shores.  (Page 6)


  "...the Flatheads, crossed the Rockies eastward before turning south....A pure Flathead tradition, if one existed, was progressively diluted by cultural borrowings, intermarriages, and adoptions, so that the Flatheads as a society combined features of the original Plateau and adopted Plains cultures.  So lively was the cultural infusion, in fact, that older Blackfeet consider the Flatheads a Plains people."  (Page 7)

MICHAEL T. PABLO  WROTE:  "Buffalo, then and now, form an inextricable bond between our people and our earth."    

And from the book "The Flathead Indians", John Fahey wrote:

  "while hunting methods were primitive, the western bison survived, but as the Indians' destructive capability grew with acquisition of horses and guns, buffalo rapidly disappeared.  Until these western bison were virtually exterminated, the Flatheads ventured onto the plains to hunt mainly in the spring.  Within twenty years..., the western herds would be so reduced that the Flatheads would depend on hunts on the plains entirely for meat and materials to subsist and trade.... 
  ...Despite dwindling herds west of the Rockies, The Flatheads considered the Buffalo inexhaustible; when the herds eventually thinned, they regarded the cause as supernatural and complained that "buffalo are not close or plenty as they were before the white man came among us."  (page 9)


  "...the successful Flathead hunter who once prized his hard-won robe and his ti-pi of twelve to twenty-four hides now collected more skins than he could use.  He killed wantonly and discarded less desirable buffalo products".  (Page18)

    As friends, neighbors, and tribal members of the CS&K Tribes, we differ in our view on many issues.    We do desire to live together in peace, and would appreciate an open dialogue.  Unfortunately, we do not feel that the Federal Government or Tribal Council has truly extended their hand to the possibility of open communication on this issue.    

    So in 1995, locals held two rallies and a four-week petition drive, garnering over 4000 signatures against the transfer.     Although FWS policy stated, ”participation of the general public could be critical to the success of (the) program/…” and “Not only is this politically astute, it may allay…fears the general public may have concerning the intentions of the tribe…” CS&KT Tribal Chairwoman Rhonda Swaney responded in December of 1995  by sending Regional Director Ralph Morganweek a letter requesting that any "Public notice relating to the ongoing government to government negotiations ...will occur only with the mutual consent of both parties." and "any agreement reached at the negotiation table will be recorded and signed at the time agreements reached".  Many citizens felt this rendered"due process" and public input impossible.   

   In December of 1996, after being told that the Dept. of Interior wouldn’t be listening to the people any more, but only to State officials, a resolution was set before the Montana legislature opposing Federal contracting of non-Indian programs to Indian Tribes.
   “We had a bad hearing,” State Rep. Jore said later. “No one was in there.” By the time the resolution came up, most Republican legislators had gone to other committees, leaving the Republican chairwoman and three Democrats.

     However, the spectator chairs were full with people awaiting the resolution. Testimony in favor included a letter from a former Bison Range manager, the initial payment to the CS&KT, Range history, other national Parks targeted for compacts, and the lawsuit awarding CS&KT over $6 million for the land. Testimony from opponents included statements from Mickey Pablo that the land within the Bison Range had never been paid for and that “The tribe has a good history of working with the public.” Another man said, “I believe that tactics that whittle away at tribal self-governance are based on misinformation and/or greed. Whichever it is, the result is ultimately racist...”

    State Rep. George Heavy Runner, from the Blackfeet reservation, asked several questions and indicated that a move against the Bison Range takeover was anti-Indian. Rep. Gillan said this is a “neighborhood squabble” that Jore was pulling the legislature into. Heavy Runner agreed. The resolution failed.
    Despite this victory, the Tribe went on to cause their own problems with negotiations. They continued to insist on full management of the complex, and reports are that on a 1997 trip to Washington DC to discuss the issue, Chairwoman Swaney approached James Pipkin, DOI Counselor to the Secretary, in a fury. Later, the Tribe ignored FWS attempts to negotiate.

    In the fall of 2000 the Tribes again sent a proposal, but after being told that current contracts in other local refuge areas need to be brought into compliance, another silence began.

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March 2006 update:

In 2003, the Bison Range issue came back with a vengeance. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were again requesting management of this National Wildlife Refuge. 

Senator Conrad Burns' spokesman, J.P. Donovan, stated, "He (Burns) wants this to be vetted in the public process - no behind-the-scenes, closed-door meetings." He went on, "He feels this is a local decision. He really wants to hear from constituents."

Roland Morris arrived to Senator Burns' office in May of 2003 with thousands of signatures opposing transfer of the NBR in hand, and two other valley residents by his side. Unfortunately, this last effort with Senator Burns bore no fruit, and on March 15 of 2005, the National Bison Range Agreement went into effect. On March 14, the day before it went into effect, CSKT Chairman, Fred Matt, wrote in a guest column, "Sen. Burns has been a positive and aggressive advocate for Indian Country..." and "Burns fully understands and appreciates consultation with Indian country, our sovereignty, and our right to self-determination."

According to the Missoulian, Burns opposed the NBR agreement in the mid-1990s, but seemed to waffle on this round of negotiations. In 2004, a FWS official from Denver took me aside and told me that it is necessary for us to get Senator Burns' ear on the bison range matter, just as we had in the late 1990's. He said that Senator Burns was the key - the one that could make the decision one way or the other concerning the negotiations.

He said, "Senator Burns can stop this."

But I didn't know what to do about it, because it didn't feel to me that Senator Burns was open to us at all anymore. Interestingly, Mark Baker, a former legislative director for Burns and recent Burns' campaign chairman, is partner in the Anderson & Baker law firm in Helena, which was paid $60,000 to be the chief lobby firm for CSKT in 2003 and 2004. The total amount Mark Baker has donated since 2001 to both Senator Burns and his Friends of the Big Sky Leadership PAC, is $9000. But Mr. Baker is also affiliated with the D.C. lobbying firm Denny Miller Associates Inc., whose individuals have donated at least $27,784 to both Senator Burns and his Friends of the Big Sky Leadership PAC since 2001.

Mark also worked through his firm, Anderson and Baker, for S&K Technologies, (a CSKT company) and made $120,000 there in 2003 and 2004, (and made $40,000 working for S&K earlier than that as well, for a total of $160,000). He also worked for CSKT through another firm he is associated with, the Giacometto Group. Leo Giacometto was Burns' chief of staff from 1995 to 1999. Working for Giacometto, Mark Baker made $40,000 lobbying for the Salish and Kootenai College in 2004.

For the last few years, my husband and I had wondered about the unexplainable change in the Senator's behavior toward us and toward Federal Indian policy. When the Abramoff scandal broke open, I could only wonder if this had anything to do with it.  According to a 2006 report by PoliticalMoneyLine.com and published in Roll Call, Sen. Conrad Burns pocketed $192,090 from tribal entities over these last few years. A quick look at the Open Secrets website shows how tribal campaign contributions to Senator Burn's campaign chest have grown since the year 2000, as he has gradually moved to the top of the list of congressmen accepting money from tribal entities.

We have no proof that Senator Burns has sold out our Bison Range in return for donations from tribal entities, (many out-of-state tribes are pleased with the precedent this management transfer has set and would have supported it).  But it is very important to find out just what the empitus for this management transfer is.


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  1997, 1998 - 2007 copyright  Lisa Morris- All Rights Reserved


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