CSKT chairman urges Legislature to back water compact

2013-03-09T06:15:00Z 2014-10-19T08:07:16Z CSKT chairman urges Legislature to back water compact missoulian.com

HELENA – The chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on Friday urged the Legislature to support a proposed water rights compact with his tribes, asking lawmakers to look past those who view the compact with suspicion.

“There are forces that wish to tie up the western Montana economy with unnecessary court battles that will drag down all of our businesses,” said Joe Durglo. “We are in danger of allowing our differences to define us when we should be using our differences to make us stronger.”

Durglo’s comments were part of the biennial State of the Indian Nations address, which he delivered on behalf of Montana’s Indian tribes to a joint session of the Montana House and Senate at the state Capitol.

Durglo said while the tribes and the state have had their differences, they can strive toward a better future for both if they work together.

“Continued cooperative agreements between the tribes and state will help improve the economic conditions of the reservations, which will in turn benefit Montana’s economy and communities,” he said.

While Durglo mentioned challenges facing other tribes in Montana, he spent several minutes talking about the water rights compact, which may be one of the more contentious issues before the 2013 Legislature.

The Legislature is being asked to ratify the compact and approve spending $55 million to cover the state’s share of the agreement. Much of the money would pay for improving irrigation systems on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, who has irrigated acreage on the reservation, will be sponsoring the bill to ratify the compact. It has yet to be introduced.

A group of water users on the reservation filed suit over the compact and last month won a ruling from District Judge C.B. McNeil of Polson, who said the compact negotiations can’t sign away private water rights without just compensation.

The tribes have asked the Montana Supreme Court to take over the case and reverse the ruling.

The compact would quantify the Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ water rights, potentially affecting water use on the reservation and throughout much of western Montana. It must be ratified by the state, the tribes and Congress to take effect.

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Durglo called the compact “an enormous economic development plan … that will ensure the economic engine in western Montana continues to run.”

Its approval would bring “certainty after years of fighting,” he said, and contains the “very progressive concept” of unitary management of water on the reservation, making water rights “transparent” and benefiting the environment and the agricultural community.

The tribes’ efforts to negotiate its water rights have been “met with suspicion by those that refuse to trust the tribes, even though this is a state process,” Durglo said.

He urged lawmakers to extend the same respect to the tribes that they wish to show the state, in negotiating the water rights compact.

Durglo also touched on two other issues important to Indian Country: a bill that would establish a pilot program to preserve Native American languages and a measure that would exempt from taxation some park and recreation land owned by Indian tribes.

Both measures have passed the Senate and are before the House.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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(4) Comments

  1. jimira
    Report Abuse
    jimira - March 10, 2013 8:57 am
    IMO... yours IMO is severally lacking in intelligence... Tribal treaties are going to help the US from destroying this country environmentally.
  2. Deadwolf
    Report Abuse
    Deadwolf - March 09, 2013 3:12 pm
    What would you expect from tribal leaders? Imo, the answer to the whole issue...abolish the reservations. They are outdated.
  3. jimira
    Report Abuse
    jimira - March 09, 2013 10:12 am
    Whatever, formerliberal, I have read several of you, Dub and other's distrust all over the Missoulian website. Now that the Chairman calls you and others out, you back off? Ok... What are the negative impacts??? State them!!! The opposition to the compact always bring up "negative impacts" but NEVER states what. I have actually read the whole compact. Do I understand all of it, no. Is it perfect? No, but what in this world is? I believe the positives far out weigh the negatives from what I have read and my understanding of the compact. The only problem most of you "opposition" people have is the "time immemorial" part... Plan and simple. The Tribe was here first... Get over it.
  4. fomerliberal
    Report Abuse
    fomerliberal - March 09, 2013 9:14 am
    Not sure there is much distrust towards the tribes, it is the state and feds we don't trust, especially the 2 silver tongued lawyers from the state who have put together this 1100 page . Remember how congress passed the healthcare bill WITHOUT any of them actually reading it and understanding it?? The same thing will happen here, the legislators in MT will pass this WITHOUT reading or understanding the long term negative impacts. All the silver tongued lawyers do is tell you how great it is, but when asked about the negative impacts they use their silver tongues to ramble on for 5 min. and never answer the question. Plus they are great at demonizing ANYONE who speaks out against it. There are good things in the compact, but there are many negatives. A few changes would make it a good compact. But this needs to be done w/o the silver tongued lawyers involved. Have you ever seen a huge bill, treaty or compact actually have a positive effect over time?? This is really about hundreds of millions of dollars the CSKT hopes to get from the feds in retribution (payback for anothers actions). Follow the money.
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