Ravalli County commissioner delivers apology to CSKT Council

2014-04-30T06:30:00Z 2014-09-28T19:11:31Z Ravalli County commissioner delivers apology to CSKT CouncilBy PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic missoulian.com

PABLO – “Every day of my life, I have experienced some sort of racism. Every day I have had some sort of feeling that I do not belong here.”

For more than 60 years, Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola has struggled against abuse and racism.

Standing before the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council – in a hushed tone that was sometimes challenging to hear – Incashola told a Ravalli County commissioner Tuesday that all Native people want is to be treated with respect.

“All over this country, people don’t seem to understand the word, respect,” he said. “In reality, we all want the same thing. We want a good life for ourselves and our children.”

County Commissioner J.R. Iman traveled to Pablo on Tuesday morning to hand deliver an apology to the tribes for comments some of their members endured at a November public meeting in Hamilton.

At the end of that November meeting, former county planning board chair Jan Wisniewski implied that Havre law enforcement officers had complained to him that their jails were filled with “drunk Indians.”

Shortly thereafter, county commissioners voted to deliver an apology to the tribes for the comments, but challenges in both sides’ schedules pushed that meeting back for months. (Wisniewski also ultimately lost his seat on the planning board.)

Iman made the trip alone.

He told the council that it was his “honor and privilege” to stand before them, but “unfortunately, this visit has kind of a somber note.”

Iman said he was there to offer an apology signed by the entire Ravalli County Commission for comments made that were less than respectful.

“We know that you can’t take back what was said,” Iman said. “When you work in a public arena, you don’t have the opportunity to control what another person says. Those words did not represent the opinion of the board.”

As a token, Iman also delivered a framed historic photograph of tribal members standing at the Medicine Tree in the Bitterroot Valley.

Immediately after Iman finished, Council Chairman Ron Trahan said it was good to hear the apology.

Trahan also said he was sorry that the meeting had to be postponed several times.

“We have been pretty busy here,” Trahan said. “We weren’t purposely putting you off. It was very important for us to make this right.”


The council was also heartened by the outpouring of letters that came from individuals from Ravalli County who offered their own support for the tribes and its decision-making processes for the future of its Medicine Tree property, Trahan said.

At the November meeting in question, several tribal members traveled to Hamilton at the invitation of the county commission to discuss concerns over a CSKT proposal to place the 58-acre tract of land in trust with the federal government.

The CSKT purchased the important cultural site in 1998.

Last April, the commission voted to oppose the tribes’ application to place the land in trust, based mainly on concerns of lost property taxes.

“We’re always trying to protect what is our homeland,” Trahan told Iman. “We will always try to protect anything that is sacred to us. What we do there to protect our property is hard for some people to understand. We do accept your apology.”

Steve Lozar was one of the tribal members who attended the November meeting. He said they had high hopes that day, but those were shattered by some careless words.

“I am glad you are here today,” he told Iman. “I am glad the commission recognized that ... with reconciliation and with a good heart, we can accept your apology today.”

Incashola said it’s important for people to understand that the Bitterroot Valley will always be the homeland for the tribes.

“A lot of our ancestors are buried there,” he said. “A lot of our ancestors’ footprints are still on the land. We are still connected.”

Incashola said he could feel the hatred from the man who spoke at the November meeting.

“It was because he didn’t understand,” Incashola said. “When we don’t understand something as a people, we hate it. … All we want is to be as trusted as anyone else.”

The desire to protect those important cultural places – their water, trees and environment – has never changed for native people, he said.

“It’s always been very important for us to protect that for our future generations,” Incashola said. “Our values are very different than the values that seem to be in place today.”

Incashola said his grandparents taught him to never give up and always have hope for the future.

“I really appreciate that the people of Ravalli County have sent this,” he said. “It gives me hope that my children will live in peace in this valley.”

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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(14) Comments

  1. open mind
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    open mind - April 30, 2014 6:50 pm
    "According to the Havre Daily News, Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he could not find any local officials who had met Wisniewski, much less made the comments.

    “We have not been able to verify in any way, shape or form him communicating with anybody,” Peterson is quoted as saying. “We do not need that kind of information coming out in Hill County or even surrounding counties to, if you will, badmouth us if it’s not true.”

    Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis is quoted as saying, “It really makes working relationships with other entities tough when these comments surface without any validity to them.”

    Hill County Sheriff Don Bostrom is quoted as saying, “We are having so many negative comments directed at local law enforcement, which doesn’t just include the (Hill County) sheriff, it includes Blaine County, fish and game, the police department, the Border Patrol… every law enforcement agency in Hill County got a black eye over that, and I think it was credited inappropriately.”
  2. Alan H Johnson
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    Alan H Johnson - April 30, 2014 4:44 pm
    Believe me, no race has a corner on sobriety. Alcohol has no respect for white or red, rich or poor. Alcoholics can live under the bridge or in the big house on the hill. They can come from Yale or jail. To single out any one race and attribute alcoholism as a particular problem of that race or class, is insensitive and I'm glad the Ravalli County Commission offered the apology. Isn't it far better for our representatives to get along with each other for the benefit of all? Does speculating on the race of persons in the Hill County Detention Facility really help that cause? Or do you really think we ought to waste our time sorting out jail inmates in Havre?
  3. Ofthemontiers
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    Ofthemontiers - April 30, 2014 3:49 pm
    That's because it is irrelevant, Sukey. How many "drunk Indians" there are in Havre's jail has absolutely no bearing on whether or not these tribes put their land in federal trust. I know: really complicated, isn't it?

    Btw, "drunk Indians" is a slur against all Indian people, especially the sober ones- Yes! there actually are sober Indians, Sukey. Most hate-mongering bigots don't know that, so I thought that I would just enlighten you.

    XXX O
    Brian Dumontier
  4. CallMeRick
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    CallMeRick - April 30, 2014 2:26 pm
    formerliberal, What an incredibly disrespectful statement. You are obviously a hate-baiter and your previous comments indicate you are also ignorant to your own racism: "I see they are holding a sign saying 'Idle No More' Does that mean they are finally going to get a job and contribute ??" -- formerliberal, March 14, 2014 9:46 am on Missoula women arrested during megaload protest.
    Mr Incashola rises to the higher level and instead of referring to the subject of this controversy here as "racist," he states that "he didn't understand." He (Incashola) is a humble, compassionate individual, devoted to the education of others.
    So now you are the type who believes if someone doesn't agree with what you are spewing, that they must be a race-baiter. Yes, racism still exists and your ignorance is what perpetuates it. People like YOU can only make things worse unless you take the time to understand where others come from and what they have experienced.
  5. Dave Campbell
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    Dave Campbell - April 30, 2014 1:58 pm
    Thanks JR for representing the County in a much more respectful way. We in the Bitterroot reside in the tribes homeland and a little humility is quite appropriate.
  6. TimothyTwoToesLessRightFoot
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    TimothyTwoToesLessRightFoot - April 30, 2014 12:01 pm
    Namaste Everyone, Please hear my words. Before the Settlers arrived there were Tribal wars. When the Settlers arrived there were wars between American Indian and Settlers. The Settlers brought diseases that Native Americans had no immunity too many many died and there was genocide. The history is very painful and is easy to understand that there must be sensitivity to so much historical pain. The American Indians have been devastated and to this very day have only partly assimilated into the U.S.A. All of us are brothers and sisters and it is our duty to help each other. Full blooded Native Americans need culture identity. Great Spirit-Creator-Son New Covenant-Testament came to these lands summoned by Native Americans Spirits whose afterlife was stuck on Mother Earth and the word had not yet come and they wanted Heaven to be in paradise with God who Radiates powerful love and light that penetrates the Soul. Please let all forgive. Life is meant to be painful, it humbles us and we keep our focus on God. To love this world is to be at enmity with God. Pilamaya, Timothy Two Toes Less Right Foot.
  7. Watching
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    Watching - April 30, 2014 9:43 am
    For some reason, this reporter fails to mention that Jan Wisniewski, the person who made the offensive comment necessitating the apology letter, is now a candidate for county commissioner. He's challenging Suzy Foss, an offensive person in her own right.
    Thank you JR, for doing the right thing to compensate for your lunkhead co-commissioners, as usual.
  8. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - April 30, 2014 9:32 am
    The "Thought Police" at work. No one has ever answered the question: "Are there a lot of drunken Indians in Havre?". Never been there, wouldn't know. If its true, shouldn't Mr. Incashola be more concerned with this than with someone commenting on it? I'd like Mr. Incashola to demand an apology because "there are no drunken Indians in Havre jails" rather than because its rude to blurt that one out. Pretending something doesn't exist never helps change behavior (and I don't know the truthfulness of the original statement, but if that is the case, I'd like to see the statistics on this rather than see an apology from someone. I"d also like to know the statistics on drunks in jail of other races as well. Montana has a huge culture of drinking and driving).
  9. Agencygrl
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    Agencygrl - April 30, 2014 8:01 am
    Mr. Incashola doesn't need, nor want, sympathy from the likes of you. What we experience day-to-day as Indian people is something you will never understand because you don't care to understand. I don't know your age but based on your statement,

    "Racism is nothing like it was 50 years ago,"

    I'm guessing you're over 50. That's a long time to be living under a rock.
    In your absence I'm sure you haven't noticed but the melting pot is steadily turning brown. You better be careful, the next time you decide to come out from under your rock you'll be the only white person left (ha,ha).
  10. troutcreek
    Report Abuse
    troutcreek - April 30, 2014 7:59 am
    Having lived in Sanders County for 40-years it has been my experience that most of the ignorant and racist views coming from Montana are from those who have moved here in the last 5-10 years.
  11. brmoderate
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    brmoderate - April 29, 2014 10:12 pm
    How 'rediculous' formerliberal! Racism is alive and well here in Western Montana. How would you know what Mr. Incahola has experienced unless you have walked with him. It may not be as obvious as it was 50 years ago but it is here. Just watch when a young Native or African American goes into a store. they are followed around and closely watched. These same people are the last to be waited on and snide remarks can be heard about people wearing braids or moccasins.
  12. Ofthemontiers
    Report Abuse
    Ofthemontiers - April 29, 2014 10:11 pm

    Quote from your letter ... "What a rediculous statement." Hello, Pot? This is Kettle. I can't even spell "ridiculous," or was I alluding to the offensive word "redskin?"

    Quote ... "I have no sympathy for you Mr. Incashola because you are a untruthful." How is someone "a" adjective? Or is your bad grammar attempting to cover your direct, libelous slander?

    Quote ... "You are the type that try to find racism where it doesn't exist." And you are the type who refuses to recognize racism where it DOES exist because you advocate bigotry against Native Americans.

    How does a white person living a happy-go-lucky life in America today experience racism for themselves? About the closest that you will ever get is when you look in the mirror. Commissioner Iman did the right thing. Quit trying to re-fan the flames with your mindless rhetoric.

  13. fomerliberal
    Report Abuse
    fomerliberal - April 29, 2014 7:55 pm
    Quote from article......“Every day of my life, I have experienced some sort of racism. Every day I have had some sort of feeling that I do not belong here. For more than 60 years, Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola has struggled against abuse and racism."

    What a rediculous statement. That is about as wild a statement as I can imagine. I have no sympathy for you Mr. Incashola because you are a untruthful. You are a race baiter just like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. You are the type that try to find racism where it doesn't exist. You are the type who believes if someone doesn't agree with your spewing, that they must be a racist. Sure some racism still exists, but it's nothing like you try to make us believe it is. It is nothing like it was 50 years ago. People like you can only make things worse. I am so tired of people using the crutch of Racism that I want to puke.

  14. harpjane
    Report Abuse
    harpjane - April 29, 2014 6:43 pm
    Thank you JR Iman for doing the right thing.
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