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PABLO - A standing-room-only crowd of about 200 Flathead Reservation residents gathered Friday morning in the chambers of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council for the first quarterly meeting of 2004.

The five newly elected members of the Tribal Council were sworn in, then the 10-member council reorganized itself, naming, as expected, Fred Matt of St. Ignatius and Jami Hamel of Arlee as tribal chairman and vice chairwoman respectively.

Two new council members, James H. Steele Jr. of the Arlee District and Michel "Mike" Kenmille of the Hot Springs District, promised to put differences aside, listen to criticism and work for the benefit of the tribal nation.

The other three council members sworn in Friday - ¤all incumbents who won re-election last month -¤ also spoke briefly about their goals and thanked their constituents. They are Elmer "Sonny" Morigeau of Dixon, Lloyd D. Irvine of Pablo, and Ronald Trahan of St. Ignatius.

Morigeau, the longest-serving member with 24 years on the council, won reelection easily in December, taking 60 percent of the vote against challenger G. Martin Barnaby.

Morigeau said his main goal for the coming four-year term remains the same: "to buy back every piece of land taken from us by the Homestead Act."

Friday's meeting began with an honor song played by the Bull River drum group from Elmo. Mike Kenmille, a member of the Chief Cliff drum group from Elmo, left his chair on the council podium to join the Bull River Group.

Tribal Council Secretary Carole Lankford thanked the two defeated incumbents, Charles "Denny" Orr of Arlee and Maggie Goode of Hot Springs, for their service.

"Maggie and Denny worked very hard on the council," she said.

There was little discussion at Friday's quarterly meeting of the lineal descendancy issue that sparked bitter divisions in the tribal nation in the previous two years, and also split the tribal council. Orr and Goode lost their posts in large measure because of the perception that they supported the proposed constitutional referendum to open enrollment to any descendant of a tribal member, no matter how tiny the fraction of descendancy that existed. The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated last Jan. 18 by a 4-1 margin.

The lineal descendancy dispute has been a regular part of most meetings since the issue took center stage early in 2002, where citizen comments and complaints are a traditional and important part of the constitutionally required quarterly gathering.

But at Friday's meeting, lineal descendancy was hardly mentioned. The issues that tribal members brought to the attention of the council instead concerned off-reservation hunting and fishing rights; the pros and cons of four-wheel recreational vehicle use on reservation lands; the Tribal Health agency's performance; and concerns about policies and procedures at the tribal credit agency, where some employees or former employees are under scrutiny by the FBI for criminal wrongdoing.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com

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