Posted: Nov 28, 2012 7:18 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News
POLSON - Efforts to protect ancient water rights for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are running headlong into concerns over property rights as the hearings into a draft water compact continue across Western Montana.
That cultural clash seems to be obscuring some of the facts of what's actually contained in the draft agreement.
The CSKT, the state and federal government have spent years negotiating the draft pact, with the idea of having a long-range, organized plan for managing water rights to satisfy the original terms of the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. The pact is aimed at water management in the Flathead Basin, but extends to the entire Clark Fork watershed because of the treaty.
But at a hearing in Polson, some speakers went so far as charge the agreement is actually an effort by the tribe to retain more land by controlling water, expressing skepticism over what's contained in the hundreds of pages.
Larry Ingrham, a retired attorney, said he thinks the state doesn't have jurisdiction over the water. "To give it to the federal courts and the cost of going to federal court is ridiculous."
Mission Valley Realtor David Passieri said, "It starts to throw another wrench in the works of, wow, where do I go for that now? And that's just on two pages. How much more is hidden in here? Not to say or suggest that it's been hidden purposely, it's just that this is a lot of difficult reading."
But tribal members thanked negotiators, saying it was time to protect the region's water with better management.
CSKT tribal member Lonnie Hill said after all the negative comments and letters to the editor he found to be biased and untrue, "It all comes down to trust. I trust you."
Chuck Tellier, another tribal member, said, "Because we have senior water rights we seem to be getting kicked in the shins and degraded and called all kinds of things. The fact of the matter is senior water rights on your homeland mean that you have certain rights that just can't be abolished."
The hearings move to Missoula and Hamilton on Thursday. The panel is working toward a mid-December date to make a decision on whether or not to submit the pact to the legislature for approval.