The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation thrived on a 22-million acre territory in what is now the Western United States and Canada. After our consent to the 1855 Hellgate Treaty, we reserved nearly 1.3million acres for our exclusive use and benefit. The Reservation includes a portion of the Rocky Mountains, the southern half of Flathead Lake (the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River), an extensive river corridor, forests, and wide variety of wildlife, fish and bird species. In 1935, the first Tribal Council was formed along with a constitution and a governance system that is still in place today. The first action by the new council was to stop 25 years of federal policy that both sold and gave away tribal lands with federal homesteading policies.
Today the tribes directly control and manage all Reservation natural resources through its Departments including Natural Resources, Forestry, Lands, and Cultural Preservation. Approximately 300 employees carry out the natural resource protection, planning and management. The Tribal government has pursued every opportunity to operate its own programs through the Indian Education and Self Determination Act. The role of the BIA has been greatly reduced as the Tribal government has grown more sophisticated, taken control of most programs, and has emerged as a national role model for self-determination Tribes.
The Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille have fought continually to preserve a rich cultural heritage that has sustained the people for thousands of years. Since initial contact, then signing the treaty, and coping with federal Indian policy, the Salish-Kootenai struggled against total assimilation into the mainstream culture. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai people began to fashion a unique blend of old and new that would perpetuate Tribal culture, preserve natural resources and provide economic well-being, for future generations. Today, under the guidance of Tribal Elders, a new generation celebrates the old ways while shaping opportunities for economic growth with wise use of all Tribal resources.
The Tribal government is the largest employer in Lake County with 1,200 employees, which does not include the nationally-known Salish Kootenai College, which enrolls 1,000 students. The Tribal government infuses $65 million annually into the area economy through a $30 million pay roll and $35 million on vendor good and services. A recent report funded by the State of Montana showed that the Tribes contribute a whopping $317 million to the Montana economy every year.
The Tribes have also launched two very successful technology companies, S&K Electronics and S&K Technologies. The Tribal gaming operation manages two casinos, Gray Wolf Peak and the Best Western KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino on the south shore of Flathead Lake. The Tribes also manage the federally owned Mission Valley Power Company and founded a tribally owned and operated institution, Eagle Bank in Polson. The Peoples’ Center, located along Highway 93 north of Pablo, offers a museum and gift shop filled with more information about the Salish and Kootenai Tribes.