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Damage claim report should be shared with Lake County

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In anticipation of a Settlement Act that would implement the Montana Water Rights Compact, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes began doing their homework several years ago to come up with a settlement dollar amount that would satisfy the damage claims inflicted on the Flathead Reservation by the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. The damage claim amount established by the Tribes was set at $1.9 billion and was verified by a report entitled, “Damages of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Due to Actions by the United States,” in three volumes on file at the Department of Justice. In September of 2019, Lake County requested a copy of the report from Senator Daines’ office and was told that he would work on getting the report to us. In a recent meeting with the Senator, we were told that he has been unable to get a copy of the report, but his “Montana Water Rights Protection Act” legislation will move forward sans the report. In a further attempt to get a copy of the report, the County has filed Freedom of Information requests with Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Billings and Portland. 

It appears that the Senator, if he can secure the blessing of Congress, is going to load a plane with $1.9 billion in taxpayer dollars and fly it to the Pablo Tribal Complex without revealing to the public the nature of the claims required to justify the amount. The Senator is willing to take the Tribes’ word that the damage claims are real and verifiable. The suspicion as to why the Senator is reluctant to provide public transparency and demand that CSKT produce the report before receiving any settlement funding, is that the report will include damages that the Tribes have been paid for in the past. Without access to the report, those suspicions cannot be confirmed, or possibly proven false. It is inconceivable that Lake County would have to resort to filing a request for the claims report by way of the Freedom of Information Act. So much for the Republican Platform pledge to return “fiscal sanity to government.” 

The Senator is anxious to move his legislation through Congress. The stated purpose of the Act is to “achieve a fair, equitable and final settlement of claims to water rights in the State of Montana.” The Senator is obligated to provide the public with all of the information relevant to the Act and then let them determine if its purpose is accomplished. Anything less is a disservice to the people he represents.


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