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People’s Voice pursues referendum

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Although the Salazar settlement payout occurred in September and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes paid out approximately half, the People’s Voice has collected between 1,290 and 1,300 signatures from tribal members on the reservation who believe all the Salazar settlement money should be distributed to tribal members. 

With the April 11 settlement of the Nez Perce Tribe, et al, v. Kenneth L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al, suit, 41 Indian tribes across the nation received compensation for money lost in mismanaged accounts and from royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on tribal lands that tribes did not receive from the government. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were one of the tribes receiving a settlement, approximately $150,126,000. 

The Tribal Council was aware of the settlement coming and held meetings across the Flathead Reservation from April to August to talk to tribal members, sought comments through the Char-Koosta newspaper and also asked for email input, since some people aren’t comfortable speaking in council meetings. Individual council members also collected comments, said Robert McDonald, CSKT director of communications.

The Tribal Council decided to distribute approximately half of the settlement money to tribal members on Sept. 12, with each receiving $10,000.

Asked about the issue n on Oct. 24, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Chairman Joe Durglo said the council would use the funds to meet priorities brought up by tribal members at the meetings held in each district as well as for the purchase of Kerr Dam. 

“These funds (the Salazar settlement) were for 100-plus years of not being able to properly account for the money,” Durglo said. 

“There is a fair balance between meeting needs and providing for future generations,” he added.

Members of the People’s Voice picketed the CSKT Tribal Complex for a week in August and have been meeting each Thursday and working throughout the week to collect 1,300 or more signatures from tribal members in favor of distributing all the money. The number 1,300 is significant because it’s at least one third of CSKT tribal members of voting age. 

 The group hopes to gather support for a referendum on the CSKT Council’s decision to distribute half of the Salazar settlement money instead of the whole amount.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Northwest Regional Director Stanley Speaks said, “I am not sure why the petition would be sent here.”

Speaks added that the method of distributing the Salazar funds was an issue each tribe dealt with internally.

The CKST constitution states,”Upon a petition of at least one-third of the eligible voters of the CSKT, or upon the request of a majority of the members of the Tribal Council, any enacted or proposed ordinance or resolution of the council shall be submitted to a popular referendum, and the vote of a majority of the qualified voters voting in such a referendum shall be conclusive and binding on the Tribal Council, provide that at least 30 percent of the eligible voters shall vote in such election.”

Revan Rogers, a member of the People’s Voice, said the referendum would go out to all  eligible voting tribal members on and off the reservation. Judging from calls she’s received, Rogers said the referendum has a lot of off-reservation support.

If one-third of the eligible voters sign, the group can send the referendum directly to the Secretary of the Interior and not have to go through the CKST Council. 

“Our main concern is not to show the petition to the Tribal Council or anyone working for the tribes, for fear people might be fired,” Rogers said. 

She estimates approximately 600 tribal members work for the CSKT. It’s tough to get one-third of the 3,700 total tribal members living on the Flathead Reservation without including tribal employees.

Some employees have been threatened with losing their jobs if they sign the petition, Rogers said. 

No decision on the remaining funds has been made, although rumors have been flying. 

At the quarterly meeting held on Oct. 5, Tribal Council quashed a rumor that a further payout of Salazar settlement monies would be made in December. The rumors are still circulating, according to McDonald, who said his office and other offices at the CSKT Tribal Complex have received calls. 

“Those are simply rumors with no basis in council action,” McDonald said.

In an earlier interview with the Valley Journal, McDonald noted that the Salazar settlement was for money owed the tribes, while the Cobell settlement, which has not been distributed, goes to individual tribal members. The $3.4 billion Cobell settlement, was the result of a lawsuit initiated by Eloise Cobell, a Blackfoot woman, that claimed the federal government violated its duties by mismanaging trust funds/assets, improperly accounting for those funds and mismanaging trust land/assets. The trust funds included fees from farming and grazing leases, timber sales, mining and oil and gas production from land owned by Indians and Alaska Natives. 

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