CSKT’s Big Arm position affirmed in federal court
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PABLO – Last year, over the objections of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Lake County granted an access to a developer who proposed an RV park next to the village of Big Arm.
The tribes objected because Lake County neither owned the property underlying the easement nor had jurisdiction over it. That land was reserved to CSKT in 1855 in the Treaty of Hellgate, for the CSKT’s exclusive use.
Federal Judge Dana Christensen affirmed the tribes’ position in a careful, articulate and well-reasoned opinion. CSKT Chairwoman Shelly R. Fyant said the decision is a good reminder that the Hellgate Treaty between CSKT and the US Government remains strong and that there is a set process to gain access to tribal lands that must be followed.
The developer did not bother to apply to the tribes for a road permit. Instead, as the court found: “Lundeen applied to the county for a permit … [but] she informed the court that she did not, for some inexplicable reason, apply to or otherwise attempt communication with the tribes. Although, the tribal representative to the Lake County Board of Commissioners raised concerns to the board and to Lundeen about access to the proposed RV park through Big Arm. The Board issued its conditional approval of the Wild Horse RV Resort Subdivision on May 16, 2018,” page 13 of the court ruling.
Lundeen commenced construction until CSKT placed a gate blocking access, the BIA issued a trespass notice to Lundeen’s contractor, and the matter soon landed in court.
“I hope Lake County accepts the court’s decision and stops these futile efforts that are reminiscent of the ‘paternalistic and racist attitudes towards indigenous peoples’ that have no use in modern-day times,” said Chairwoman Fyant. “We are both here to stay and we need to find ways to co-exist and work together for the good of all the people that live and work on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Fighting in court is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars.”
In the decision, Judge Christensen wrote, “[I]t hardly makes sense that a hundred-plus-year-old plat, which marks long-abandoned plans and a rightfully discarded assimilationist policy, can give a county the authority to unilaterally approve a new road through tribal land today,” page 21 of the document.
CSKT attorney Jim Goetz said, “I have had the privilege of working with the tribes and their very competent legal staff since the early 1980s. The tribes are smart, sophisticated and vigilant about their rights. Most important, they have been reasonable in their attempts to work with the counties and with the state, and I think they will continue to do so, but they must be met halfway. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case in the past.”