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SKC Press announces newest book

Edited by Robert Bigart and Joseph McDonald: “Salish and Kootenai Indian Chiefs Speak for Their People and Land, 1865-1909.”

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This collection of documents includes talks or petitions by Salish and Kootenai chiefs found in the surviving historical record. The Salish and Kootenai Indians of the Flathead Indian Reservation confronted many crises in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The physical and cultural survival of the tribes was challenged by epidemics, intertribal warfare with larger enemy tribes, and an invasion of white settlers. The tribes had to fight to have their voices heard and get the United States government to keep its promises.

Fortunately, the tribes had capable leaders who spoke up for their interests and negotiated with visiting government officials. The chiefs were able to get sympathetic white men to write letters supporting their efforts to keep a reservation in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana and pressure the government to honor other promises made I the a855 Hellgate Treaty.  In later negotiations the chiefs spoke up to defend the tribes when their white neighbors coveted tribal land and assets.

Many of the chiefs’ statements were preserved in English by newspaper reporters and government clerks. The interpreters in the meetings had to explain white American cultural concepts of property and right and wrong. They were also challenged in trying to explain Salish and Kootenai values to the white officials. The surviving documents show how the chiefs defended the people and land of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The documents in this volume present only part of the story. The written sources can contribute to understanding the views and goals of the Salish and Kootenai, but they need to be considered in conjunction with the oral traditions now being compiled by the Salish and Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Culture Committees in St. Ignatius and Elmo, Montana.

All historical sources must be used with care, but these letters and transcripts show the chiefs to have been competent and dedicated. Through their efforts the Salish and Kootenai tribes survive in the twenty-first century with new leaders to face new challenges and opportunities.

The paperback book sells for $25 and are available at the SKC Bookstore, Pablo; Ninepipes Museum Trading Post, Charlo; and Four Winds Trading Post, St. Ignatius. Order by mail from SKC Press, PO Box 70, Pablo, MT 59855. Include $2 shipping for the first book plus .50 cents for each additional book.

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