The Ravalli County Commissioners invited CSKT tribal representatives to discuss the transfer of the Medicine Tree site to federal trust. They came in good faith—not to seek permission, defend the validity of their culture, history and rights, or to be insulted by racist public comment.
The commissioners plan to submit an apology for the racist comment made by Planning Board Chairman Jan Wisniewski. The commissioners have an apology of their own to make for less obvious but far more damaging actions. The county has no jurisdiction over tribally owned land and yet assumed they could control the transfer with an opposing vote. The sarcastic tone, line of questioning and rude assumptions demonstrated a stark contrast of conflicting cultural world views with regard to value of place, history and respect.
In addition to respectful conduct, K-12 students have more knowledge of local tribes than our county leaders, due to years of dedication on behalf of the CSKT, schools and cultural organizations and the implementation of Indian Education for All into our public school curriculum. Our government leaders did not have access to this education in school. Hopefully, a new generation will be better prepared to build good working relations with Montana’s 12 Indian tribes. The IEFA “Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians” implemented in our public schools may be viewed at www.opi.mt.gov. Answers to the commissioners’ questions are in this concise document, including the validity of oral histories, and the original necessity of tribal/federal trust agreements. Ironically, they were created due to misinterpretations, non-Indian expectations and points of view occurring on the local level.
Hopefully, the commissioners have learned something from this unfortunate event and will take full responsibility and necessary steps to mend a valuable and enriching relationship that so many have strived long and hard to build.
Art and Indian Education Specialist