Senators Tester, Cantwell visit Flathead Reservation

By:  Valley Journal – Berl Tiskus
Source: Valley Journal

From a listening session with the state’s eight tribal leaders in Missoula on Sept. 4, Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Senator Jon Tester continued on to the Flathead Reservation on Sept. 5.

 “Jon said I had to see Montana,” Cantwell said, since she is chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

 The two senators were on a three-day trip around western Montana. They met with students and teachers from N’kwusm, the Salish language immersion school in Arlee, at the KwaTaqNuk Resort and Casino in Polson. From the newly potty-trained to middle school children, the students said their names, counted, sang songs and gave their ages — all in Salish.

 “My friend Jon is here today ... It’s a big day for us,” said Stephen Small Salmon, Pend ‘Oreille elder and teacher at N’kwusm.

 “(Jon) is a special person because he helps our people,” Small Salmon told the kids.

 Small Salmon teaches Salish to the children, along with 84-year-old elder Pat Pierre.

 “The language that we speak was almost lost,” Pierre said.

 Pierre retired from two other jobs, but said, “This work I’m doing now, there is no retirement.”

 Small Salmon and Kassandra Murphy-Brazill, principal of N’Kwusm, told Senators Cantwell and Tester 27 students attend N’Kwusm, ranging in age from about 3 years old and potty trained to 8th grade. One goal is to start a Salish high school, since most area schools have limited Salish, and kids lose a lot of language if they don’t speak it daily.

 After shaking hands with the N’kwusm kids, Cantwell and Tester continued on an automobile tour of the Felsman Addition, a low income tribal housing in Pablo, to give the senators a look at Indian Country housing.

 Built in 1998, the Felsman Addition was the first Low-Income Housing Tax Credit completed on an Indian Reservation, according to information presented by Jason Adams, executive director of the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Housing Authority.

 The senators also visited transitional housing for homeless folks.

 “There is a huge need for homeless housing,” Adams said. “So much of the homelessness we see is three or four families in one house.”

 Adams and his department had several proposals for the senators. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes would like to see a Congressional oversight hearing held in Montana that would lead to proposed changes that could be included in the Farm Bill for regulatory changes to make United States Department of Agriculture programs more accessible and usable for tribes, according to Adams’ information.

Also the funding levels for maintenance and upkeep of 1937 Housing Act units should increase in Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 units, as it has on the public housing side.