Here’s a letter written by Chris Sullivan from Dixon, in response to Chris Tweeten’s request for comments concerning the compact.

Dear Governor Bullock, Senator Tester, and Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission,

Today I received the letter from the State of Montana and the RWRCC, asking for any comments that I might have on the proposed “Water Rights Compact” negotiated with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.  As a non-tribal rancher and irrigator on the Flathead Reservation, I will do my best to address my concerns with the content of this letter.  Please allow me to explain my position by reading the entire content of this document, as my livelihood and my assets will be directly affected by the outcome of any water compact.

During the last year I have attended many public meetings held in Montana by the RWRCC, CSKT, and the Joint Board of Control.  At every meeting I attended I was very disappointed that the actual history of the water issue for Western Montana was not addressed.  The historical details of settlement, homesteading, and the previous agreements concerning water rights do not seem to influence the RWRCC compact agreement or the ramifications of the proposed compact on so many Western Montana citizens.  We can learn from history why so many people are against this proposed compact and are not willing to believe that the documents are the best that we can develop.  I will rely on history to justify my sentiments that the present proposed water compact is not in the best interest of the majority of Montana citizens.

I live a couple of miles from the town of Dixon.  As you may know, the town of Dixon was named after Joseph M. Dixon.  Joseph M. Dixon was very influential in the development of Western Montana as a whole.  Joseph Dixon served as an attorney in Missoula, then a representative to the Montana Legislature, and finally as Governor of the State of Montana.  During his term as a state representative, it was Joseph Dixon that sponsored the bills to allow the Flathead Indian Reservation to be divided into allotments for the tribes, and later be divided into homesteads for non tribal residents.  I would like to quote from the Northwest History website:  “While in Congress, Dixon worked to have the Flathead Reservation allotted and open to non-Indian settlement.  He used a very liberal reading of Article VI of the Hellgate Treaty to support his desires.  Dixon emphasized Article VI, which allowed for the allotment of and distribution of Indian lands to Indian families, over Article II, which called for reservation lands to be used exclusively by Indians, and the Flathead bill was passed in 1904.  This bill and the allotment of Indian lands served Dixon’s role as a real estate speculator and served to bring profits to himself and his friends in business”.

Later, when Joseph Dixon became Governor, in 1920, he continued to affect major change in the politics of the State of Montana.  Historian K. Ross Toole asserts, “No Governor before nor since has shown such penetrating grasp of Montana’s historical and economic problems.  No one has so clearly and bluntly defied them.”  The influence of Joseph M. Dixon on the Flathead Reservation that affects us all today, Indian and non-Indian, cannot be denied.  The State of Montana and also the Federal Government would like to choose to ignore this fact.  But responsibility needs to be accounted for concerning the promises made to both the CSKT and the non-tribal residents of the Western Montana area.  Hostility and division was created by Joseph Dixon’s decisions to sponsor certain bills that were approved by the Montana Legislature and by President Taft and the United States Congress.  Those hostilities and conflicts need to be addressed before any meaningful support of any water compact can move forward.

The RWRCC claims that all water rights in the areas in question are held by the CSKT.  This “claimed right” is in direct conflict of previous agreements made on behalf of non-tribal residents on the Flathead Reservation.  When settlers began to claim and purchase the lands of the Flathead Reservation, it was President Taft who promised, as quoted in the 1910 Lake Shore Sentinel, “The administration is determined, so far as within its power, to assure sufficient funds to complete these projects (note: Flathead Irrigation Project), and you will have earnest and persistent support of the administration for that purpose… I am determined that these settlers that have gone upon these projects shall not wait any longer for their water than it is possible to get it there, if Congress will give me the money”.  Thanks to President Taft’s commitment to the settlers of the Flathead Reservation, the Flathead Irrigation Project is a beautiful work of modern engineering.

During the non-tribal settlement of the Flathead Reservation, the Lake Shore Sentinel would give the latest progress regarding the irrigation project being built for the new residents of the Reservation.  In January of 1910 the Polson newspaper reported, “Reservation Water Rights filed upon: Water Rights for more than 50,000 acres were filed with the county clerk and recorder today by Engineer H. N. Savage, who is in charge of the Government reclamation work on the Reservation.  The land to be covered consists of 7 different tracts and is to be watered from the Flathead River, from Mud Creek, and from one or two branches in the vicinity of those two streams, or tributary to them.  According to the claims filed, it is the purpose of the Government to erect dams and, in the case of the Flathead River Project, to boar tunnels and to pump the water by turbines to the ditches and distributing pipe lines”.  Interlake

Earlier, in 1909, the Lake Shore Sentinel boasted that “The Sentinel is in receipt of the Reclamation Record, and it is shown the progress on different projects throughout the Northwest.  Of the Flathead Project it says: The construction of canals has been continued on the first unit of the Jocko and Mission Divisions, including the building and placing of turnouts, bridges, and other structures.  Surveys have been continued in connection with farm units and 16 square miles have been mapped; 80 miles of secondary levels have been run, and 3 farm unit plats have been completed”. 

The Hellgate Treaty of 1855 established the Flathead Reservation, but over half a million acres passed out of Tribal ownership during land allotment that began in 1904.  The Flathead Irrigation Project sometimes played a direct part in some of the land passing from Tribal ownership to non-Indian ownership.  Operation and Maintenance fees that were charged Tribal members to run the Flathead Irrigation Project were sometimes found delinquent.  Many CSKT members were not farmers or ranchers and could not keep up with the charges.  Tribal ground was lost as a result of the Flathead Project’s “O and M” charges.

A Polson newspaper article in the Flathead Courier of 1910, describes that small acreage lots surrounding Flathead Lake were surveyed and sold to bring in revenue for the Reclamation Project.  These substantial funds were to be used for further construction of the Flathead Irrigation Project.  These were exciting days for new settlers on the Flathead Reservation as the Headlines read.  “Lake Front Lands and Indian Allotments”: All interested in Polson and the Reservation have been keeping in touch with all the acts Congress relating to it.  But nothing since the passage of the bill for the opening has created the interest like Senator Dixon’s bill permitting the sale in two and five acre tracts of the lake front land and a portion of the Indian allotments.  This not only means many new farms open for settlement but that the Lake front will blossom as the rose, as there is no finer fruit land in the State of Montana , than a Flathead Lake Front.”  

Joseph M. Dixon believed and professed that the Native Indians of the Flathead Reservation would and should be assimilated into the dominant culture of society.  Aside from his own business motives, his actions in politics displayed these beliefs.  Of course, at the time of Joseph Dixon, native people were nearly powerless against such an onslaught of policy and the result of those policies.  Joseph Dixon owned the Missoulian Newspaper, a ranch near Ronan, a business in Polson, and had multiple business associations in Western Montana.  Farmers, CSKT, and Ranchers that had been anxious to acquire land in the region were, and to this day are, the recipients of the politics of the early 1904 to 1914 era.

The proposed Water Compact that the RWRCC has presented modern day settlers with is attempting with efforts thus far, to award privileges to the CSKT that were taken from them by the State and Federal Government many years ago.  The Compact Commission has no authority to try to settle any conflicting promises that were made to both settlers and the CSKT.  If the current proposals were to be approved, the lies that were told to both the CSKT and the settlers on the Reservation will be perpetuated.  Unfortunately, it was politics in Government that set the stage for conflict; it is only a fair proposal by the Government that will allow the problems to be resolved.  Fair treatment for all the parties promised “water rights” need to be addressed.  If the RWRCC continues to try to push the existing compact there will be continued distress in our communities and in our personal businesses on and off of the Reservation.  This distress will also be prevalent in a wide area outside of the Reservation.

Revisions of the Water Compact that were released since November 2012 have not been substantial. At each and every public meeting that I attended, the same rhetoric and the same erroneous assumptions were touted by the RWRCC.  It was consistently evident by the actions and words of the Commission that their agenda was set and there was little room for healthy discussion.

The CSKT was wronged by Representative Joseph Dixon’s plans for the Flathead Reservation.  The Montana State Government and the U.S. Federal Government were both wrong to encourage non-tribal people to come here to build communities and make their livings.  The CSKT has been compensated by monetary settlements every decade since the 1960’s, for land, unfair treatment, and abuse by government power.  The settlers of the past and the present, non-tribal settlers of the Reservation, have received nothing in compensation for the mistakes made by the governments that have encouraged them to move here.  We have lived in constant threat of our water rights being taken from us.  We have paid our taxes, and made positive contributions to society with many agricultural products.  Water is the only resource that makes our operations work.  Our land, without a true water right attached to it, will be devalued immensely, and, sadly, this will be a place where our agricultural communities will slowly dissolve.  President Taft signed the Homestead Bill for the Reservation with no uncertain terms.  There was and is abundant water for agriculture and for fisheries.  Distributing the water, with a water right appurtenant to the land is the only way that justice for all citizens will prevail.

I implore you as Government officials to take the proper action.  Scrap the present compact and start over, taking into consideration all of the historical facts, not simply selective facts that favor a minority.  The present compact will serve an injustice to hard working Americans that have trusted in our Governments to do the right actions.  The present proposed compact is too lengthy, as well as too complicated.  It creates more red tape combined with many convoluted loopholes to be interpreted in various different ways.  Interpretation would depend on which party has the best attorney.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion for my family, and for my hopes for my community, and future.

Chris Sullivan, Dixon, MT