Our thanks to former Senator Verdell Jackson, Kalispell for this great letter to the editor
CSKT Compact is Fiscally Irresponsible Choice
Like most proponents of the CSKT Compact, Rick Hill’s recent letter to the editor is full of misconceptions and threats used to support the CSKT Compact because there is no legal basis for turning control of water use in western Montana over to the Tribe. He first states that the Hell Gate Treaty grants rights to claim water for the CSKT both on and off the CSKT Reservation. The 5 page Hell Gate Treaty does not mention water or water rights. With the following language, Article III of the treaty gives: “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places, in common with citizens of the territory.” This off reservation fishing right language is only found in the treaties in which Governor Isaac Stevens was involved. The Hell Gate and Judith River Treaties are the only “Stevens Treaties” in Montana. No settlement, litigation or case law has been able to stretch this language into an off reservation water right. The CSKT Compact would be the first and if successful the Blackfeet Tribe would likely be next. Their area of hunting and fishing is in the Judith River Treaty and covers about 8 million acres in eastern Montana, starting at the main divide of the Rocky Mountains and stretching to the Muscle Shell River. Their Compact has not had final approval because it has been withdrawn from congressional consideration at the Tribe’s request.
Mr. Hill states that there is nothing in the Compact that affects property rights. There are thousands of irrigators both on and off the Reservation who would disagree with him. Irrigators on the Reservation lost their state based water rights and received a water allocation. A study just completed by Barry Dutton, a water expert, shows the Compact cuts the water for the irrigation project by at least 50% of the historic delivery. Also, off Reservation irrigators in 11 counties can be ordered to stop using water during low river flows via water rights made out to the federal government in trust to the CSKT. These irrigators lose property value because of the uncertainty of adequate water.
Most of the rest of Hill’s letter deals with the $55 million given to the Tribe and the threat of thousands of water claims. The irrigation project on the Reservation was developed and owned by the federal government. The State of Montana has never had the responsibility to maintain the project and I see no reason the tax payers in Montana should do it now. Fifty five million would go a long ways in defending our state based water rights against tribal claims. No tribe has been given off reservation water rights on their traditional hunting and fishing territory because of the language in their treaties: “the tribes hereby cede, relinquish, and convey to the United States all their right, title, and interest in and to the country occupied or claimed by them.” How do Rick Hill stretch this language into a water right for the CSKT or Blackfeet Tribes on their subsistence ranges?
Former Senator Verdell Jackson, Flathead County