© 2016 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

While listening to the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) meeting hearings earlier this week, John Carter, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai (CSKT) tribes, was doing what the tribe does best:

While a contingent of attorneys and lobbyists are in Washington D.C. pushing for swift ratification of the CSKT water compact, his job was to be in Helena working a different angle: to sway the Montana legislature into action, through their favorite committee and favorite enablers, the Water Policy Interim Committee.

He was there to ask the legislature to act because the tribe does not like the fact that the Montana Water Court did not establish a 4 year stay on the adjudication of water rights in our basins as they requested, and instead ordered a stay until January 2017.  Bear in mind that the Tribes were bragging to the Water Court about the Compact’s passage in the lame duck session of congress, and that is why McElyea granted the Tribes a one year stay.

Carter used the Blackfeet compact as an example of what he called a “Pending Dilemma” for the CSKT.  In Blackfeet, the water court did not extend the stay on adjudication, in spite of the fact that their compact has not yet been ratified by the United States Congress.  This put the Blackfeet in the position of having to challenge every state based water claim in their basin, creating political angst among tribal members as well as “supporters” of their compact.

Then Carter visualized a similar “crisis” with the CSKT compact, should Congress not pass the compact within the next 12 months, and then asked the legislature to consider a “legislative answer” to fix the tribe’s political problem.  Carter pulled out all the stops, and the committee was putty in his hands, even to the point of asking if the water court order could be “tweaked”.

By employing the tactic of creating a problem and then finding a solution, Carter steps outside the existing legal forum through which these issues are resolved—the Montana Water Court.  Remember the Tribes filed their claims in June which was their deadline?  Those are the proceedings in which Mr. Carter’s questions should have been raised, not a legislative committee.

To raise this question in front of a legislative committee–a different branch of government– is completely inappropriate in our view. Further, to pressure the Chief Water Court Judge to make an out-of-court “deal” or “tweak” with either John Carter or the Water Policy Interim Committee compromises the Water Court, the Judge,  its proceedings, and the legislature.

For the record, Judge McElyea appears to be a stand up guy trying to do the right thing concerning the adjudication of all Montanans’ water rights.  But he appeared to be very uncomfortable with the position Carter and the committee put him in. McElyea stood his ground.  Carter  stated numerous times that he was willing to “sit down with the Judge to help “fix” the pending dilemma that the water court order had supposedly created.

Judge McElyea reminded John Carter that the “parties already have the Court as the venue to address their needs.”  That is exactly right–John Carter and the WPIC know that the Montana Water Court  is the only venue to “tweak” or “fix”…rather, to advance their legal point of view.  It is not the WPIC!

However more stunning than all of this, we would like to point the public to Carter’s last statement made at the Monday meeting:

I would be glad to join the conversation with the judge. We had a very amicable discussion about that in our hearings last summer. So he’s in …tomorrow morning. I will be here and I will gladly join with him.

He (McElyea) is in a hard place, and he knows it.…. he (McElyea) said “I’m just trying to serve two masters here and I can’t do it.”   So that (the 2017 date for ending the stay) was the choice he made.

With that off the cuff statement, things became as clear as a laser. For four years we have wondered why the state of Montana was so willing to throw its citizens under the bus. While the public believes that the state government was created by them, to protect their rights and freedoms, the state has instead been serving a completely different master: THE TRIBES, THROUGH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

It isn’t enough that the tribe has the legislature and the governor doing their bidding?  Is it possible that the tribe is also trying to nudge push Montana’s courts, including the water court into serving their agenda as well?  And as a backup plan, if they are not happy with any given decision, not to worry.  Chas Vincent and the legislature are there to “fix it” for them by extending the deadline for issuance beyond 2020.

Pay attention eastern Montana, what will your poison be?

  • Free Roaming Bison?
  • The CSKT’s 10,000 claims?
  • Water and land claims for the Little Shell “tribe”?
  • Obama establishing more federal reserves that will need federal reserved water rights, or using eminent domain?
  • A new endangered species?

After all, in Montana, the possibilities are endless, and the tribes as well as the federal government are rubbing their hands together looking for their next plan of attack.

See the three video excerpts from WPIC of the discussion on the CSKT Compact implementation and the Montana adjudication update below.  You can also find archives of the full WPIC hearings at this link.

01/11/16 WPIC Re:  CSKT Compact Implementation


01/12/16 WPIC Re:  Adjudication Process Update


01/12/16 WPIC Re:  Turtle Mountain Band Water Claims