© 2016 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

Have you ever tried to wrap your mind around why people support the water compact in spite of its significant problems, inconsistencies and violations of the constitution and laws of the state of Montana?

On April 14th, we had the opportunity to meet and talk with candidates for the Joint Board Commissioner positions.  It was a good meeting and was a chance for each candidate to express their views on important issues related to the Flathead Irrigation Project.  Of the six candidates for 3 available irrigation district positions (2 Flathead and 1 Mission), only David Lake, a challenger in the Flathead District against Shane Orien, did not attend.  No reason for Mr. Lake’s absence was given.

It was an excellent meeting and the candidates answered a variety of questions honestly, and to the best of their ability.  Thanks to all of them for taking the time out of their busy schedules to attend.

Jeanette Rosman, a recently retired realtor has expressed her support for the compact consistently over the past few years.  She is running against Wayne Blevins in the Flathead District.  Mrs. Rosman typically does not attend the Joint Board meetings, but has attended one or two after announcing her candidacy earlier this year.

What follows is her response to a question asking if she would consider changing her support of the compact if information was presented to her showing her its problems, and another question to provide specifics about why she supports the compact:

 

Mrs. Rosman stated she was unwilling to change her position on the compact.  Although Rosman admits she has not really studied it, she believes that because we live on the reservation we must be willing to work with the CSKT and get along because we are all part of the same community.    She also thinks that our property rights are “different” than others because we live within the historic boundaries of the former Flathead Reservation.

This is quite interesting coming from a retired realtor who very likely sold property to many non-Indians through the years.  We cannot help but wonder if she disclosed her position on tribal property rights vs all others to any of her clients?

During his comments at the forum, FJBC Chairman Boone Cole, a compact opponent, explained his beliefs and the reasons why it is important to fight the compact using whatever means necessary:

Boone Cole:

“We’ve heard it a lot in this last legislature and we continue to hear it, we can’t expect to have the same rights of property ownership because we live on a reservation.  I believe that is patently false.  This is an open reservation.” …..I’m gonna make some statements here that convey my philosophy:

I have as much property ownership rights in my fee property on this reservation, as anyone off the reservation.

I have the same rights under the state  as anyone else.  People may not know this, but the compact explicitly says that title 85 of MCA that deals with irrigation is exempt on the reservation.  It’s just ignored for those that live on the reservation.  That is unacceptable to me. 

Additionally I don’t buy the line that this irrigation project was built for only the benefit of Indians. This irrigation project was built for the benefit of  everyone that lives here.  Communities, not just irrigators.  Read a lot of the documents, there are thousands and thousands of pages, most of which those that are on the board have read, numerous times.   It was Interior’s intent, it was everyone’s intent, that these communities thrive, that Indian and non-Indian alike have access to the irrigation, as benefits of living here. 

Additionally,  on the water rights issue,  I know that’s still up in the air, how that will play out is yet to be seen.  I do not accept that no individuals have water rights here, that all of the irrigation water right is held by the United States in trust for the CSKT.  We HAVE to have some property ownership in that water right.  Some sort of “promise of delivery” is insufficient for me. 

The statement that the tribe’s have time immemorial water rights,  to some extent , that possibly is true, but I don’t believe it’s all the water. 

And unfortunately the only way in our system of government I guess to move forward with a lot of that, is through a lawsuit.  You have to pursue those in the courts a lot of them.  But ultimately it comes down to I believe we have true property rights here the same as anywhere else.  We have a right to be here,  this is an open reservation, there’s enough here for everyone.

I don’t begrudge the CSKT at all for pursuing their rights.  But we have to do the same thing.” 

We would be hard pressed to find anyone, even compact proponents, who wouldn’t agree with what Boone had to say.

Later that evening, Jack Lake, a large irrigator who very vocally supports the compact along with his wife Susan, responded to Boone Cole’s comments:

 

We give credit to Mr. Lake for expressing as honestly as he can his reasons for supporting the compact.  Lake agreed with all of the points that Boone Cole had made.  In spite of his agreement with Boone on these basic principles, Lake went on to express his support of the compact because of his concerns about the cost of litigation and what he perceives to be little or no chance of success in the courts.  What he fails to realize or is willing to overlook however, is that the compact will mean the end of life as we know it in western Montana.

We have yet to find a compact supporter that can provide specifics about the compact that speak to its merits, or that explain why it is a good deal for anyone in Montana except for the United States / CSKT.  Proponents instead speak to their fear of litigation, or their desire to go along to get along.  In other words supporters of the compact hold their positions out of fear and emotion, rather than understanding the facts of what is in the compact.  Supporters do not find it necessary to study the compact to discover its insidious details.  To them, getting a little water is better than the myth that they will have nothing if the Compact isn’t ratified.

It is interesting to note these supporters clearly have a fear of getting nothing from the tribe in lieu of the water compact, yet they still want to “get along”.  The water compact is a price they seem to be willing to pay in order to live in this area of Montana, thereby accepting a slave – master relationship between themselves and the United States / CSKT.

During the water compact hearings in Helena, the pro-compact contingent was very well orchestrated.  They filed through the line one, by one, by one, discussing the view that the compact would bring certainty.  Better to have less water than no water at all.  They also expressed their fear of having to deal with prolonged litigation with the CSKT.

Many of them seem demoralized to the point that while they know in their hearts that their rights are no different than anyone else in the country, they are willing to give them up to the United States / CSKT in return for a “water delivery certificate”, and the opportunity to have all future decisions about their property rights fall under a board that is outside of the laws and constitution of the state of Montana and accountable to no one.  They are willing to be compliant citizens, quietly accepting the tyranny this compact represents for the sake of “getting along.”  After all, they claim, and despite evidence to the contrary, Montana “negotiated this compact on their behalf, and the state has no hidden agenda”.

Supporters of the compact are not only willing to sacrifice their own rights for the sake of the myth of “peace in the community”. But through their efforts,  it is clear that large irrigators who support the compact are also willing to sacrifice the unalienable rights of their neighbors who ARE willing to fight this battle.

Compact supporters also fail to understand that while irrigation is important to western Montana,  there are hundreds of thousands of non-irrigators residing in western Montana whose property rights will also be negatively impacted by this overreaching compact.  In other words this compact is not just about irrigators.  Irrigators do not and cannot speak for all of western Montana.

The CSKT could not have hoped for a better outcome from their aggressive litigation strategy of the past 30-40 years.  Instead of standing with their neighbors against the injustices of this compact, people like Mrs. Rosman and Mr. Lake have become little more than advocates and mouthpieces for the United States / CSKT, happy to accept significantly reduced water deliveries via a “water delivery certificate” that is not a property right, and willing to submit to an unaccountable board for any future decisions about their water needs.

When will these people wake up to realize that the cost of a targeted litigation strategy is far less per acre than the loss in value the water compact will mean to the value of their property?  When will they understand that property rights are inalienable rights that cannot be “negotiated away” in a water compact or willingly given away by anyone?

This brings us to a comment from a tribal elder during compact “renegotiations” in 2014.  We paraphrase:  “I don’t know what is wrong with you people.  We will still be nice to you after we get all the water.”

If what is happening on the reservation is “nice” we would hate to see what life will be like in western Montana if the United States / CSKT were ever to get all of the water.  This is why it is absolutely necessary to fight the battle until we win.

We do not deny that the CSKT have water rights.  However as Boone Cole stated  so well during the meeting:  “they do not have rights to all of the water“.

They also do not have the right to exert control over any private property but their own.

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