© 2020 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
We recently did a post about the Congressional Field Hearings in Montana during the Summer of 1979. Congress held them in response to a series of lawsuits that were filed by the United States throughout the state for the federal reserved water rights of the several Indian tribes in the state, and other federal reservations of land.
These lawsuits were intended to mislead Montanans into thinking the federal government’s water rights might supercede their own, to circumvent the McCarran Amendment that allows states to adjudicate “federal reserved” claims to water, and to thwart Montana’s own adjudication process. The goal was to sufficiently scare as many Montana water rights holders as possible, by forcing them into the federal courts for the adjudication of the federal government’s “federal reserved” water rights.
During these field hearings, local governments, many organizations, tribal members and other citizens weighed in. Their comments and concerns all became part of the public record. Every citizen letter written to Congress on the issue was included in the transcript of the Ronan hearing and can be found at this link.
Fast forward to June 24, 2020, when the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a quiet, under the radar hearing on S.3019, the Daines / Tester solution to the CSKT water dispute, in Washington DC. The only person allowed to testify was an employee of the Department of the Interior. The exchange between Senator Daines and the witness was a well-rehearsed and scripted question and answer session, designed specifically to showcase what the Department of the Interior and Daines wanted the committee to hear, but leaving out all of the controversial and destructive details buried within his legislation.
Opponents to the Daines legislation were not invited to testify at the “hearing”.
Senator Daines is controlling the narrative for his bill, and if successful, Congress and President Trump will only hear what Daines wants them to hear about his destructive and fatally flawed “CSKT water settlement.”
Just as the compact was created in a federal Indian policy vacuum with no consideration of its impacts to non-Indians, so will go Congressional testimony, if we don’t step up and demand that our voices be heard.
1979 FIELD HEARING IN RONAN
We reported on a statement made at the 1979 Ronan Hearing by Bill Morigeau, Vice Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In his testimony, Mr. Morigeau said this:
I would like to set the record straight. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Council has never claimed water or water rights outside of the border of the reservation.
Also during the hearing, Senator Melcher queried Mr. Morigeau and tribal attorney Evelyn Stevenson, on the tribe’s current and future needs and based upon their testimony concluded this:
It really does not indicate any problem for a lack of water at this time or in the foreseeable future as far as the tribe is concerned. I think I have asked all the questions I want to ask of both of you (Morigeau and Stevenson (tribal attorney). I don’t believe that there is any use in pursuing a discussion of the Winter’s doctrine in this case because the tribe simply is not envisioning much more water than they are now using. If I have misunderstood you on that, please correct me, because we like to understand what the tribe’s position is.
What a Difference Forty Years Makes
In 1979 tribal leadership: The CSKT have never claimed water outside of the reservation.
In 2013: Montana agrees to give the tribe time immemorial claims to vast amounts of off reservation water throughout western Montana.
In 2015: The CSKT and United States file 10,000 time immemorial claims to water covering 2/3 of the state.
In 2020: No one opposing the legislation is allowed to testify at congressional hearings. The S.3019 Daines Compact awards most if not all of the water in western Montana to the CSKT, calling into question our property rights and land patents.
AN URGENT CALL TO ACTION:
If this very slow and painful death of property rights ownership is not stopped decisively, we will soon lose all of the rights and privileges that other Americans have with respect to their land patents and property rights.
Montana citizens deserve the right to a very public hearing on this issue. We no longer have the luxury of sitting on the fence out of the fear of tribal or government retribution.
With this in mind, we would like to ask each of you to please take a few minutes of your time to contact the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator John Hoeven, and request that his committee hold field hearings in Ronan Montana on the Senator Daines legislation S3019, and the process that allowed this terrible agreement to get as far as it has.
Be sure to mention the June 24, 2020 “hearing” for S.3019 , and request that the Daines legislation be stopped until public field hearings are held in Ronan in July or August of 2021, and after the requested audits of both the IRRIGATION AND POWER DIVISIONS of the Flathead Irrigation Project are completed and made public.
Please submit your request to the committee no later than July 8, 2020. Otherwise it may be too late to make our wishes known.
Your requests for a field hearing can be sent to Zachary Spencer, the staff assistant to the Committee on Indian Affairs. Ask Mr. Spencer to forward your request to Senator Hoeven. Use this email address to make your request. If your email allows it, be sure to sent the email to request a read receipt so that you know it’s been opened.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE:
We have word that Daines is already trying to stop this movement by the people and by state legislators, to have our voices heard at a very public field hearing.
Senators Daines and Tester must be held accountable to publicly hear the concerns of their constituents, and fully to explain their support of this legislation in light of the 1979 testimony of the tribes stating they did not want off reservation water rights, and anticipated little more water than they were using at the time.