“I’d like to thank my colleagues for showing up today, rather than going to a football game. I think this is more important,” said Lloyd Irvin, a member of the tribal government of the Confederated Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreille tribes at a commemoration of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855. The tribes gathered at Council Groves State Park, land that was their ancestors’ home, off of Mullan Road in Missoula on Sat., Oct. 4. While much of Missoula was focused on homecoming festivities, the tribes celebrated a newly installed monument containing the full text of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855, as well as the story of the Indians involved in its signing. Several speakers described the monument as preserving an “accurate history,” as it included details of the way in which white settlers and military forced Indians out of the Bitterroot valley.
“This sign is a small step” toward telling the whole story, said Fred Matt, chairman of the tribal government.
Tribal lawyer Dan Decker addressed the crowd, saying that the Hellgate Treaty is the single most important document he uses when defending Native American sovereignty in Washington, D.C. The treaty, which was signed by Chief Victor, head of the (settler-dubbed) Flathead Nation, states that in return for ceding lands to the white settlers, the tribes would be given sovereignty over the governance of their reservation. Article 3, which has been the most litigated section, states that tribes would retain fishing and hunting rights off of their reservation on unclaimed lands in aboriginal territory.
“It’s kind of sad that we’re here today,” said Salish elder Johnny Arlee. “For the things that have happened to us, the promises that were put down in the treaty, the schools, hospitals—these have never come to pass.”
Another tribal elder, Louis Adams, said that he hopes such treaties and laws will someday no longer be necessary.
“Laws and policies are because we don’t trust each other,” Adams said. “That’s all they are.”