The third day: Field Trip to the American Indian Reservation By Natedao Taotawin

On April 9, a group of the UM Mansfield Center Professional Fellows visits the American Indian Reservation where is the homeland of three ethnic tribes of American Indian: the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend O’reille.

Before visiting the reservation, I have learned about the American Indian by reading some books and seeing some movies. The representation of American Indian in media which might not fit with the reality. Our group of fellows has a great opportunity to pay respect to the Tribal Council Chambers who are representatives of all tribes of American Indian living in the reservation. The council is extending the honor of greeting the Fellows group during their Tribal Council Meeting.

After that, the fellows group listens to the overview of the tribal history described by Ms. Germaine White who is the information and education specialist in Natural Resources Department. I learn that the American Indian have their visions which contribute to the good stewardship of nature.  I was impressed by the values and principles of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. These values are described by their mission “to protect and enhance the fish, wildlife, and wild land resource of the tribes for continued use by the generations of today and tomorrow”.

Moreover, I learn from Ms. Janet Camet, the specialist from the Tribal Lands Department about the history of land development in the reservation. The key issue for the land development in the reservation is how to keep the lands in the hands of the tribal and to find a sustainable path of development. The sustainable development here could be defined by reference to the capability of the tribes to keep their own lands and also to preserve natural resources such as land, wildlife, water, etc. Since 1970s onwards, the American Indians have lost their lands and natural resources are also exploited and deteriorated. In the second session, the fellows group listens to Ms. Lissa Peel, the Indian Preference Coordinator which assists in recruiting Tribal members to employers who are working on the Flathead Reservation, and also assist in hiring Tribal members on contract works with fair pay.

Among all activities being done in this field trip, the Tribal Forestry Greenhouse tour is the most impressive for me. Jean L. Matt, the Forest Department Program Manager illustrates the processes of seeds’ production. The Forest Department Program hires thirty Tribal employees to work in the seed nursery. But, it can be able to manage the overall seeds’ production processes.  The mission of the seeds’ production here is to create self-sufficiency. It means the seeds’ production program buys all production inputs by using money gained from selling the seeds, wildlife plants, and food trees being produced by the project staffs. The actual benefits of the program can be seen from the fact that the tribal can buy seeds at the reasonable price and can access to sufficient foods. At the same time, the program can be able to restore the traditional plants, herbs, and food plants.

The processes of soil making, the production of seeds, and the nursery of native plants show the capacities of the American Indian. These capacities are based on the combination of local and scientific knowledge to create an innovative way of the native plants’ production and restoration. The way that the expertise of American Indian combines their native wisdoms with scientific knowledge is very impressive. It shows that the American Indian can adjust themselves to the new environment. At the same time, they can find a solution to the new challenges.

No one knows if the attempt to restore the traditional plants, wild herbs, and food plants will be success or not. But, the vision of Jean L. Matt who said “we try ten times. If it is success one time, it is not bad” is appreciated. This represents the challenging dream. And, it is also the beautiful dream of human being.

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