“We are here to serve people”: Going Native with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT)

By Amema Saeju

Morning program

It was a great day and a long day to end the today’s programs!

At around 8.15 am we left the hotel and headed to “Flathead Indian Reservation” (after seeing around of this territory I came up with a new name for this place, “Salish and Kootenai territory”. Anyway, there were two teams today, the first team was led by Caitlin, arrived the territory at 9.30 am and the second team was led by Kelsey, arrived the territory at 9.45 am. The moment I arrived there and having seen all the symbolic constructions, I got excited and imagined the hardships and challenges of all the tribes before getting their own tribal government in Montana, United States of America.

The first place we went in was the tribe meeting room and the moment I looked at all the big pictures of the tribe leaders that were hanging on the walls I got goose bumps. I felt so proud and I got lots of powerful message by looking their older generation pictures. The older generations were looking very unique in many ways; men with long hair and fierce looking, and yes, warrior looking too. Everything that use or build this meeting room represents their identity and the tribe pride.

There were two people who introduced and shared us an insightful information of CSKT to YSEALI professional fellows. The first person was Mr. Len or Leonard Twoteeth, Vice-Chairman and the second person was Ms. Germain White, Information and Education Specialist, Natural Resource Department.

According to the listening today. There are about 550 tribes in the US and 7 distinct tribes in Montana. The CSKT council comprised of 10 members from different districts of Flathead Reservation and there are 13 Programs or Departments with 1200 employees. Each member of the council is a four-year staggered term. The qualifications to be a member of this council are at the age of up to the 18 and member of a tribe and never had involved with a big crime.

CSKT has a lot concern on the languages as well and they had a program at their own college to revive and to encourage their younger generation to be more aware of this issue. Len told us that there were only 4 people who are fluent in speaking Kootenai language.

However, Germain has also shared us lot information with her very pleasant voice (I love her voice very much and I could listen to her talk all day). There were 3 things that Germain mentioned about the tribes and what makes Montana so special than other states. First one was about the diseases that came into the tribes, the second was the horses that came from Europe (the first of the US that got horses and the third was the firearms/riffles. These were a big impact that has changes the life of tribes in the US.

After having a discussion we all head to lunch and to the Salish Kootenai College (SKC). The college was built in 1977 with 600 students and 74 instructors and 140 staffs. The college was very well constructed and organised with its own style of decoration. Once I walked in, I could feel the spirit of the tribes and looking at everywhere I felt the uniqueness of the tribes here. Yes, the newer generation like SKC will lead the tribes and the pride of the tribes will be maintained forever in the US and in Montana particularly! Would that going to be possible to do something similar in my community? etc.

We ended our academic program at the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas and continued cultural exchange program afterward.

Evening program

We did a grocery shopping yesterday and today we cooked and shared our Asian dishes with local Montana people and old lady dog named Meggie.

After having a study tour at CSKT and the visit to the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, we headed to Sarah’s house.

The evening was full of laugher and enjoyment because we cooked Asian dishes and we really had an amazing time during the gathering for a small cultural exchange at Sarah’s house. We all took part of this cultural exchange, some men were peeling potatoes and carrots, washed the dishes, baking a fish (Cambodian dish) select vegetables and taking a video etc. while most women were busy cooking in the kitchen. Cindy was cooking Thai food, Yong for Lao, and Thao and Van were cooking Vietnamese food. While preparing Asian dishes, a local people observed the cooking and some of them participated in the cooking as well.

During the cooking, we also had a chance to meet an old lady dog named Meggie, we met her once on the 1st May and today she showed up again to let us happy seeing her. Meggie was observing around the table (she would have pulled down all the foods on the table if she was younger, the owner said, Mike). She walked around to observe and to greet people and everybody gave her a love hug and a warm pet. She also got some Asian dishes served today. We shared her some of our “last bite” of the food we had. I was really happy to see her this evening.

Anyway, the dinner was served with Asian dishes and Sarah served us western dessert, an ice cream. While having an ice cream, Oshi, a Karen man introduced “Te Na Ku” (the name of Karen music instrument) to all of us and we sang a song called “Imagine” together before we moved to inside because of the rain and yes, we continued cultural exchange there. I was washing dishes with Lyda in the kitchen but I could hear everything that was happening in the living room, I could hear traditional Thai song, Lao song and Cambodian song that the YSEALI professional fellows have shared with local people.

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