- The call, from a University of Montana student, Rob McDonald remembers,
came out of the blue.
Harmon was writing a paper for a class on tribal government. She'd
found the phone number for McDonald, spokesman for the Confederated
Salish and Kootenai Tribes, on the CSKT Web site and dialed it.
the non-tribal member obviously didn't know much about how Indian
tribes operate, McDonald says from his office here on the Flathead
Indian Reservation, "she asked a ton of questions, insightful
the interview was finished, McDonald says Harmon told him, "I
didn't know any of that."
came the kicker.
Harmon told McDonald she grew up on the Flathead Reservation, in
call helped spur McDonald and the tribes to move forward on "ideas
that I've been exploring personally for four years," he says.
result: "The Rez We Live On," a Web campaign to set straight
what McDonald says are commonly held misperceptions about the tribes
and their people.
get free health care? No, a voice at www.therezweliveon.com
1855 Hellgate Treaty - when the tribes ceded 22 million acres of
their territory to the federal government for $120,000 and the
million acres that make up the Flathead Reservation - promised Indians
health care too.
"today the Indian health care system receives just over half
the funding needed to provide a bare minimum of care," the
voice says." There's simply not enough funding for basic preventative
checks like colonoscopies for elders. In fact, most tribal members
must also use private insurance. Most tribal members struggle with
health care costs, just like everyone else."
short videos with rudimentary animation and voiceovers, the new
Web site - launched Tuesday - offers CSKT's explanation about seven
different areas, with plans to add at least three more.
explains how Tribal Police and the CSKT court system work, both
on their own and in conjunction with state and local authorities,
in one. In another, it dispels the notion that the federal or state
governments hand out checks to tribal members.
capita payments are each tribal member's share of any profits made
on CSKT's many business ventures, the Web site says, with most of
the money coming from the leasing of Kerr Dam to PPL Montana. Worth
approximately $8 million annually, the money from Kerr Dam is the
largest single factor in the $400 checks each of the 7,200 CSKT
members receive three times a year, in the winter, spring and summer.
a number of programs receive federal funding, none of that money
is distributed by per capita payments to individual tribal members,"
the voice says.
Harmon told McDonald she was surprised she knew so little about
the workings of the reservation she had lived on for years.
don't I know this?" she asked him.
Indian Education for All Act helped expose all Montana students
to Indian history and culture, McDonald says, but not to the tribal
governments that affect everyone who lives on a reservation.
upon generation have been repeating information that's not correct,"
McDonald says, "to the point that it's offensive, and derails
even the most basic conversation."
pay no taxes? Not true, McDonald says.
another topic he wants to add to the Web site, but involves winnowing
down more than 150 years of complicated rules, legislation and treaties
into a three-minute "movie" that is "bulletproof,
accurate and digestible," McDonald says.
pay federal income taxes, and property taxes on fee land, McDonald
says. Tribal land doesn't come off the tax rolls until it's put
into a federal trust. Last year, McDonald says, the tribes paid
$125,000 in property taxes to Lake County.
tribal members are not required to pay state taxes, because the
tribes existed and governed themselves before Montana existed. The
Hellgate Treaty, wherein they agreed to abide by federal tax laws,
among other things, was signed 34 years before Montana achieved
tribal members pay some state taxes, such as the state gasoline
tax - a bone of contention for many.
taxes as a subject at "The Rez We Live On" "presents
a challenge in getting it just right," McDonald says. Similarly,
the question of sovereignty is "complicated, but important,
on why we have the right to govern our people and our lands,"
Web site, designed by saltStudio of Missoula, has a section called
"frequently asked questions" with just one ("Who
created The Rez We Live On?") listed so far.
says he'd like to use that area to answer more questions or dispel
more myths about the tribes. Heard the tribes have $100 million
in cash lying around? Ask.
heard it's a billion, and it's all in offshore accounts," McDonald
says. "All I can tell you is what our chairman (James Steele
Jr.) says when he hears these things: 'I wish they could show us
where all this money is, because it'd come in pretty handy.' "
billboard advertising campaign on the reservation will attempt to
drive people to the Web site.
says the idea for the short videos came from his boyhood. "Schoolhouse
Rock!" aired during Saturday morning cartoons on ABC and featured
animated educational musical short films that taught kids about
science, math, grammar and more.
think they were imprinted into the minds of people of my generation,"
McDonald says. "There's a power to this approach."
Rez We Live On," McDonald says, is "the Confederated Salish
and Kootenai Tribes, as told by us, as factually as we can tell
it - who we are, and how we got to this point."
Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.