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Honoring the Kalispel Tribe as Watershed Heroes

William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus, March 1, 2019

The following words were spoken at Winter Waters 2019 prior to presenting the Kalispel Tribe with the Watershed Hero Award.

I am really honored and humbled to be here this evening for this honoring event for the Kalispel Tribe, to honor and thank them for their remarkable stewardship of the Pend Oreille River basin and their tribal heritage.

An honoring event helps us to remember, to be in contact with a remarkable tradition and history, including recent years of growth, advocacy, and a strong will and vision to be a people of relationship, good will, and responsibility as we look to the future.

Their story is a remarkable one of courage, survival, and a strong vision of what can be for the common good of all.

  • In 1870, the tribe was almost annihilated, being told by the U. S. Government to move from the Priest River-Pend Oreille country to a reservation in Montana. The Upper Kalispels did move to the Jocko Reservation, but the lower Kalispels refused to move. So many of their elders had been buried on their local lands. Their refusal to move finally resulted in a tiny reservation provided by the U.S. government in 1914 . . . almost 5,000 acres along the Pend Oreille River, a piece of land that was one mile wide and eight miles long. This was a minuscule part of the massive original land of the Kalispels, some 200 miles long. The Kalispels were also known as the Pend Oreille Tribe.
  • In 1965, the average tribal income was $1,400 and there was only one telephone on the reservation. There was little running water in the homes, supposedly only in a couple. That was just over 50 years ago.
  • In 1997, the mission statement of the Kalispels expressed a commitment to growth, preserving their tradition and culture, with a special focus on education.
  • And look at today – talk about resiliency, determination, and commitment to community relationships that have allowed the tribe to address and overcome difficult circumstances, to
    flourish and become a regional leader!

What are some of the remarkable accomplishments—these are a few:

  • Since 2000, the Tribe has donated $18 million through its Charitable Fund to help the poor, keep alive the Salish language, and sponsor other civic and environmental efforts to advance the common good.
  • The Kalispel Tribe has become a voice for the voiceless in the Pend-Oreille region addressing issues of fish, wildlife and concern for the generations to come.
  • Advocacy for protecting our environment – a deep sensitivity to the reality of how all of us are connected among ourselves and our environment. Their witness and example are an inspiring vision of the concern and challenge expressed in Pope Francis encyclical: “Laudato Si.”

In the complexity, diversity and wonder of our region, the Kalispel tribe has stood strong.  For that presence and inspiration, we thank you, we ask the Creator to continue to bless you, and tonight we honor you.  You make us feel proud.  Congratulations!

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