First Impressions on Native American Reservation – Flathead

Nov 13, 2022 267.6K Views 1.2K Comments

Most Americans have no understanding about life on Native American Reservations in the United States, including myself until recently. Join me as we start this multipart Native series, first with the Sailish people on the Flathead Reservation in beautiful Montana.


► People’s Food Sovereignty Program: https://www.facebook.com/PeoplesFoodSovereigntyProgram/

► EVENT TICKETS HERE: https://mailchi.mp/petersantenello.com/myfellowamericanticketsandcontest

► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello
► Researched by: Kymberly Redmond

♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
[waves gently crashing]
-Good afternoon, guys.
Today we’re starting on a journey.
A journey of understanding
Native culture in the United States.
So this is our first reservation
here in Montana.
The Flathead Reservation, it starts
just a couple miles down the shore here.
Pushes far south
here in beautiful northern Montana.
Home to the Salish and the Kootenai people.
Today we have the great privilege
to meet with some locals
who said they’d bring us in
and explain their world,
life on the reservation,
and how things work there.
Let’s do this.
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪
[door opens]
All right, so technically
according to Google Maps
we are on Flathead Reservation.
So not at all what I’d expect.
I’ve only been on a few reservations
and this definitely doesn’t come to mind.
So we’re getting into
something interesting for sure.
[music continues]
-So there’s a lot more over there.
PETER: So that’s a full bison range?
-That’s the bison range.
It was like a…
WOMAN: National Bison Range.
-Yeah, it used to be
the National Bison Range
and before transfer over to
the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
it was managed under
Federal Department of the Interior.
There’s a long history
of historical traumas that it’s caused.
Just because the bison that were on there
were a food source to the tribe
and they forced the bison to Canada
and so bringing the bison back home
was a big issue.
PETER: 1491 Warrior?
-Yeah this is uh, fourteen-ninety…
This is Native’s clothing.
On the back it has
a picture of some ancestors.
Tribes throughout Turtle Island.
It just kind of like represents,
kind of like that modern…
We’re not fighting with
bows and arrows, guns anymore,
we’re, you know, trying to utilize
our minds and kind of… our education.
Trying to do this in a meaningful way.
PATRICK: The whole reason
why these reservations exist
is because they were trying
to push the railroad through.
PETER: Hmm.
-The transcontinental railroad.
Their whole mission was to try to
prevent war creating these peace treaties.
These were all just like…
…protections and promises that were made
that the tribes did not get at all
and the Flathead Reservation
was intended to be an Indian country.
And in the original signing of the treaty
it was not just the Salish
the Kootenai, and the Pend d’Oreilles.
There were other tribes
like the Spokane were also represented
on that treaty, the original treaty.
And so this was a place
that they were gonna displace
native tribes as an Indian country.
-Mm-hmm.
PETER: You’re Blackfeet?
-Yeah.
-That’s where you’re originally from?
-Yeah.
-But even within Blackfeet
there are different names…
-Different bands.
-Different bands you call ’em, okay.
-Yeah, I’m Skapi Piikuni Band
here in the United States.
I am also Kootenai
and there are seven bands of Kootenai
that are from here in United States
with Ksanka, which is
the Standing Arrow Band.
…their kill, they would
lick the blood from their arrow
and then they would
stab it into the ground…
…when they would hunt or in battle.
-Mm-hmm.
PATRICK: So traditional tribes,
the Slis, the Ksanka, and Qlispe.
The Selis, they have
their own alphabet system.
So these are the letters they use.
PETER: So it all falls under
Flathead Reservation though?
All these groups come in…
-Which is kind of a derogatory term…
within itself, it was something that…
-Okay.
-First settlers came over.
They described the tribal people
as having flat heads
and that’s what they use it,
as a description for everybody.
-Okay, so don’t say that?
-I mean it’s the reservation.
It’s, like, literally
what the reservation’s called.
Since colonialism began…
-Mm-hmm.
-The misinterpretations
of words and things like that.
-Mm-hmm.
-That all plays part to,
like, what they called us
and so it’s really, you know,
what do you call yourself?
We do have names for ourselves.
For myself, it’s the Zuni Pueblo tribe.
but we call ourselves the Ashiwi
or in Turtle Mountains, the French
would call us Chippewa or Ojibwa
but we were the Anishinaabe.
-Okay.
PATRICK: Grew up, they were
always talking about for tribal people,
“You have to walk two paths.”
You know, this American way
and then there’s called the red road
or the native way and it’s like
we shouldn’t be having to be forced
to walk two paths
when everybody else only has to walk one.
We read books about native warriors
in their time, you know
but we are history in the making right now.
-Hmm.
-And so we have to use
our education to combat all these things.
These systematic ills
that face our community
and it’s not just like getting a job
that you’re gonna pay for
your housing or your food every week.
It’s like it’s
a whole bigger thing of like,
“How can you play part
as a native person today in this tribe?”
You know, and it takes
a village to raise a child,
it takes everybody pitching in
to make Indian country better
or Turtle Island better for the future.
PETER: And then you have the dam here.
That’s what we’re seeing, right?
The dams off there
and there the river goes.
So this is a super important
water source correct?
In this part of the country, in Montana or?
Well the Flathead Lake
and this is the lower Flathead River.
Used to be very spiritual
to the people here so…
-Is it still?
-It was basically called the place
of the falling waters and it had…
It was kind of like a falls.
The Kootenai people would come
to this area and say their prayers.
There were tribal members
like my great-great-grandpa
and other families
who were part of even building it
and seeing the whole construction
of the dam.
I’m originally from
the Blackfeet reservation.
Born and raised
but my grandmother was Kootenai.
The dam was really something
that my grandmother stressed to my dad
growing up that because they were
gonna be owners of the dam
that one day this reservation
would be an important place
and that if he wanted to
make something for his family
that we should live here,
and go to school, and have opportunities.
So we native people
who are creating more businesses.
They are wanting to own homes.
They’re wanting to bring back
to the reservation.
What their parents
had always stressed to them, you know,
“You go off, go to school, come back
and help your people.” you know?
-So is that how it is mostly?
You grow up and if you have
good parenting they’re like,
“Take off, go to school,
and then come back.”
or it depends on the person?
-Well like as far as
Native American communities
education is now just recently
very, very, more, and more important.
I’m one of the first generation
college graduate students in my family.
One of five high school graduates.
One of three college grad…
or one of two college graduates.
-Was it your parents that pushed that
or how did you get to that?
-My parents but also just growing
and having my own family
and kind of realizing that
you have to create your own opportunities.
Especially on the reservation.
-Okay.
This video is sponsored by… Me.
Most of you know me
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but really that’s the tip of the iceberg.
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respond back and forth
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All right, guys, back to the video.
PETER: Every tribe feels like a country?
-They’re a nation, yeah.
-Yeah.
-Every treaty is an agreement
between two nations.
The treaty would be through
the United States and any tribe
that the United States
made an agreement with.
-Okay, so Blackfeet,
which is over the mountains there
is another nation basically?
-Yeah, they would consider themselves
the Blackfeet Nation, yes.
-How are the relations between
the two reservations, would you say?
-Tsk, um, it wasn’t always,
um, the best relationship.
Blackfeet tribe were considered
the lord of the plains.
We had the neighboring tribes
which were on
the outskirts of their territories
but they had to come in
to go east to hunt the buffalo.
The Blackfeet were very territorial
and so the people had to form alliances
with other tribes to hunt.
And they weren’t always
the best relationships
but through time and modernization
relationships are starting to improve.
They’re relying on one another
for new advances within the tribe
and hopefully within food sovereignty
we could start building better alliances.
-This tribe has done a lot of firsts
in terms of tribes doing this first.
Like the dam,
or the wildlife refuge complex,
or the casinos and things like that.
These are all their self-determination
exercising that.
Which opens up doors, opens up jobs.
-Why do you think it’s, say,
more successful than other tribes?
-Well, I mean there’s relationships there
that have been built, you know?
With outsiders,
definitely federal government.
It’s not just economic success
that is important to tribes
and what could be considered as valuable.
You know, in comparison to
maybe the Blackfeet Tribe
cultural retention is important
and that’s something
that is prevalent over there.
-Mm-hmm.
-And the tribes are working really hard
to maintain their language here.
They have a language immersion school
for the youth.
And so you have really young kids
learning the language.
Much more proficient at it
than us as their parents, you know?
-Oh.
-And there’s these really strong attempts
to gather information
from the elders that are still here
and it’s been pretty well documented,
this tribe, you know?
There’s always these tribes
that had relationships
with the federal government
before other tribes.
You can look at the Cherokee Tribe.
There’s a long history
of tribal people trying to become…
or them forcing us to become Americans
or us trying to relate in a way to become,
to them… appear more Americans.
Whether it be the boarding school trying
to beat this type of civility into us
or tribal people joining the military
to get that type of status as an American.
-Okay.
-To appear American to their counterparts.
-Okay.
So the boarding schools
were in the ’30s, right?
Mostly ’30s, ’40s?
-It was from
like the late 1880s or something.
-Okay.
-To the ’60s, ’70s.
-There’s still boarding schools now still.
-Okay.
-There’s still some exist here
but they’re not…
The way they’re managed,
there’s tribal-management,
self-management.
-So here’s what’s been confusing for me
is religion out here.
Because I understand the boarding schools,
and so the religion was really forced.
It was forced on the people, right?
-It was introduced here.
Like it was an attempt to kind of like…
It was an attempt to
kind of like heal some of their traumas
that were existing at the time
and so the Jesuits were introduced here.
They were invited here.
-So… but some natives,
from the few I’ve met,
some aren’t religious
and some are religious.
So it just depends on the person, right?
Is that how it is?
-Yeah, it really depends on the person,
their family, how they were raised.
-How they were treated
in the boarding school too.
Some have good stories and some have…
You know, most of ’em
are really bad stories.
So it’s like my grandma, she didn’t…
Wasn’t like… She never experienced
the hardships
that a lot of people did
in the boarding school, or death even.
There was a lot of death that happened.
And it’s all about
how you were treated, essentially.
This was like the most beautiful place
in Western United States
the water, the land,
the lake, the mountains.
-Mm-hmm.
-There’s always been attempts
to try to overtake this area
and not only that
but there was supposed to be
a southern Flathead Reservation.
Where Missoula and Stevensville was.
-Okay.
-But there was a failure to do
an agricultural survey that would say,
“Yeah, this land
could be utilized by tribal people.”
This attempt came at the Homesteading Act
that opened up reservations
to homesteaders at the time.
-Homesteaders were anyone from the country
that wanted a certain amount of land?
-Yeah, they could go, and claim it,
and even get money for it
in some situations.
-Okay.
-Basically, the federal government
saw reservations as surplus.
Had surplus lands on it.
PETER: Driving up here you see
some, really almost mansion-style houses.
You see fields.
You were saying the Homestead Act came in.
So there are certain chunks of land
that can be sold off in a reservation?
Or they could?
-Homesteading was just the door opener.
-Okay.
-It was actually
the Dawes Act or the Allotment act
that was signed a few years…
about maybe a decade later.
That essentially
checker-boarded the reservations.
-Was that by design?
-Yeah, it was totally by design.
Trying to create this idea that these lands
aren’t meant to be owned
in a community fashion.
That they’re supposed to be individual.
Yeah, try to create more selfishness
in tribal people, you know?
That it’s not…
That they needed to piece it together
and people had to have plots of land
that they had ownership over.
They would put a non-Indian
right next to a native person.
That non-Indian would be a Christian farmer
and that was intended to teach
the native to be more like his neighbor.
They would give lands to dogs, right?
Like a dog.
And then they would
sell that land to a non-Indian.
They would sell it to a child
and because they weren’t fit to manage
that property, it was sold to a non-Indian.
PETER: The reservations were formed.
There was this Swiss cheese effect
where they were taking parcels
through the homestead act.
That’s been done.
Now at this very moment, 2022.
I would think that
everything’s been like… not changing now.
Like no more land is being taken away
or is stuff being sold off
that’s in the reservation
that was native land?
-You know, there’s a program
that exists called Land Buyback Program
that allows either tribal land owners
to put their lands into trusts,
sell their lands to the tribe,
or even non-tribal people,
if they’re willing to sell their land
to the tribe in the end,
or whatever, put it into trusts.
They have that opportunity.
But the history of those ranchers
and farmers in the area
should be a tradition that
they pass it on to the next generation.
Their children
to take over their land or whatever.
But that isn’t the case, you know?
The case is a lot of people are moving.
A lot of the younger
non-tribal people are moving
to go to college or moving to the city
and that tradition of taking ownership
of their family’s plot of land
isn’t happening.
So there’s a lot of sales going on.
A lot of parceling out
of those larger properties
to create housing districts
and things like that.
-And that can be sold
to non-natives currently?
-Yeah, and because of the housing crisis
and everything like that
the price of housing
in the past couple years has skyrocketed.
Rentals have gone up.
A lot of natives, a lot of people I know
have been forced out of their homes
because of the price increase of rentals.
-So you’re really feeling it out here?
-Yeah, yeah.
And yeah, with the influx
of all these people coming to the area.
It’s put a big burden
on what’s existing here.
-People coming from the cities?
-Yeah.
Escaping climate change, escaping
financial crises in their communities.
I mean this is
a postcard community, you know?
It’s like everything here is like,
“We should go there.”
-It’s so beautiful.
[woman’s voice] Hi.
-Hello.
-Don’t mean to interrupt.
PETER: Oh, no problem.
-Are you filming me?
-If you don’t want to, I don’t have to.
-I don’t care.
[all chuckling]
This is my first time here
and if you watch these close enough
it starts to trip your eyes out.
[all chuckling]
-Be careful.
-Yeah, be careful.
-Thank you, have a wonderful time.
What are you guys up to?
PETER: I’m just making a video on the area.
WOMAN: Oh.
-Yeah, now you’re in it,
if you’re all right with that?
-Yeah, I’m cool with that.
My name is Terese, yay.
PATRICK: You didn’t even try
to get on YouTube.
TERESE: Yeah, woo,
everybody have a wonderful day.
PETER: Terese, do you live here?
-Yeah, kind of, sort of, I’ve been here
for about three years now.
Something like that.
-What do you think of the area?
-I’m loving it, yeah.
-It’s amazing?
-I love it.
There’s nothing better than this,
I mean this is God’s creation.
How can you get any better?
I’ve been trying to get into here
for like the last three years
and it’s been impossible
’cause the gate’s been closed
and I seen it was open last night,
and then I hurried up in here,
and then the sign said it closes sunset.
So the sun was going down and I’m like,
“I’m racing my ass back out there.”
[all laughing]
-I gotta see it real quick.
-Oh my God,
do not wanna get trapped in here
but what a cool place
to get trapped, right?
-Yeah.
-Awesome, you guys have a wonderful day.
-Take care, you too.
-God Bless.
-God Bless.
-So how is that when you see
a white woman obviously from somewhere else
on the land here, how does that feel?
In a reservation,
normally you’re the majority.
But in this reservation
you’re the minority.
And so I mean that’s how I feel here.
Regina, how do you feel?
-Um, I feel that, um,
there are certain families
who do not like, um,
non-tribal members coming here.
Even within the realms of just being
on tribal land in our campgrounds.
Especially over the past few years.
There have been an increase,
kind of in tourism sort of
and they’ve been leaving their garbage.
And it’s been out-of-staters as well
coming through here
and they’ll leave tents, coolers, chairs.
-Like it’s cheaper for them
to just leave it
then just pack everything up
and just head out.
-And then also in the spring time
or berry picking season
we have people that come into our
mountains and they do huckleberry picking
but they use these rakes
that destroy these bushes
and they over pick certain areas.
-So that just brings friction between
the local natives and the outsider?
-Yeah, for sure, for sure.
[dogs barking]
-Doggy day care.
-It’s…
PETER: Res-life?
-If you don’t have enough dogs…
PATRICK: We don’t have alarm systems,
we have dogs.
-How may natives on this reservation
in total, roughly?
-Tribal members are like 5,600 to 6,800.
-Okay.
-But there’s a lot of big gray area
because there’s a lot of tribal people
who come from all around the nation
and Canada, and the world
that come to SKC and…
-SKC?
-Salish Kootenai College.
-Okay.
-And meet locals, have families, get jobs.
[Regina giggling]
-That’s how you met?
-Yeah, and get jobs…
PATRICK: This is our garden bed project
where we get refurbished wood
or purchased wood and then deliver
to tribal homes throughout the reservation.
They get the frame, they get dirt,
and compost, and then seedlings.
And then we have a tips and tricks videos,
things like that
that they can utilize as education.
When we are talking about the ills
of the reservation or reservation life
it’s about these historical traumas
that have been placed on us
and the effects
of those historical traumas
and this is something
that we’re trying to utilize
as a way for us to get our hands dirty.
Get the hands in the dirt and kind of heal
our mental health that has been affected.
Depression and suicide
is very prevalent in indigenous communities
and this is some way
that we’re trying to give an option
for people to exercise
some health, and wellness,
and have an outlet essentially.
-So anyone that wants
one of these flowerbeds, you’ll come out,
you and your organization will come out
and build them on their property?
-Yep, deliver all the stuff and install it.
-Okay.
That’s great, are they interested?
Have you seen a lot of interest or?
-Our first year was 50 beds
and our second year was 31.
So it’s really weighing out.
Kind of like the difference between
breaking our back
and trying to start this revolution
or doing it in a sustainable way
for our organization.
PETER: What would you say
that you all have here being native
that other people maybe
don’t understand or are missing out on?
-I would say that people don’t even know
that they’re on a reservation
and that that’s just a lack of education,
lack of awareness.
I always make a joke that there’s nobody
more American than a Native American.
And so it’s really like if we’re really
talking about united together,
there’s this whole story about
who we are and we’re born with it.
We see it, you know?
We see a lot of communities,
non-tribal communities becoming more aware.
Renaming landmarks, bodies of water,
the bridge in Missoula.
These are all important steps
at the healing that needs to go on
between tribal people
and non-tribal people.
-What we need
is an easier access to our own land.
Getting a piece of land
is quite the battle in its own.
-Do you two own land?
And you want to own land?
-Mm-hmm.
-Everyone wants to own land, yeah.
So it’s really difficult?
-Mm-hmm.
-Okay, sohow does that make you feel
when you see
people from the outside
coming in, buying land?
-Tsk, um…
I feel like… we can own land too.
We just… Our people… Um, you know…
It’s all about learning the process,
being prepared early in life.
Knowing that, you know, owning…
Owning land,
owning a home is something that…
That is…
Something you should do.
Um…
Some people don’t have
that mentality of owning anything
and once I feel like you have
your own land and your own home,
you can self-sustain.
Self-sustain, take care of yourself.
Even if you have more than enough,
you can take care of your neighbor.
-There are programs that exist
for Native Americans to acquire land
and so that’s all about
education and understanding
how to utilize that education
and not all not all Native Americans know
how to go about the process,
the procedures of acquiring this land.
-Is it a long process
where you just get in line basically
and then eventually it happens or?
-We gotta compete against other…
We’re a non-profit so I mean we’re
competing against for-profit industry.
We’re also competing against non-Indians
who are leasing out agriculture land.
So there’s competition in it
and that all breaks down to,
“Is Capitalism the right answer?”
or is there more sustainable
community-based approaches
at solving our issues locally?
-Are you gonna enter one of these programs
if you haven’t already or?
-Yeah, it’s been…
Our organization’s been in operation,
it’s in it’s third year now.
So it’s like…
-The name of your organization?
-Our organization is
People’s Food Sovereignty Program.
And so we created this program
just to address those needs.
Like wild meat or wild game
that tribal members were asking for.
‘Cause we see where they’re coming from.
We see the world they’re living in,
the homes they live in,
the lack of access they have
to transportation,
lack of access
to quality food, supermarkets.
A lot of the towns in this area
if the grocery store’s not open,
rely on corn markets or gas stations,
and things like that to feed themselves.
The lack of nutrition in those places
is something that we combat
and our historical traumas, the depression
and suicides that exist in our communities,
that’s what we understand.
Is the food that we’ve eaten
in the past before colonialism,
before the influx of processed foods,
and sugars, and flowers,
and things like that,
that we were living healthy lives.
We were fit.
We were chasing our game.
Distributing it to people who are in need.
The elders, the children, the people
who couldn’t go hunt for themselves
and that was just
the natural process of things.
There wasn’t anything that was fueled
by money or anything like that.
It was just what happened and what was
and so when we know about it
through our families,
still exercising those activities
that our ancestors have done
hundreds of years ago, two hundreds,
you know, thousands of years ago.
That we’re trying to bring that back.
Trying to bring
that sense of community back.
That understanding that these
are the foods that are meant for us,
meant for our bodies and bringing those
to the people who need it the most.
-I’m gonna leave a link
to your organization down below.
Guys, it will be down below
in the description here of the video
and I just want to thank you both
for allowing me to come in with a camera.
I gotta say it’s not an easy thing
to get approval for.
Um…
I’ve talked to all sorts of people
and you two trusted me with the camera
and doing something on YouTube.
So I really appreciate it
and I think there’s a lot to learn
from the locals, from the natives.
-Mm-hmm.
-And this is just the start.
I’m past maybe kindergarten at this point.
[both chuckle]
Next video is first grade.
-Pre-school maybe.
-Pre-school, yeah.
-You still gotta take your naps
and drink your milk.
-Awesome.
All right, guys,
thanks for coming on that journey
and I know this is
the start of something much bigger.
It’s the first tribe in the lower 48.
The first reservation
and I’m really green.
And most of you are too.
There’s a lot to understand here.
It’s like an onion and there’s
a whole different layer of the onion.
Just as Regina said,
“We look at ourselves as nations.”
So each…
Each people are like
an own separate nation.
So that’d be like being in Europe
and looking at
all these nations around you.
But as we, from the outside,
look at it as just natives mostly.
So I think every reservation and tribe
is gonna have similarities
and I’m sure, some big differences.
So much more to come.
Thanks for coming along.
Until the next one.
♪ melodic acoustic guitar ♪

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