lightly less than half of the 1,242,969 acres within the Flathead Reservation are owned by the tribe or by tribal members, and most of it is mountainous. Non-Indians own most of the valley's prime agricultural land.
From the 1950s through the 70s, the Salish-Kootenai Confederated Tribes took important steps toward regaining certain significant rights. They became national leaders in defining areas of tribal jurisdiction, including taxes, law enforcement, and recreation management.
They are currently fighting two new battles. One is over the Montana Department of Transportation's intent to rebuild the main north-south artery, U.S. highway 93, as a 4- and 5-lane throughway.
The other is over rights to enforce laws on non-tribal lands within the reservation boundaries. Congressional action on that issue has been shelved.
Late in 1997, Senator Conrad Burns (R) of Montana wrote a discussion draft of a bill to return civil jurisdiction over non-tribal members to the State of Montana. Civil matters involving tribal members on reservation land would still be handled by the tribes.
Proponents of the action point out that in just one of the three counties within the reservation boundaries, 80 percent of the residents are non-Indians, who cannot vote in tribal elections, nor serve on tribal juries, although they are subject to tribal regulations, laws, and courts. Supporters also include the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which suffered a $250 million judgment from a Crow tribal court. The railroad urges the limitation of Indian jurisdiction over all who cross a reservation, including business travelers, truckers and tourists.
Indians, however, are convinced that the measure would effectively have destroyed tribal sovereignty.
On March 26, 1998, after three public hearings, Senator Burns withdrew the proposed legislation and invited Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., to schedule a field hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs in Montana to discuss jurisdictional issues.
Said State Representative Jay Stovall, a member of the Crow tribe: "...the actions of Congress created the complex situation that we encounter today and it is the responsibility of Congress of resolve it in the future."