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Land of the Indians, But Not Indiana

July 22, 2008

I spent almost 4 days last week meandering Montana.

It wasn’t quite 4 days, of course, because you have to fly out for part of one day and fly back for part of another day. From my window seat I looked down as we flew over the Great Plains. When we began to see a sprinkling of snow on the Rockies, I thought about how amazed Lewis and Clark would have been to know that someday people, Americans, would be able to traverse that great distance, of which they made such an adventure, in only a few hours.

I spent an entire day in the company of a people of vision, a people whose elders remember stories handed down in their tribe about Lewis and Clark, about what their world was like then and how it changed when the explorers arrived. The story is told that the chief, seeing the white faces of the men, thought they must be cold and had fur robes spread out for them to sit on.

Our hosts for a day-long tour of the Flathead Reservation were the people of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of western Montana. A group of humanities council program officers from 20 different states, we were there for an annual meeting and a lesson in American values.

As the Salish view it, the land, the language, daily life, and the natural world all form a whole. In the end, the word that describes their philosophy, it seems to me, is “responsibility.” They express the utmost responsibility for thinking about what they have been handed down from the past and what they are passing on to the future, encompassing not one or two generations but many generations in both directions.

Humanities Montana, the state council, has played a role in preserving their story, which was narrated for us by Germaine White and Thompson Smith, a tribal educator and a historian. With their help the CSKT have created a wonderful book about their history and their language.

This entry was posted by: Nancy

Ravalli Hill on the Flathead Reservation, Montana

Ravalli Hill on the Flathead Reservation, Montana

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