James Steele Jr. (CSKT photo)
At the invitation of the White House, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal Chairman James Steele Jr. will be part of a panel discussion tomorrow in Copenhagen as part of the International Climate Change conference.
Steele will join Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, U.S. Rep. Kate Knuth of Minnesota and Alice Madden, an adviser in the Colorado governor’s office for the talk, the Missoulian’s Vince Devlin reports here.
The National Wildlife Federation and the National Tribal Environmental Council joined the White House in issuing the invitation to the discussion titled “Leadership and Innovation by States and Tribes in the United States.”
“Our home reservation features pristine wilderness, waters and animal life,” Steele says. “This didn’t happen by chance or luck. We’ve worked very hard to maintain our natural areas and we’re also reclaiming lands. Each day seems to bring a new threat to our lands. I welcome this chance to tell our story.”
James Steele Jr. (Missoulian photo)
James Steele Jr., president of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flat-head Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana, says he’s earning the $30,000 raise recently approved for his job.
And even though some tribal members have questioned that raise, saying they’ve heard rumors of a $1.2 million revenue shortfall and possible layoffs, Steele says the tribes’ finances are fine.
“There haven’t been layoffs, and there won’t be any,” the chairman tells Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin, here.
Steele abstained from the 6-2 vote to raise his pay from about $87,000 a year to about $117,000. He’s still paid less than some other tribal employees. And, he says the budget shortfall – due to a Kerr Dam lease agreement – will be made up for by the tribes’ rainy-day fund.
Some tribal members have been quoted in the Char-Koosta News, the official publication of the Flathead Indian Nation, complaining about the raise and expressing concern about the finances. The Missoulian has received similar e-mails.
But Steele says the tribes are “in a sound financial situation in tough economic times.”
James Steele Jr. (Jennifer Michaelis/Missoulian)
Last week, we wrote (here) about the sizeable raise for Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Chairman James Steele Jr.
With Steele abstaining, the tribal council recently voted to approve that raise as well as one for themselves. However, council later rescinded their own pay raise, but couldn’t do the same for Steele because he was away. His pay will go up $30,000, to $117,000, according to this Char-Koosta News story.
The story details the questions raised about that action. Gigi Yazzi, for instances, wondered if such a big raise is a good idea, given talk that the tribe might have to lay people off if the lousy economy continues.
Steele praised people for talking about the issue in a professional manner, but reiterated that he didn’t vote for his own increase, and that he wasn’t going to give it up.
Catherine Addison pointed to portraits of Chief Charlo and Chief Koostahtah in council chambers and said that neither felt he deserved the biggest tepee because he was chief, according to the story. “This should be an honor to serve the people,” she said.
The issue of raises came up in the first place because many tribal employees work under a merit-based system that has resulted in them making far more than council members or the chairman.
James Steele Jr. (Jennifer Michaelis/Missoulian)
James Steele Jr., chairman of Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, will get a 34 percent raise to make up for the fact that the tenure-based salaries of many tribal employees exceed those of the chairman and council.
Although there was a plan for similar raises for council members, that won’t happen yet, according to this Missoulian story. Steele abstained from the vote to raise his pay from $41.88 per hour to $56.26.
Rob McDonald, spokesman for the tribes, says the raise was sought because of the salary discrepancies – the lowest-paid department head makes $84,000 a year, while the highest-paid employee makes $174,000 – and because the chairman’s job is, effectively, a 24-hour position.
I’m channeling my inner Aretha today after listening again to the State of Tribal Nations address to the Legislature, made earlier this year by James Steele Jr., chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. (Listen to the audio, or watch a video, here.)
And the connection between the Queen of Soul and the Chairman of the Tribes?
We’ll get to that. But first, a word about sovereignty, the subject of a University of Montana conference last week. (See story here.)
In his address, Steele reminds the lawmakers, “we are not racial groups who happen to live in a particular land base and want what other interest groups want. ….The United States does not sign treaties with interest groups; they sign treaties with governments.”
That’s a good thing to keep in mind. Here’s another: Steele talked a lot in his address about mutual respect. (Cue Aretha, who sings ““I get tired,” of having to demand all of that R-E-S-P-E-C-T.)
Steele probably gets tired of having to give primers on sovereignty. And he should be able to assume respect. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in some of the comments here over the last several days, respect for tribes seems to be lacking.
But Steele had a answer to that, too. Moving from the idealistic to the pragmatic in his address, he adds that Montana’s seven reservations, as well as the Little Shell Band of the Chippewa Tribe, contribute $1 billion annually to Montana’s economy.
Call me cynical, but I’d say that’s one billion quick reasons for a little respect. Sock it to ‘em.