Western Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation occupies some of the most beautiful – and productive – land in that part of the world, situated in a broad valley to the south of Flathead Lake.
Nearly a century ago, that land was coveted, so in 1910, only months before the death of Chief Charlo – who had resisted white settlement of the reservation – the federal government opened up 60,000 of the reservation’s 2.1 million acres to homesteading. Now non-tribal families outnumber members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
That didn’t escape the notice of Lois Hart, who when she moved to the Flathead four years ago, took a long look around. “How did so many white people like us end up living on an Indian reservation?” she wonders in this Missoulian story.
Hart now heads the Polson Flathead Historical Museum, and wanted to take note of the event that so overturned the worlds of both tribal members and non-tribal people. So she went to the tribes and asked their input in an exhibit, stressing that if they didn’t want one, there wouldn’t be one.
“I told them it would be called a commemoration,” she says, “because it’s not a celebration.”
The commemoration will begin next year on the spring equinox, and end on the fall equinox. And yes, it will tell both groups’ stories, looking back into their histories – both individual and shared – and forward into the future.