CSKT will likely file water claims while waiting for federal com - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

CSKT will likely file water claims while waiting for federal compact approval

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CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley (MTN News photo) CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley (MTN News photo)

Although the State of Montana has endorsed the Flathead Water Compact, it still could be a few years before Congress follows suit. And that means it's likely the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will file individual water claims in an effort to comply with court-ordered deadlines making sure treaty rights are preserved.

Some may see the legislature's approval - and the state's signing of the Flathead Water Compact last week - as the end of a long debate, CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley says it's more like the "first half" in efforts to secure tribal water rights in the Flathead Basin.

The state's endorsement is a critical step for the tribe, but Congress must still follow suit and that could take a while. Finley says that means it's likely the tribe will have to proceed with filing individual water claims as kind of a "place holder", ensuring treaty rights are preserved while waiting for Congressional approval.

"The way that the law is, and the deadlines that were placed on it, you know we have to file. We have to file the claims anyway. And so people might think, avoid the perception, that we're reneging on the water compact deal because now the tribes are still fighting," Finley said. "We have to according to the law. But when the Compact comes into full fruition then it will supersede all of those claims."

However, Finley says the tribe wants to continue everything it can do to be "good neighbors", continuing to answer questions and "calm fears" that people may have about the agreement. He says a lot of hard work has gone into the agreement from negotiators, and legislators who backed state approval of the compact, and the tribe is very thankful for that.

Finley explained that for the tribe, the approval was an historic milestone, fulfilling the charge from tribal elders years ago, including his own grandfather, to take care of the Flathead Basin for everyone.

"When we were young, the Elders saying water, protect the water. Water is important," Finley said. "One day you'll have to be paying, paying money to have a drink of water. And now we walk and buy, walk-in and buy a bottle of water and we don't even think about it. And it was something that at that time would have totally been unheard of."

The tribal council won't act on the Flathead Water Compact until after Congressional ratification.

RELATED: CSKT leaders "thankful" for Legislative support, ready for next phase of Compact approval

RELATED: Flathead Water Compact signed into law

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