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Kalispel Indian Reservation

The Kalispel Indian Reservation of Washington State is located on the Pend Oreille (ear pendant) River, slightly downstream from the town of Newport near Usk on the Washington/Idaho border.

The Kalispel branch residing in Washington is known as the Lower Kalispel because it inhabits the lower river drainage of the ancient Kalispel nation.

A brief history

The Salish-speaking aboriginal Kalispel Indians, numbering about 3,000 souls, occupied a narrow region that extended 200 miles west from Montana's Flathead lake, through Idaho and into Washington state. The bountiful plateau territory, which included mountains carpeted with forests, and the river, furnished the tribe with plentiful fish, other wildlife and plants for their subsistence. They were fishers, hunters and diggers. Other tribes called the Kalispel "lake and river paddlers," or "camas people" (camas being "Indian bread," a starchy root).

They resided principally in lodges and moved from one location to another where they could most readily gain access to sustenance. They dug couse on the Washington/Idaho border.

The Kalispel branch residing in Washington is known as the Lower Kalispel because it inhabits the lower river drainage of the ancient Kalispel nation.

A brief history

The Salish-speaking aboriginal Kalispel Indians, numbering about 3,000 souls, occupied a narrow region that extended 200 miles west from Montana's Flathead lake, through Idaho and into Washington state. The bountiful plateau territory, which included mountains carpeted with forests, and the river, furnished the tribe with plentiful fish, other wildlife and plants for their subsistence. They were fishers, hunters and diggers. Other tribes called the Kalispel "lake and river paddlers," or "camas people" (camas being "Indian bread," a starchy root).

They resided principally in lodges and moved from one location to another where they could most readily gain access to sustenance. They dug couse [kowsh] root, bitter root and wild onion in the springtime. They dried the couse and bitter root; they mixed the wild onion with black moss and baked it under hot stones. In mid-May the Kalispel sought camas roots in meadows, which they dug up, baked and dried in the sun. They also gathered and dried berries and cherries, which they stored for the winter. Around July the Kalispel harvested an annual supply of salmon that they preserved by drying. Following the harvest, they took to the mountains to hunt.

The first contact with non-Indians was likely with explorers and fur traders. The Kalispel were called the Coospellar by Lewis and Clark in 1805, and later they came into contact with Hudson's Bay Company traders. Beginning in 1844, Roman Catholic priests arrived to establish missions and work with the Kalispels. In the face of burgeoning white settlement in the region during the mid 1800s, the tribe strove to protect their way of life.

At the behest of the federal government in 1855, the Upper Kalispels ceded their ancestral lands and relocated onto the Jocko Reservation in Montana. The Lower Kalispels, however, declined to relinquish any land, preferring to press for an accord that would entitle the tribe to remain on their home territory.

During the late 1800s, while the majority of other tribes were being relegated to new reservations, the Kalispels had virtually no contacts with the federal government. In 1872, the Congress did draw up a treaty, but the tribe declined to sign it because of its unsatisfactory conditions. By 1874, the Kalispels were left without legal protection after Congress had ceased to draw up treaties with tribes.

By 1875, the tribal population had diminished to fewer than 400 persons. Increasing numbers of land-hungry white settlers showed up from the 1880s to the first decade of the 20th century. Many of them filed claims under homestead laws that gave them supposedly legal entitlement to land that was previously home to many of the tribe. The Kalispel were eyewitnesses to the confiscation of their land, but were powerless to stop it. An additional contribution to the breakdown of tribal integrity during the period was the incipient spread of alcohol supplied by non-native sources.

A reservation for the Kalispel (without a treaty) was ultimately established by an executive order of President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. They were relegated to a relatively puny 4,600-acre parcel of mountainside and flood plain along the Pend Oreille River, which failed to sustain the tribe. In 1924, to promote farming, the federal government divided the reservation into 40-acre parcels that were alloted to tribal members. However, the hillside and floodplain land proved stubbornly resistant to cultivation.

Well past the middle of the 20th century, impoverishing conditions, aggravated by white prejudice, prevailed on the reservation. They included an average annual income of $1,400 due to lack of jobs and other gainful opportunities, and substandard housing with few amenities. Nevertheless, the tribe sought innovative ways to create opportunities for its members.

The Kalispel today

The Kalispel Tribe is recognized as a sovereign nation by the federal government. There are more than 280 Kalispel tribal members; about 200 reside on the reservation. Approximately 60 non-tribal members also live on the reservation. Acquisition of additional land swelled the reservation from its original 4,600 acres to more than 5,000.

The five-member Kalispel Council is the tribal governing unit. The council's mission is to supervise tribal services and advocate the nation's sovereignty. Council members are elected by the tribal membership to serve three-year terms.

The Social Services Department operates several programs for tribal members. They include:

  • An elders program to support, and provide meals for, senior members

  • Indian child welfare program for families in straitened circumstances

  • mental health and chemical dependency counseling services, including after care

  • a community health representative who offers health education and provides referral services to health professionals

  • outreach services to families in need, including emergency assistance with expenses

  • an environmentalist who works to ensure elders' and families' safety in their homes and elsewhere

  • youth services for such activities as sports, proper nutrition, dental screening and bike safety.
  • The Kalispel Natural Resources Department's mission is to "protect and enhance all natural resources and the health of the entire ecosystem." The department consists of four divisions: fisheries, including a hatchery; wildlife, cultural resources and water resources.

    The Camas Institute also comprises four divisions: education, vocational training, employment, and an adult treatment center for alcohol and other drugs.

    The Kalispel Tribe employs more than 60 persons with an annual payroll of approximately $1.2 million. Tribal enterprises include:

  • Northern Quest Casino
  • Kalispell Case Line, which manufactures foam-lined aluminum cases for such items as cameras and rifles

  • Kalispel Agricultural Enterprise, which maintains a herd of buffalo with 600 acres of hayfield. Buffalo meat is used for elders' consumption as well as sales.

  • Kalispel Day Care, which is licensed for 15 youngsters.
  • Despite extremely difficult times in its long history, the Kalispell Tribe of Indians remains unbowed and is determined to preserve its culture and values, as well as better the lives of its members. Despite its existence on a reservation whose land resisted development, the tribe has found ways to gradually realize its goal of full sovereignty and self-sufficiency.

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    The Kalispel Indian Reservation of Washington State is located on the Pend Oreille (ear pendant) River, slightly downstream from the town of [newport] near [usk] on the Washington/Idaho border.

    The Kalispel branch residing in Washington is known as the Lower Kalispel because it inhabits the lower river drainage of the ancient Kalispel nation.

    A brief history

    The Salish-speaking aboriginal Kalispel Indians, numbering about 3,000 souls, occupied a narrow region that extended 200 miles west from Montana's Flathead lake, through Idaho and into Washington state. The bountiful plateau territory, which included mountains carpeted with forests, and the river, furnished the tribe with plentiful fish, other wildlife and plants for their subsistence. They were fishers, hunters and diggers. Other tribes called the Kalispel "lake and river paddlers," or "camas people" (camas being "Indian bread," a starchy root).

    They resided principally in lodges and moved from one location to another where they could most readily gain access to sustenance. They dug couse [kowsh] root, bitter root and wild onion in the springtime. They dried the couse and bitter root; they mixed the wild onion with black moss and baked it under hot stones. In mid-May the Kalispel sought camas roots in meadows, which they dug up, baked and dried in the sun. They also gathered and dried berries and cherries, which they stored for the winter. Around July the Kalispel harvested an annual supply of salmon that they preserved by drying. Following the harvest, they took to the mountains to hunt.

    The first contact with non-Indians was likely with explorers and fur traders. The Kalispel were called the Coospellar by Lewis and Clark in 1805, and later they came into contact with Hudson's Bay Company traders. Beginning in 1844, Roman Catholic priests arrived to establish missions and work with the Kalispels. In the face of burgeoning white settlement in the region during the mid 1800s, the tribe strove to protect their way of life.

    At the behest of the federal government in 1855, the Upper Kalispels ceded their ancestral lands and relocated onto the Jocko Reservation in Montana. The Lower Kalispels, however, declined to relinquish any land, preferring to press for an accord that would entitle the tribe to remain on their home territory.

    During the late 1800s, while the majority of other tribes were being relegated to new reservations, the Kalispels had virtually no contacts with the federal government. In 1872, the Congress did draw up a treaty, but the tribe declined to sign it because of its unsatisfactory conditions. By 1874, the Kalispels were left without legal protection after Congress had ceased to draw up treaties with tribes.

    By 1875, the tribal population had diminished to fewer than 400 persons. Increasing numbers of land-hungry white settlers showed up from the 1880s to the first decade of the 20th century. Many of them filed claims under homestead laws that gave them supposedly legal entitlement to land that was previously home to many of the tribe. The Kalispel were eyewitnesses to the confiscation of their land, but were powerless to stop it. An additional contribution to the breakdown of tribal integrity during the period was the incipient spread of alcohol supplied by non-native sources.

    A reservation for the Kalispel (without a treaty) was ultimately established by an executive order of President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. They were relegated to a relatively puny 4,600-acre parcel of mountainside and flood plain along the Pend Oreille River, which failed to sustain the tribe. In 1924, to promote farming, the federal government divided the reservation into 40-acre parcels that were alloted to tribal members. However, the hillside and floodplain land proved stubbornly resistant to cultivation.

    Well past the middle of the 20th century, impoverishing conditions, aggravated by white prejudice, prevailed on the reservation. They included an average annual income of $1,400 due to lack of jobs and other gainful opportunities, and substandard housing with few amenities. Nevertheless, the tribe sought innovative ways to create opportunities for its members.

    The Kalispel today

    The Kalispel Tribe is recognized as a sovereign nation by the federal government. There are more than 280 Kalispel tribal members; about 200 reside on the reservation. Approximately 60 non-tribal members also live on the reservation. Acquisition of additional land swelled the reservation from its original 4,600 acres to more than 5,000.

    The five-member Kalispel Council is the tribal governing unit. The council's mission is to supervise tribal services and advocate the nation's sovereignty. Council members are elected by the tribal membership to serve three-year terms.

    The Social Services Department operates several programs for tribal members. They include:

  • An elders program to support, and provide meals for, senior members

  • Indian child welfare program for families in straitened circumstances

  • mental health and chemical dependency counseling services, including after care

  • a community health representative who offers health education and provides referral services to health professionals

  • outreach services to families in need, including emergency assistance with expenses

  • an environmentalist who works to ensure elders' and families' safety in their homes and elsewhere

  • youth services for such activities as sports, proper nutrition, dental screening and bike safety.
  • The Kalispel Natural Resources Department's mission is to "protect and enhance all natural resources and the health of the entire ecosystem." The department consists of four divisions: fisheries, including a hatchery; wildlife, cultural resources and water resources.

    The Camas Institute also comprises four divisions: education, vocational training, employment, and an adult treatment center for alcohol and other drugs.

    The Kalispel Tribe employs more than 60 persons with an annual payroll of approximately $1.2 million. Tribal enterprises include:

  • Northern Quest Casino
  • Kalispell Case Line, which manufactures foam-lined aluminum cases for such items as cameras and rifles

  • Kalispel Agricultural Enterprise, which maintains a herd of buffalo with 600 acres of hayfield. Buffalo meat is used for elders' consumption as well as sales.

  • Kalispel Day Care, which is licensed for 15 youngsters.
  • Despite extremely difficult times in its long history, the Kalispell Tribe of Indians remains unbowed and is determined to preserve its culture and values, as well as better the lives of its members. Despite its existence on a reservation whose land resisted development, the tribe has found ways to gradually realize its goal of full sovereignty and self-sufficiency.



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