Saying it came 150 years too late, Missoula County last year renamed the public meeting room in the courthouse in honor of Sophie Moiese, a Salish cultural leader who was 27 when her people were forced from the Bitterroot Valley in 1891.
To accompany that name change, commissioners last week agreed to hang the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal flag in the same room alongside the U.S. and Montana state flags.
Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said adding the flag recognizes Missoula’s presence on the tribe’s aboriginal homelands. Portions of the current reservation overlap with the boundaries of Missoula County.
“We have the U.S. flag and the state of Montana flag, but the one other currently unacknowledged sovereign that’s in the boundaries of Missoula County is the CSKT,” Strohmaier said. “That, combined with the recognition that we’re on traditional Salish lands, warrants more than lip service.”
Missoula County government currently enjoys a strong relationship with the tribal council and together they’ve worked on a number of issues, including the cleanup of the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp and paper mill.
The 1855 Hellgate Treaty promised that tribes could hunt and fish in “all usual and accustomed places,” including the Clark Fork River.
“They’ve been at the table all along as trustees, trying to find ways to keep the land and water clean,” said Strohmaier. “We’ve also been collaborating with them on any number of issues, most recently on our sustainability and resiliency efforts to make sure we’re climate resilient.”
To acknowledge the tribe’s history, culture and sovereignty, the county last year renamed its public meeting room at the courthouse in honor of Moiese. The cultural leader lived from 1864 to 1960 and is remembered fondly by the Salish.
When the room was dedicated, Tony Incashola, director of the Séliš-Qlispé Culture Committee, spoke of the land before the arrival of European settlers. He said “it was people like Sophie Moiese who took care of it, who respected it, so she could pass it down.”
Strohmaier said he floated the idea of adding the tribal flag with tribal council chairman Ron Trahan. A few days later, a flag arrived in the mail.
“It’s in the vein of trying to show leadership and respecting the tribe’s presence, not just its historic role, but its current role in our culture and society in western Montana,” Strohmaier said. “I would challenge every county in the state of Montana to do likewise for those tribes who have reservations within their county borders. It’s the right thing to do.”
The county will ask the CSKT veterans warrior society to perform a flag ceremony. It will likely take place in July or August in the Sophie Moiese Room.
“I think it’s fantastic and long overdue,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.