NLM healing totem journey – about Flathead, MT

From Seattle, the Healing Totem starts its journey east traveling 490 miles to the site of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) on the Flathead Nation Reservation in northwest Montana ( The CSKT combine the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille and the Kootenai tribes on a sprawling reservation of 1.317 million acres just west of the Continental Divide with forested mountains, fertile valleys, and the southern half of Flathead Lake.

              Flathead Lake, MT

              From Montana Film Office

Native Americans lived in this region for more than 14,000 years before settlers arrived.  The Salish came here from what is now Washington and Idaho while the Kootenai lived in the mountainous terrain west of the Continental Divide, venturing east to the Big Horn Mountains for seasonal buffalo hunts. The Salish and the Kootenai shared common hunting and gathering grounds, with the tribes to the west depending on rivers and lakes as well as salmon, and those to the east on buffalo hunting. The Pend d’Oreilles, also known as the Kalispel, were buffalo hunters and fur traders living near Lake Pend Oreille in the northern Idaho Panhandle plus Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington.

The Treaty of Hellgate in 1855 forced the tribes of western Montana to relinquish some 20 million acres of their far-flung and extensive traditional lands for $120,000 and then move to the Flathead Reservation.

Chief Victor of the Bitterroot Salish was a principal signer of the Treaty of Hellgate and the father of Chief Charlo (1830-1910) who succeeded his father as head chief, serving from 1870 to 1910. Both leaders sought peace with Montana settlers  and the soldiers at nearby Fort Missoula. But Chief Charlo’s efforts eventually failed.

The Treaty of Hellgate guaranteed that the Bitterroot Salish could stay in their homeland in the Bitterroot Valley. In 1872, the U.S. government broke the treaty and ordered Chief Charlo to move the Salish north to the Flathead Reservation. He refused and for some twenty years stayed on his native lands. Finally, in 1891, he and his small remnant of the Bitterroot Salish were forced by troops from Fort Missoula to move to the Flathead Reservation.  Led by Chief Charlo, the Bitterroot Salish walked 75 miles from their ancestral home to the reservation.

         Chief Charlo: Painted by Butte, Montana Pioneer Artist Edgar S. Paxson


Responding to a proposed tax on Indian lands by the territorial government, in 1876, Chief Charlo delivered an impassioned speech against it. Published in the Weekly Missoulian and other Montana newspapers, the speech suggests the frustration, disillusionment, and betrayal felt by Native Americans toward the settlers, the federal and state government, and the Treaty of Hellgate.

The Flathead Reservation includes parts of four Montana counties: Lake, Sanders, Missoula, and Flathead. Initially established solely for the Flathead Native Americans, in 1904 Congress passed the Flathead Allotment Act, which opened the reservation, through a land lottery, to homesteading by settlers who were not Native Americans. The Act’s passage remains a sensitive issue among its Native American population, which is outnumbered two to one by non-Native Americans.


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