On Saturday, the Salish and Kootenai Tribes welcomed U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet member, to help honor the tribes for the successful transfer of the National Bison Range in Moeise to tribal governance.

Secretary Haaland addressed the crowd gathered at CSKT College and looked back on the history of the area.

“As we gather on the ancestral homelands of the Salish, Shoshone, Crow and Cheyenne people, I cannot help but imagine what this area looked like before European contact,” began Secretary Haaland. “Back when vast herds of bison roamed the plains in the foothills of the mountains when our indigenous ancestors lived on this land alongside the plethora of animals, and they each respected their place in the balance of nature.”

Secretary Haaland looked back on the tragic history over the past 200 years and then celebrated the present.

“We all know that history took a tragic and brutal turn after that,” she said. “Indigenous people were colonized and forcibly assimilated and buffalo were hunted within an inch of extinction. With the loss of tribal homelands and the depletion of the buffalo herds, plains tribes lost traditional connections with this beautiful animal. But in spite of that tragedy and loss, we are still here. You are still here. And that's something to celebrate.”

She then focused on the achievements of those who made the transfer of authority over the Bison Range possible.

“Today's celebration is a culmination of native peoples resilience, conservation efforts guided by indigenous knowledge and the Biden Harris administration's commitment to honor our trust, responsibility and treaty obligations to our nation's Indian tribes,” she said. “When our wildlife management and conservation efforts are guided by indigenous knowledge, developed over millennia, we all succeed.”

Secretary Haaland said the tribes should rightfully celebrate the return of the Bison Range to CSKT authority.”

Also on hand representing the state of Montana and the Governor’s office was Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras.

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