It’s Friday, July 1, and a Native American tribe in Montana is getting its land back.

Amidst calls by Native American activists for “land back,” last week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the restoration of more than 18,800 acres of land to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, or CSKT, of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The move restores ancestral land to the traditional inhabitants and protectors of the region once known for its large bison population.

“The CSKT is a leader in conservation of natural resources throughout Montana, and the Service looks forward to continuing to work together to conserve wildlife and wild places throughout the state,” said Martha Williams, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement.

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The restored lands were already situated within the Flathead Reservation but have been controlled by the U.S. government since 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Bison Range as a conservation area following the decimation of the species by American colonizers. It was the first time Congress appropriated tax dollars to buy land specifically to preserve wildlife. 

Bryan Newland, the principal deputy assistant secretary of U.S. Indian Affairs, said that the transfer represents a milestone in the relationship between the CSKT and the U.S. government. “The establishment of the National Bison Range was a historic use of lands to preserve wildlife, but we must also acknowledge that this act reduced the Salish and Kootenai peoples’ homeland by thousands of acres,” he said in a statement.

The Department of the Interior is also preparing to return lands to both Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native communities.

Adam Mahoney

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