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Nature Conservancy In Montana Returns Traditional Land To Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

The Nature Conservancy in Montana
Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve 2021

A nonprofit is giving back traditional land on the Flathead Reservation. Taylar Stagner with Yellowstone Public Radio has more about the decision years in the making.

The Nature Conservancy in Montana is returning 132 acres of traditional lands to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes after a decade of discussion. The conservancy acquired the Safe Harbor Marsh Preserve in 1989 and it was returned to the tribes last month.

Amy Croover is the state director of the Nature Conservancy in Montana and is an enrolled Ho-Chunk tribal member. She says that all lands are traditionally Indigenous and the decision to give the land back is in line with the Nature Conservancy’s mission to protect and be good stewards to the land.

“We know that there's a big movement within Indian countries to get land back. That's not only in terms of actually owning land, but it's definitely wrapped up in my mind of how we can restore those cultural connections to land,” Croover says. “I hope this action inspires other organizations to build these partnerships with tribes and let tribes lead and have sovereignty over their lands and cultural practices within their homelands.”

Shelly R. Fyant, chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, said in a statement “The rebuilding of the last remaining lands of our homeland has remained a key goal for our council going back to our first tribal council in 1935.”

Croover also says the conservancy is in talks with the Blackfeet Nation to return land near Heart Butte. This project is in the southern end of the Blackfeet reservation.

Taylar Stagner is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indegnous Affiars reporter.

Taylar Stagner covers tribal affairs for Yellowstone Public Radio.