The nine years between 1912 and 1920 were a period of economic and political struggle for the Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. The Indian people toiled to maintain their economic independence despite the theft of most of their land assets. The new Flathead Irrigation Project destroyed most of the private irrigation ditches tribal farmers had dug over the years. Some tribal members opened businesses and organized rodeos, but many ventures were frustrated by government policies, fire, and drought.
While trying to adapt to the economic impact of allotment, the tribe also fought against paternalistic and exploitive government policies. Until 1916 half of tribal income from timber and land sales was used to operate the agency and construct an irrigation project that largely benefited white settlers. During most of the 1912 to 1920 period, Flathead Agent Fred C. Morgan and his allies on the Flathead Business Committee fought the more radical Flathead Tribal Council over agency policies. The Flathead Tribal Council especially fought against congressional appropriations to construct the irrigation project as long as the construction was to be paid for with tribal funds or with liens on tribal allotments.
Robert Bigart is librarian emeritus at the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana. Joseph McDonald is president emeritus at the Salish Kootenai College.