- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PABLO, Mont. (AP) - A Ravalli County commissioner hand-delivered a letter of apology to members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for derogatory statements made at the end of a November commission meeting over tribal efforts to protect a sacred site.

County Commissioner J.R. Iman on Tuesday delivered an apology letter and a framed historic photograph of tribal members standing at the Medicine Tree, the tribal-owned site in the Bitterroot Valley that the tribes seek to protect, the Ravalli Republic (http://bit.ly/1fQ1Wkc) reported.

The tribes want to place the 58-acre parcel in trust with the federal government. County commissioners voted last April to oppose the trust designation. In November, they expressed concerns about the loss of $800 in property taxes.

Commissioners also were criticized by some for the tone of the meeting, in which they also questioned whether the tribe might use the land for a casino or racetrack that would impact county services. Tribal officials said they only intended to protect the area.

Near the end of the meeting, former county planning board chair Jan Wisniewski - who said he was speaking for himself - said some Montana law enforcement officers had complained to him that their jails were filled with “drunk Indians.”

Some commissioners apologized immediately and they soon voted to write a formal letter of apology.

At the time, Wisniewski’s attorney sent a letter to commissioners saying they did not have the legal or moral authority to apologize for his comments.

Ravalli County residents also wrote to the tribe to apologize and said they supported the protection of the Medicine Tree property, Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan said.

Trahan and tribal member Steve Lozar said Tuesday that they accepted the apology.

Salish Pend-Oreille Culture Committee director Tony Incashola said he’s struggled with racism all of his life and said all Native people want is to be treated with respect.

“All over this country, people don’t seem to understand the word, respect,” he said. “In reality, we all want the same thing. We want a good life for ourselves and our children.”

___

Information from: Ravalli Republic, http://www.ravallirepublic.com