Stephan Small Salmon / Flathead from Ronan, Montana
Stephan Small Salmon looks like an Indian—or what you would imagine an Indian to look like. He has long braids that droop over his shoulders, a finely chiseled face, and a somewhat ruthless grin. In fact, he is a fullblood Flathead Native who lives on the Flathead Reservation, in the Mission Valley just outside of Ronan, Montana. His house sits in a valley at the foot of the Mission Mountain Range.
When we met he and his wife, Juanita, they were staying temporarily in his mother’s old house while their house, just up the road, was being refurbished. The view of the mountains from both places is breathtaking. Stephan is a pow wow man. He sings and dances competitively along the pow wow trail during the summer months, often walking away with the big prize money. During the winter he cuts wood.
Stephan was born in 1939 and has no children. Although he had no formal education beyond high school, he has spent a good deal of his life learning the traditional cultural teachings and spiritual ways of the Flathead people. He has traveled quite a bit, spent time in Denver, Seattle and Chicago, but he always returns home again.
The inland Salish people, the Flatheads, developed a plains type of culture, hunting the buffalo and fishing the rivers. They lived in longhouse structures of log that were buried partially into the ground or banked along the edges.
The Flathead people consider themselves descended from “Coyote,” the one responsible for the creation of human beings. The Flathead and Kootenai tribes once roamed over a huge area that went as far north as British Columbia and almost to the sea on the west.
In 1855, the Treaty of Hell’s Gate took most of these lands away from the people. In 1904, the government passed the Allotment Act and gave each tribal member 80 acres. Unclaimed lands were then opened for homesteading or sale. The Indians could not yet even vote.
Listen to a sample of the show here.