Jack McNeel

10 Things You Should Know About the Kalispel Tribe

Jack McNeel

The aboriginal homeland of the Kalispel Tribe, which was also known as the Pend d’Oreille Tribe, was massive. When the reservation was finally established in 1934 they only received 4,600 acres along the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington. Despite that, the tribe remained in an area significant to them.

The Lady of Sorrows, a Catholic Church that was built around 1914 near the tribal buildings was constructed with the help of Kalispel men overseen by a Catholic priest named Father Griva. Today, the tribe’s annual powwow is held on the church’s original location, as it was moved in 1948 due to a flood.

In the mid-1960s only a few homes had running water and one telephone served the entire reservation. Today that has all changed reflecting the goals of their mission statement in 1992 which emphasized growth, tradition, and especially education. Their cultural department stresses cultural activities and youngsters are taught their Native language. The tribal population is still small with just over 400 members and more than half are under 18.

This success has been due in part to good leadership and little turnover. Chairman Glen Nenema has held that position for about 30 years.

ICTMN met with respected elder and Director of the Cultural Program, Francis Cullooyah, to reflect on what others should know about the Kalispel Tribe. Below are his thoughts.

Language program

About 35 or 40 years ago Stan Bluff Sr. and I got together and began to teach the language but we ran into roadblocks. The kids would get sidetracked with other things. In 2000 we opened the casino and with funding were able to put in a budget.

Stan Bluff Jr. began interpreting and transcribing the language and we learned the phonetic alphabet. By the second year we had developed short stories. We ended up with about 36 stories. It took off from there. Last year we ended up with about 124 students. Every year since 2002 we’ve graduated 4 or 5 students a year from college who are now teachers.

We shared our template with other tribes, anybody that’s interested. We went to the Bonners Ferry Kootenai, the Salish Kootenai, the Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Colville Tribes.

I’ve been to some national language programs and I think ours is second to none.

Aboriginal lands

The aboriginal lands followed the Flathead River and down to Pend Oreille Lake. From there it’s called the Pend Oreille River and flows north into Canada. That whole area was once Kalispel lands. We had three main camps at Thompson Falls, at Clark Fork, and our oldest camp which is across the river from Cusick.

We were also known as the Pend d’Oreilles and some are still living up there near Ronan, Montana. At one point some of us moved down the river because the chief said there’s just too many of us, some have to move. During this time we utilized about 3.7 million acres.


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