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Ravalli County Commissioners Draft Apology Letter After “Drunken Indians” Comment at Public Meeting

Ravalli seat
Photo courtesy of jimmywayne/Flickr

Ravalli county commissioners met on Wednesday, November 20 to draft an apology letter to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.

The letter was in response to statements made by Ravalli County Planning Board Chairman Jan Wisniewski, who used meeting time last week to express concerns about jails filled with “drunken Indians,” if a sacred site known as the Medicine Tree is turned over to federal management. Apparently, Wisniewski’s concerns were driven by a conversation he had had with authorities in Havre,

“This was just beyond what is acceptable,” said County Commissioner Suzy Foss. “My heart was breaking. I was fighting tears, I was very upset and angry.”

According to Foss, Wisniewski has not yet personally apologized, but the commissioners had drafted the following letter (preliminary version), which they all plan on signing:

Dear Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation,

The Ravalli County Board of Commissioners wishes to convey its appreciation for the time taken by  representatives of the tribal council in attending a meeting in Ravalli County on Wednesday November 20, 2013.

Ravalli county values the cultural heritage between the Salish people and the Bitterroot Valley and desires to further a positive relationship with CSKT. The board apologizes if public comments caused offense. Certain comments did not represent the opinion of the board or the majority of the people of Ravalli County

The Board of Ravalli County Commissioners

Foss said she believes the county commissioners should remove Wisniewski from his office.

“This is not the first time that Mr. Wisniewski has said things or taken action that has proven to be, I feel, an embarrassment to the county. This is me speaking personally. I don’t find that acceptable. The people who are on our boards serve at the pleasure of the commissions and so, at least for myself,  I feel he should be removed from the board at the earliest possible opportunity that we can do it.”

Foss also said that Wisniewski had done some good things in his position, but that speech like this from a public official is not acceptable. Commissioners could meet as early as next Friday to vote on whether or not to remove Wisniewski from office.


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