Unfortunately, Wisniewski is at the center of the latest in a long line of shitstorms to emerge from the Bitterroot. It’s easy to blame him, but it reality a lot of it is Suzy Foss’ fault.
I used to groan when Sepp Janotta would tell me that I “need to tell the backstory”, but here you go. Wisniewski was on the county planning board for years; mostly he kept quiet, but occasionally would offer some gems, as he did once when he told me that he had seen black helicopters up to no good in the valley.
Suzy Foss first introduced herself to me as “a pissed off grandma” and seemed to fashion herself after Sarah Palin. She beat Carlotta Grandstaff in the 2010 commission race and she became chairwoman in 2012. Despite being a Republican, Greg Chilcott is actually a great guy, but while he and J.R. Iman used to make up the right-wing of the commission, those two have now become the meager voices of reason in the county building’s third-floor chambers.
This fall Foss led the charge to deny federal funding that kept open a low-income health care center, saying she was “concerned about the staggering national debt”. She’s overseen the firing of Dave Ohnstad, the roads manager, who was a good man – and a Republican – and the departure of the planning director, who was replaced with a real estate agent. More recently, Foss has been at the helm while the county’s tax office has plunged into disarray, with employees saying the recently-hired treasurer is unable to perform even the most basic duties; the current treasurer was hired in lieu of a much more experienced junior officer, who then resigned after being forced to teach her new boss how to do the job. Foss’ current project is to bring in a consultant from Utah who specializes in organized fights to “take back” control of public lands from the federal government; she suggested the county pay $5,000 to become members of study group that thinks the counties should manage federal land.
So far Wisniewski has been known for goofy but mostly harmless stunts; most recently he ran for the state House District 87 seat – as a Democrat – and as a Democratic precinct chair. Obviously, he’s no Democrat – this was a brilliant/idiotic attempt to infiltrate the. Earlier this year, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – which is headquartered up in Lake County – filed an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to transfer 58 acres the tribe owned in Ravalli County to BIA trust. In April, though, the county commission voted to oppose the application, noting it would lose $808 (!) annually in property taxes.
The parcel is known as Medicine Tree and is adjacent to U.S. 93 south of Darby, and in November five tribal members came to the commission to explain the site, which officials said pilgrims visit twice a year – Medicine Tree has roots in the tribe’s creation story. During phblic comment, Wisniewski, a Darby resident, approached the podium. As The Missoulian reported, “Wisniewski offered observations from a ‘fact-finding’ trip he took across the state. Wisniewski said he had a conversation with law enforcement officials in Havre who complained about their jails being filled with “drunken Indians” off the reservation.”
Well, let's wonder at the mysterious ways of the world. What does a jail in Havre have to do with a parcel in Ravalli County? Were those drunk Indians CSKT members? How many drunk white people are in the jail in Darby? Why does the county commission, which is always going on about protecting property rights, want to fart upon the tribe’s property rights? If the commission is truly concerned about the tribe opening a casino on this patch of rock, have they not noticed that casinos already line nearly the entirety of US 93?
CSKT members said they were “deeply offended” by Wisniewski’s comments, which went unremarked upon by the commission until a lot of county residents spoke up. Last week, the commission said they’d write a letter offering an apology to the tribe.
Blanket statements that stereotype Native Americans as “drunken Indians” are undeniably offensive, and stupid given the context of Montana. The Salish were forced out of the Bitterroot, and not that long ago. CSKT has been re-acquiring this lost land since the 1930s, and Medicine Rock is part of that effort. It’s bitterly ironic that those who scream the loudest about “property rights” should have an opinion about the tribe’s.
For her part, Foss said she was offended by the Wisneiwski’s statement, but that’s little consolation. Wisneiwski’s term on the planning board ends this month, and Foss would be wise to end it.
I’m betting she won’t.
Here’s a picture of two chili dogs: