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The Salish-speaking aboriginal Kalispel Indians, numbering about 3,000 souls, occupied a narrow region that extended 200 miles west from Montana's Flathead lake, through Idaho and into Washington State. Other tribes called the Kalispel "lake and river paddlers," or "camas people" (camas being "Indian bread," a starchy root).They resided principally in lodges and moved from one location to another where they could most readily gain access to sustenance. Following the harvest, they took to the mountains to hunt.The first contact with non-Indians was likely with explorers and fur traders. The Kalispel were called the Coospellar by Lewis and Clark in 1805, and later they came into contact with Hudson's Bay Company traders. In the face of burgeoning white settlement in the region during the mid 1800s, the tribe strove to protect their way of life.At the behest of the federal government in 1855, the Upper Kalispels ceded their ancestral lands and relocated onto the Jocko Reservation in Montana. The Lower Kalispels, however, declined to relinquish any land, preferring to press for an accord that would entitle the tribe to remain on their home territory.During the late 1800s, while the majority of other tribes were being relegated to new reservations, the Kalispels had virtually no contacts with the federal government. By 1874, the Kalispels were left without legal protection after Congress had ceased to draw up treaties with tribes.By 1875, the tribal population had diminished to fewer than 400 persons. An additional contribution to the breakdown of tribal integrity during the period was the incipient spread of alcohol supplied by non-native sources.A reservation for the Kalispel (without a treaty) was ultimately established by an executive order of President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. However, the hillside and floodplain land proved stubbornly resistant to cultivation.Well past the middle of the 20th century, impoverishing conditions, aggravated by white prejudice, prevailed on the reservation. Nevertheless, the tribe sought innovative ways to create opportunities for its members.
See Indian Wars Time Table.
Native American Cultural Regions map.