Experience the History & Culture of Northwestern Montana’s First Nations

Just as former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer proclaimed on an interview with David Letterman, Montana is a slice of the West — as it used to be.  First Nations across Montana are incredibly active and determined to preserve their culture and history, and right around Kalispell in the Flathead area several tribes offer unique windows into their day-to-day life, past and present.

Just a short drive south of Kalispell sits the Salish-Kootenai Nation on the southwestern and southern shores of Flathead Lake.  The Salish-Kootenai have found a progressive way to preserve their cultural history while still providing a modern quality of life for residents.  Many businesses in scenic Polson are owned and operated by the tribes.  The People’s Center, just south of Polson in Pablo, is an educational museum of the history and culture of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes. The on-site gift shop offers a beautiful collection of tribal crafts and artists’ work, including paintings, beadwork and authentic tribal moccasins.  Every summer, the People’s Center hosts a Celebration and Powwow, and tribal members as well as the general public are welcome to experience this Native American tradition.

The Blackfeet Tribe calls the eastern side of Glacier National Park home.  The awe-inspiring, glacier-carved valleys, peaks and rivers of Glacier National Park were sacred and spiritual to the Blackfeet and many areas were reserved for vision-quest missions. Sun Tours is located within Glacier National Park and gives participants a view of the park through the Blackfeet’s perspective, including particularly noteworthy and important sites.

The Blackfeet celebrate their long-lived traditions during the annual North American Indian Days celebration in Browning, just east of Glacier National Park. Tipis are pitched on the powwow grounds for four days of dancing, traditional games and socializing. The gathering is one of the largest among tribes from the United States and Canada — a proud display of the Blackfeet Nation that anyone can enjoy.

Each of these opportunities to educate yourself and your family about the First Nations of Montana lie within a stone’s throw of Kalispell, the hub of the Flathead Valley. Even its name symbolizes the small city’s culturally significant location just north of the region’s most notable landmark, Flathead Lake: “Kalispel” is the Salish word meaning “flat land above the water.” Its central location and wealth of hotels and dining options make it a perfect jumping-off point for any Flathead adventure.

The vibrant city of Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish and all of the recreation, art, shopping and adventure that northwestern Montana has to offer. Plopped in the center of the Flathead Valley, it’s an easy drive to the park entrance, the art galleries of Bigfork or the water sports mecca of Flathead Lake and well-equipped with affordable, comfortable lodging, great dining and a range of shopping from one-off boutiques to price-conscious large-format retailers. www.discoverkalispell.com


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