Michael T. "Mickey" Pablo, leader of Montana's Indian nations, died at his ranch Aug. 5, at the age of 51. Postoperative complications from surgery on a knee he twisted while fishing have been reported as the likely cause of death.
humble man was highly respected for his wisdom and much loved for
his kind and gentle manner. Yet, when the chips were down, Mickey
Pablo was a fearless warrior in defense of his people, their lands
and treaty rights.
His leadership went far beyond
the decade he served as chairman of the Confederated
Salish-Kootenai Tribes or as chair of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal
Council. As one Montana state legislator said, "Mickey Pablo united
the seven Indian nations of Montana, for the first time putting
aside their differences and speaking for Indian issues as a single,
His great-grandfather, Michel
Pablo, who is credited with saving the last of the Great Plains
bison, provided the original stock for the wild herds that now roam
Yellowstone National Park. Like his ancestor, Mickey seemed to know
what was important to save for future generations: the mountains,
good land, clean water and the traditions that honor and respect
the earth and its creatures.
convictions were equalled by strong actions. After the Yellowstone
Pipe Line Company allowed years of leaks and spills, the tribe
threw the company off the reservation (HCN, 3/4/96). When the state
Legislature and local county officials refused to cede the tribe
legal authority over its members, Mickey threatened to pull tribal
funds from local banks, shut down access to the southern half of
Flathead Lake and cancel the lease on the runway at the local
airport. Tensions became almost unbearable, both in the Capitol and
on the reservation, but in the end Mickey and his people won the
Given a choice, Mickey preferred to
negotiate rather than fight. In defense of tribal fishing and
hunting rights, he hammered out a cooperative agreement with the
state that has withstood numerous legislative assaults and
continues to provide a model for the nation. The Salish-Kootenai
also set their own water-quality standards for the reservation,
having achieved "treatment as a state" status from the federal
Environmental Protection Agency.
At a recent
memorial service at Flathead Lake, hundreds packed the community
center in the tiny town of Elmo to bid their friend and leader
farewell. Letters of condolence and praise, from the president of
the United States on down, were read, while personal testimonials
moved many to tears.