When we think of Native American tribes and their history we often conjure up images of great Chiefs, donning their elaborately beaded clothing and headdresses. But do we ever think about why we no longer see them today?
Chief Koostatah Big Knife (1856-1942), Chief of the Ksanka (Kootenai) tribe belonging to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe of the Flathead Reservation in Montana, was the last formally recognized Chief for his tribe, along with Chief Martin Charlo (1856-1941), of the Selis (Salish) and Chief Mose Michell (1885-1944), of the Qlispe (Pend d’Oreille) tribes. When Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Flathead Reservation was the first to reorganize under a tribal council and sovereign government, thus dissolving formal Chieftainship. Chief Koostatah remained on the tribal council until his death in 1942. Baptiste Mathias replaced him informally in order to continue on the ceremonial traditions of the Kootenai people. He passed away in 1966, sadly ending a great era of Native American Chiefdom in the United States.
Click here to see photos of Chief Koostatah’s moccassins on display at the Museum, along with many other photos of moccasins in our online catalog.