The Mission Mountain Wilderness
The mountains rising to the east lie in the Mission Mountain Wilderness Area and the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness. The range is more than a natural wonder; it is the first place in America where an Indian nation has designated tribal lands as a wilderness preserve. The crest of the range forms the eastern boundary of the Flathead Reservation. On the east side, 73,877 acres are managed by the Flathead National Forest; on this side, 89,500 acres are under the purview of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai (Flathead) Tribes. Both wildernesses are managed cooperatively and are open to everyone, though differences in management styles reflect tribal needs and traditions on the west side.
A few tribal elders can still trace the routes of old hunting trails through the Missions. Hunters used them to cross to the eastern Montana plains to hunt buffalo. The mountains hold sacred sites where tribal members go alone to fast and seek spiritual guidance for their lives. Other spots are traditional summer camps where families pick berries, gather medicinal herbs, plants, and roots, and cut tipi poles.
Clarence Woodcock of the Flathead Cultural Committee expressed the tribes' deeprooted spiritual and cultural ties to the mountains: “They are lands where our people walked and lived. Lands and landmarks carved into the minds of our ancestors through Coyote stories and actual experiences. Lands, landmarks, trees, mountain tops, crevices that we should look up to with respect.”