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ETHNONYMS: Salish, Selish

The Flathead are an American Indian group numbering about four thousand who live with members of the Kalispel and Kutenai American Indian groups on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana.

The Flathead are a Salishan-speaking group who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries numbered between three thousand and six thousand and inhabited the region of western Montana and Wyoming north of the Gallatin River between the Rocky Mountains and the Little Belt range.

Aboriginally, the Flathead hunted bison on the plains and other large game in the mountains; fishing and gathering supplemented their diet. Bison hunting increased in importance after horses were acquired in 1700, and fur trading became an important part of the economy beginning in the early nineteenth century. The Flathead were loosely organized into bands composed of several related families and led by a chief.

Tribal government on the reservation today consists of a ten-member elected tribal council, which is responsible for selecting a tribal chairman and vice chairman. Forest industries are the main source of income on the reservation.

Religious life centered around guardian spirits obtained in dreams or visions induced by fasting and prayer. The Flathead believed that after death good souls journey to an upper world inhabited by the deity, Amo'tken, while bad souls go to live in an underworld inhabited by the evil deity, Amte'p.


Bigart, Robert J. (1971). "Patterns of Cultural Change in a Salish Flathead Community." Human Organization 30:229-237.

Old Person, Earl (1984). "Problems, Prospects, and Aspirations of the 'Real People' in America." In Pathways to Self Determination, edited by Leroy Little Bear et al., 148-151. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Turney-High, Harry H. (1937). The Flathead Indians of Montana. American Anthropological Association, Memoir 48. Menasha, Wis.

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Flathead See Salish

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