CSKT Tribal Judge Winona Tanner Walks On

Contact: Robert McDonald

CSKT Communications Director




July 3, 2021

PABLO, MT ­ — Winona Tanner, long time Chief Judge of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Court and tribal employee for almost 40 years, passed away Friday. CSKT’s Tribal Council ordered that flags be flown at half-mast in her honor.

Tanner began working at Tribal Legal Services in 1983. She also worked at the Tribal Prosecutors Office and Tribal Defenders Office. Tanner became chief judge in 2004 after her predecessor, Louise Burke, encouraged her to step up in the leadership role.

“Everyone who ever worked with Winona behind the bench or appeared before her will miss her dedication, care and deep understanding of our community,” said CSKT Chairwoman Shelly R. Fyant. “We lowered our flags in her honor. She’s among the Evelyn Stevenson’s and Louise Burke’s as builders of our court system.”  

Tanner was regularly asked to swear in new people elected to Tribal Council. Her beaded robes were often pointed out and complemented by dignitaries and guests who toured the tribal court system. She was generous and known for gifting star quilts to the tribal court founders.

Judge Tanner actively participated in activities and organizations that helped improve the delivery of services within tribal justice systems. She served in leadership roles for the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Judges Association, the Montana Access to Justice Committee, and the National American Indian Court Judges Association for many years.

She was most recently working on plans to remodel the court building and expand the facilities with a successful grant effort. CSKT Chairwoman Shelly Fyant will say a few words about Tanner at the planned memorial for all those who have been lost this past year in Arlee at the powwow grounds Saturday afternoon.

Judge Tanner recognized the value of tribal sovereignty and she frequently utilized tribal traditions within the court system, particularly when children were involved in a matter.  Her concerns for the best interest of children, families and the tribal community ran deep.  She supported approaches that insured promotion of cultural connections and identity with compassion and great wisdom. Casey Family Programs recognized Judge Tanner’s dedication to family issues with the 2015 Casey Excellence for Children Leadership Award. The ripple effects of her work leaves a rich legacy of how restorative principles can address community problems and help create a strong respect for the CSKT tribal court system both locally and nationally.  

Judge Tanner used her deep understanding of the Flathead Reservation community to apply the legal system in a way that was mindful of the values and culture of the people. In her quiet way, she applied her wisdom to guide young people who had lost their way. Once while hearing a case on a tribal member charged with a fish and game violation over a shot deer left to rot, instead of issuing a fine, she referred the young man to visit with the Selis Qlispe Culture Committee. He missed his first appointment, but during the follow-up hearing, she again ordered him to meet with the elders. Once he finally showed, and heard stories on how our ancestors used all parts of an animal, she told a newspaper reporter that she believed those lessons would do a better job reforming the young man than if he had received a fine.

Despite her deep involvement in promoting strong tribal justice systems, Winona was known as a private person from a large family. Her compassion, fairness and wisdom will be greatly missed. Services are planned for early next week.