As a member of the State Tribal Relations Interim Committee, between now and the next session I will be attending six meetings for updates on tribal issues in the state. Four of those meetings will be held with various tribes across the state.
Last week we had a meeting at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. The reservation is between Chinook and Malta on Highway 2 and runs some 40+ miles south of the highway. The meeting lasted two days, the first day being a joint meeting with the tribal council and the second touring the Tribal College.
The first days meeting ran from 8.30 AM to 6.30 PM. Presentations were made and discussions were had on the issues around Bison management in Montana. Bison are very important to the tribal communities, who often seek to possess increasing numbers of “wild” Yellowstone Bison on the reservation. However, surrounding landowners share concerns about the spread of brucellosis disease from infected bison to their cattle. Further there are concerns about damages to property and fences. Both sides of the issue were discussed in depth at the meeting with high decorum.
I was disappointed to see one issue completely unaddressed in the meeting. Even if the bison are perfectly managed, contained and disease free, nearby cattle ranchers may still encounter difficulty selling beef due to out of state buyer prejudices. Many enrolled tribal members of the Fort Belknap reservation expressed concerns about that hurdle and it was not addressed.
During the second day touring the tribal college, some committee members were pleased to see the heavy emphasis on vocational education. The college had established direct lines of training-to-work in CDL/trucking, welding, carpentry, CNC-aided machining and IT fields.
Throughout the two days the tribes expressed serious concerns about the state-handed-down educational restraints that prevent them from offering comprehensive community-oriented education that they desire.
They asked for the Governor and the Committee to take leadership and give them the opportunity to offer real choice in education for the tribal communities.
My next STR committee meeting will take place in January at the Crow Reservation.