Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - When work began to expand a housing development at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, foundations were being excavated before environmental health director Tim Rosette knew anything about the plans. The development is near Stone Child College and Rosette said he had a short interval in which to coordinate water and sewer hook-ups so that families could move into the homes.
He told the story to a planning committee this week set to begin coordinating a master plan for development at Rocky Boy. It was an example of what not to do.
Former tribal council chair Duncan Standing Rock recently recalled a more serious scenario from the 1970s. The tribal council had approved plans to develop a 160-acre site that Standing Rock said had been set aside in 1918 for spiritual ceremonies. Equipment was in the ground and some of the work completed before most people knew anything about it. When they found out, a group of elders led a fight to stop development, Standing Rock said. He worked as an interpreter between the elders who opposed the development and Montana Legal ServicesAssociation, which helped them.
The houses that were there were removed and are now part of the Azure housing site and the earth was rehabilitated, Standing Rock said. In the process, several thousands of dollars of work was wasted.
Tribal department directors hope a master plan will help them prepare for what could be substantial growth at Rocky Boy. The goal of the plan is to protect cultural and economic resources while preventing overcrowding. Water rights director Jim Morsette said the tribe's water agreement is based on the estimate that by 2050, there could be 15,000 people at Rocky Boy.
The U.S. Census Bureau counted about 2,700 people at Rocky Boy in 2000. Tribal government estimates put the on-reservation population as high as 4,500.
The Montana State University Community Design Center, with a grant from the nonprofit Walking Shield American Indian Society, has helped tribal employees picture a future Rocky Boy. Last spring the students presented tribal officials with a few images of what the growth might look like.
The project's director, Ferd Johns, and a fourth-year architecture student, Allison Orr, were both at this week's meeting to summarize their project as well as show work the two did with a subsequent grant through MSU, elaborating on the most favorable of the original plans for growth.
“Every time we build a new building, there is no plan and zoning,” architect Doug Morley said. Morley and his firm, Springer Group Architects of Bozeman, designed Stone Child College and are in the process of designing a tribal casino for the Laredo area. He attended this week's meeting.
Johns and Orr presented a worst-case scenario should development continue without a plan. It was a drawing of a natural landscape at Rocky Boy, with Baldy Mountain in the background, and a slapdash arrangement of houses and trailers obscuring the view in the foreground.
“That's what could happen if we're not careful,” Johns said. “Sixteen thousand people, the way it's going now, it's going to be a mess.”
Johns and Orr also suggested a solution: concentrating growth at Box Elder, Rocky Boy Agency and Stone Child College and setting aside greenways, parks and recreation areas. They recommended a new entrance to Rocky Boy through Box Elder so that the main road would no longer run between Box Elder School and a park. The new entrance would be lined with a combination of homes and businesses and the sidewalks would be heavily landscaped.
At Bonneau Dam, the two proposed a hotel and landscaping in the area.
In their plan, the agency has new tribal headquarters, landscaping for the agency park and dense housing they said might be good for the elderly so they could live close to services.
“Is that a value we have?” Morsette asked about the possibility of different generations living apart in separate housing.
Johns and Orr emphasized that local residents would shape the final plan. At the same time, something has to change and ultimately there needs to be more density, they said.
“It's either that or you don't have any land left,” Orr said.
Tribal natural resources director Robert “Sonny” Belcourt said that at Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, apartments are being built.
“Are we prepared to do that? If we are, we can't have a volunteer fire department anymore,” Belcourt said.
Belcourt's comment was one of several at the meeting that awakened other committee members to the scale of growth expected.
“A lot of people can't comprehend that many people here. I can't,” Morsette said.
Representatives from housing, natural resources, law enforcement, RJS & Associates, tribal government, water rights and environmental health participated in the meeting. At different moments, each of the roughly 20 people shook their heads in amazement.
Many remarked upon the difficulty of the task and several worried about the costs.
A Chippewa Cree Housing Authority representative said the housing department can expect to receive 50 homes, donations from Malmstrom Air Force Base, within a few months. Planning for 50 homes would be difficult, and at the same time, there are as many as 4,000 homes to plan for in the future, members said.
“This is like changing the tires on a car while it's rolling down the road,” Morley told the committee.
For the 50 new homes, planning might have to proceed as it has in the past, the committee agreed. At the same time, Morley said, if all goes well, they'll be able to slowly transition to following a plan, once they have it.
Rocky Boy may have help from a U.S. Department of Interior official, Ken Bailey, who has organized master planning programs for tribes. An Administration for Native Americans grant will also pay for work on zoning, Belcourt said.
Belcourt said Bailey is interested in working on a master plan for Rocky Boy and may use it toward completing a doctorate. Bailey has scheduled a visit to Rocky Boy in mid-January to get started.
“This is probably the most important issue we've had in a long time,” Morsette said.
He gave the committee a little perspective on planning at Rocky Boy. Morsette recalled that about 15 years ago, the tribal council had approved a plan to create a development triangle where Box Elder, the agency and the new Stone Child College formed the three points. That plan has been followed, but Morsette said it took two years to develop.
Belcourt handed out a master plan from 1971 that he said was also followed. That was a 20-year plan and the tribe was past due for another one, he said. Belcourt also passed out a zoning ordinance borrowed from an Oregon tribe as one possible tool the committee could use. It was the best example Belcourt said he could find.
The committee scheduled a public forum for Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. to involve the public in the planning process.
Morley recommended that the first step be educating the public, catching people up on the plans that the tribal employees have seen.
“If you ask them what they want now, they'll tell you what they know and what they know is what they have,” he said.