Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Members of the Chippewa Cree tribal council met Monday with elected officials of Havre and Hill County, the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Havre Job Service Center, along with a few residents, to further dialogue among the neighboring communities.
Those in attendance discussed economic development, the upcoming Rocky Boy powwow and the rebirth of the Native American Affairs Committee, which is intended to facilitate conversation between residents of Havre and Hill County, and people on the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Indian reservations.
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said during the meeting that tribal and nontribal groups used to meet more often. Sitting down together will enable them to work toward ironing out any perceived differences, she said.
"We've had good relationships," Bessette said. "I really think a lot of this negative publicity just needs to be investigated. We need to talk about it. We've got a lot of things going for us here in north-central Montana. We've got beautiful country and great people."
Recent media attention has focused on racism after the University of Montana School of Journalism's Native News Project included, in one of a package of published articles, descriptions of prejudice against Native Americans in Havre.
"If there's a problem, we've got to work through it," Bessette added. "I don't know who's to blame, or if there's anyone to blame. All it takes is sitting down at a table together to see how much we have in common."
Tribal council member Raymond Parker Jr. said the groups need to work together to adequately serve area residents.
"I know we have a lot of common issues," Parker said. "We need to work through these in a common area. We need to have open ears and open minds. We don't serve ourselves, we serve a group of people."
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he's open to solutions.
"I'm here to do some listening," Rice said. "If there's a gap or a problem, I'm open to addressing it. I personally don't think the gap is that big. I look forward to working on a long-term relationshipwith you."
Those in attendance agreed to begin having quarterly meetings of the chamber's formerly defunct Native American Affairs Committee to discuss common issues and problems. The meetings will alternate between Rocky Boy and Havre and will be open to members of the local business community who want to participate in the dialogue. Havre City Council member Tom Farnham volunteered to be the city's representative.
"I think it'd be a plus for both sides to get involved," he said.
Tribal council vice chair Bruce Sun Child Sr. said the council will soon select representatives to serve on the committee.
Tribal council chair John "Chance" Houle said the tribe is moving forward with a number of economic development projects that could benefit the whole region.
"There's a lot of things we have on the table, as far as economic development, to create some revenue streams," Houle said.
The tribe is in the process of designing a casino, is working on the possible construction of an ethanol plant and has been receiving calls about other projects, including a 400-person call center. Houle said the tribe is starting to earn a good reputation with investors across the country.
City Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said he is excited about the reservation's economic growth.
"I'm looking forward to the development you guys have got going on here," Woodwick said. "Everything that benefits Rocky Boy also benefits Havre."
Havre chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg said she has worked with the tribe to enhance tourism and wants to continue that relationship for the betterment of the region.
"We look forward to working with you and growing both our communities," she said.
Sun Child said the tribe is hopeful it will receive federal funding this year to begin construction on portions of the Rocky Boy's/North Central Regional Water System. The U.S. House approved $7.5 million for the project, and the bill that includes that amount is being worked on by a House-Senate conference committee. The project's organizers are hoping to get even more funding, he said.
"We need that money to provide water for all of the communities," Sun Child said. We need that money to provide employment."
Havre recently received information regarding the cost of the city connecting to the system. The City Council has until mid-September to decide whether to commit to connecting to the system, which will deliver water treated at Lake Elwell to about 18,000 water users across north-central Montana.
City Council member Jack Brandon said he and other council members need to carefully consider the project.
"Nothing is more important to us and to you than good water," he said.
Farnham said he is trying to organize a caravan of Havre residents to travel to the Rocky Boy powwow, set for Aug. 5-7.
Sun Child said the powwow is an important cultural event that many area residents have not experienced.
A common misconception among non-native people is that photography is not allowed. In fact, visitors are allowed to bring cameras, Sun Child said.
The tribal council will be soliciting Havre businesses to help with the powwow, which brings in visitors from across the country. Many frequent Havre businesses for lodging, gas, dining and other needs, Sun Child said.