Havre Daily News
Enrolled members of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation are invited to pick up Thanksgiving gift baskets Friday. The baskets contain the makings for a full dinner and were made possible by a sizeable donation from tribal council chair John “Chance” Houle.
The donation was welcomed by some council critics who had opposed a recent raise for council members.
“For my part, it's good,” Kenny Standing Rock said. “It shouldn't say it's coming out of his pocket because it's coming out of money given to the tribe. But it's good to have somebody donate his part of the money. I feel that other tribal council should follow suit.”
Houle recently announced that he will be donating $21,500 of his $89,250 salary for several service projects. More than half, $13,500, will go toward the Thanksgiving baskets, the first time the tribe has been given out baskets for that holiday. The rest will go toward a youth rodeo and activities for senior citizens, he said.
Christmas baskets are given out each year, with the money coming from about 30 tribal program budgets. Houle said the Thanksgiving gift basket project was one he wanted to see started, so he decided to get it going himself.
“I thought this year was a really good time” to start it, he said. “It's been a year since I took over this administration and I feel really thankful.”
The tribal council has been under fire recently for considering a $15,000 raise for council members. It then settled on a 5 percent raise. That increased Houle's salary to $89,250, and the pay for regular council members to $78,750.
Some council members have defended their salaries, saying much gets donated back to needy members.
Houle said publicity over the recent raise was not what prompted his donation.
“Financially, I'm pretty secure,” said Houle, who describes himself as a third-generation cattleman. “I talked to my family a bit” before committing to donate $21,500.
Houle last year donated about $2,500 to start a senior citizens activity fund. Other council members donated $1,000 each to the same fund.
Though Standing Rock said he was happy to see the donation, ideally, council salaries would be lowered and additional services paid for by the saved money, he said.
Former Tribal Court Judge Gilbert Belgarde said today that tribal council salaries have tripled in the last 15 years.
Houle said the budget that funds tribal programs is separate from the one that pays council salaries.
“I took over a huge, huge deficit, ” Houle said. “The general fund does not have it to absorb” Thanksgiving gift basket costs.
The total cost of the Thanksgiving baskets is $27,000. Houle said he had planned for a cost of $24,000 and hoped to pay half. He raised a matching $12,000 from donations of $4,000 each from Bob and Jim Swan, founder and president, respectively, of RJS & Associates Inc.; Mike Tilleman of Tilleman Motor Co.; and Neal Rosette and Billianne Morsette of National Tribal Development Association. The baskets then came in about $3,000 over budget and Houle paid half the difference, with council member Brian “Kelly” Eagleman covering the remaining $1,500.
Tribal members can pick up their baskets, containing a 25-pound turkey, five pounds of potatoes, cake mix, frosting, cranberries, stuffing, whipped cream and 2 pounds of coffee from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the senior citizens center near the agency.
Havre residents who are enrolled members and are not signed up for baskets through the Salvation Army can pick up their baskets from the Rocky Boy senior center from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday. Great Falls residents who are enrolled members can get their baskets between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the Indian Family Health Center, 1220 Central Ave, Great Falls.