Havre Daily News
The city of Havre and the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation got a little closer on Tuesday.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice and five Havre City Council members sat down and spoke with members of the Chippewa Cree tribal council face-to-face, with the intent of bringing two communities that are geographic neighbors closer together in other ways.
Tribal council members also had Gov. Brian Schweitzer's ear Tuesday, as he rounded out his tour of Montana reservations.
Members of both councils agreed to look into resurrecting the Native American Affairs Committee, a Havre Area Chamber of Commerce-driven group that included members from the Havre, Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap councils along with economic interests. The other main topic was economic development and job creation.
The consensus is that the meeting was a positive step toward a new dialogue between the two communities.
"I gave each of them a business card and invited them to come in and sit down with me and talk further," Rice said. "I have some ideas I want to explore with them. They're a part of the community and they should be treated as such. There are new people on that council that are very proactive, and I was very encouraged by that. They're good folks."
"I thought it was really positive," tribal council chairman John "Chance" Houle said. "I commend Mayor Bob Rice and all of the City Council members. I commend them for taking the effort. Bruce Sunchild and Bob (Rice) thought it would be an excellent time to get some dialogue out there."
Sunchild, vice chairman of the tribal council, extended the invitation to Rice two weeks ago at a meeting held in Great Falls to discuss the Rocky Boy's/North Central Regional Water System, which will bring water to the reservation and many area communities. Havre is considering the possibility of joining the system.
The invitation predated an article written by University of Montana journalism students about racism in Havre. The article was included in UM's 2005 Native News Project, which was an insert in the Great Falls Tribune on May 21. The article about Havre stirred up controversy.
The issue of racism was discussed briefly at the meeting, Sunchild said today.
"We don't know each other as well as we should," he said. "There's a misconception of the reservation being off-limits ... being unsafe for non-Indians. ... We need to bridge that gap. Some perceptions might still be in Havre and in our local community. There are some misunderstandings."
"We know that there's a lot of positive," Houle said. "There's a lot of good people in Havre. Every community has some folks that maybe have some certain feelings. We figured that by having some dialogue, maybe we could bridge those gaps."
Members of both councils agreed that a way to improve relations between the communities is to continue sitting down together.
"I'm a big communication person," Havre council member Pam Hillery said. "I think any time two parties start communicating face-to-face, it always improves the relationship. It can only help us as a city. As far as the race issue, (communication) is how you get beyond racism, by getting to know people as people and not as a group."
The Native American Affairs Committee was put together about 10 years ago, Havre council member Tom Farnham said. It stopped meeting about six years ago, he said. In monthly meetings over lunch, the group discussed diversity, problems and new happenings in their respective communities, he said.
Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg said she will meet with chamber members and discuss bringing the committee back to life.
"I don't see a problem with it," she said.
Farnham said Tuesday's meeting was a good start.
"It's just great to have everybody working together and working on track," Farnham said. "That way everybody's aware of what's going on."
Council members talked extensively about jobs and economic development during the meeting. Tribal council members spoke about the importance of securing jobs for Rocky Boy residents at the proposed Wal-Mart if it is constructed, and Rice promised to include Rocky Boy in any discussions he has with Wal-Mart officials.
"I'm going to make sure (tribal council members) are kept abreast of what's going on," Rice said. "They feel Wal-Mart is going to be a big issue as far as jobs go."
"We would welcome that," Sunchild said. "We would like to get as many people to work out there as possible."
Tribal council members noted that much of the money on the reservation flows to communities like Havre or Great Falls. On the other hand, not many Native Americans are employed at the very stores where their families spend a significant amount of their money.
"When you go to a lot of establishments, you don't see a lot of Native Americans working there," Houle said. "We would like to see more of our people working behind counters in the stores."
Rice said he understands that Rocky Boy plays a large financial role in Havre.
Tribal council member Jake Parker said many of the employment opportunities on the reservation are dependent on contracts and grants through the federal government, and those opportunities are getting harder to come by.
"We face really high unemployment," Parker said today. "In the summertime it's around 50 percent and in the winter it's probably closer to 70 percent. We need jobs. We are getting into some tourism activites, and I think Havre can help us out there. The bottom line is, we need each other. We need to work together."
Houle said the tribe had a good discussion with Gov. Schweitzer and members of his Cabinet and staff. Some of the issues that were discussed were a proposed ethanol plant, a shortage of funding for a low- income energy assistance program, and economic development.
Tribal chief of staff Richard Sangrey said the meeting went very well.
"We had some really good dialogue with the governor, members of his Cabinet and members of his staff," Sangrey said. "We're going to follow up on a lot of the presentations that we made. We gave them a lot of information."
Members of the tribal council will travel to Helena at some point down the road in order to continue making progress, he added.
"I think with this administration, we're really going to be able to do some communicating," Sangrey said. "The past two administrations, we'd bring forth our problems when they visited Rocky Boy and we never really got anywhere."