Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - A plan to zone Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, on hold for several months, is getting spurred on by grants to two tribal departments.
The Natural Resources Department will have $515,000 over two years to pay for the project, department director Robert "Sonny" Belcourt learned Thursday. The grant from the Administration for Native Americans will pay the salaries of three people who will work on the project, as well as other costs.
The grant is for the protection of natural resources, which includes land management, Belcourt said.
Susie Hay, director of the tribal Housing Department, said Thursday that the Walking Shield American Indian Society, a nonprofit organization that coordinates housing projects on Indian reservations, will help the Housing Department plan for new housing.
A housing plan is needed immediately, she said, because, according to Housing Department estimates, the reservation will need 5,000 more houses in the next 30 years.
"We're plopping housing everywhere," Hay joked, adding that a need for new housing is the most pressing reason that the reservation should be zoned.
A zoning committee was formed last spring to address what tribal officials considered a pressing need.
"It should have been done some time ago," Belcourt said in a May interview after the first meeting of the committee.
It met twice in late spring, and then stopped meeting to await the return of two people who were advising the committee, a Bozeman architect and a Bureau of Indian Affairs planner, Belcourt said.
He said Thursday that the two-year, $515,000 ANA grant is just what is needed to get the project going and said the zoning committee will meet again next month when both advisers are available.
A robust birthrate and the return to the reservation of people who had left in previous decades are spurring the need for houses, Hay said.
Walking Shield will help the housing department decide where to locate new houses, she said. The grant is for assistance, not a set amount of money.
The Community Design Center at Montana State University-Bozeman has also been helping the housing department plan for increased development, Hay said. She expects students to return in the fall and help her department prepare for the next generation of housing.
Housing was something Belcourt said was discussed in the May zoning committee meeting. Also discussed was the best location for proposed businesses, including a convenience store, a car wash and a Laundromat.
A proposed casino, which organizers want to see under construction within a month, as well as an ethanol plant that is still a couple years away, will both be located in an industrial park Belcourt said was zoned a few years ago near Laredo and U.S. Highway 87.
Along with the practical challenges of serving a growing population is a need to preserve the past.
Belcourt said the zoning committee has also discussed the need for protecting cultural and historical lands.
It's a concern that community member Videl Stump does not want overlooked. Stump, who is a member of several committees and organizations charged with safeguarding and sharing Native American culture, said today he would like to see cultural lands at Rocky Boy fenced off and signs installed that describe their significance.
"That's the only way we're going to preserve things," Stump said.
He said that there are areas throughout the reservation where sweetgrass and other herbs are gathered for ceremonial or medicinal purposes. He does not want to see those areas developed.
Some of those are places that the younger generation doesn't even know about, he said. Preserving them by creating cultural and historical zones might help educate the youth as well, Stump said.