GREAT FALLS (AP)
Some of the people on American Indian reservations in Montana got help with home heating this winter as Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, expanded a U.S. assistance program active on the East Coast. The company this winter provided about $1.5 million for heating in Montana. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes coordinated the assistance, which tribal policy analyst Teresa Wall-McDonald described as apolitical even though President Bush and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez have been harshly critical of each other. The assistance “concentrated on the needs of the communities,” Wall-McDonald said. “There were no political discussions.” Judi Houle, energy assistance director at the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, said Chavez “relates to us as an indigenous people.” Citgo provided 100 million gallons of fuel to 1.2 million low-income Americans this winter, said Fernando Garay, the company’s public relations manager in Houston. That includes cash payments equivalent to 100 gallons of fuel for each of 5,500 lowincome households on Montana reservations, Garay said. “That (gift of fuel) worked in the Northeast, but when they reached out to reservations outside their fuel distribution network area, it made sense to provide cash” to utilities, said Les Stevenson, executive director of Great Falls-based Opportunities Inc., which connects low-income people to services. A Citgo representative called the Salish-Kootenai Tribe to offer assistance in Montana. “We were the in-state arms and legs for Citgo for several months,” Wall-McDonald said. The assistance in Montana has included $259 for each of 980 households on the Flathead Reservation, home of the Salish- Kootenai, and an average of $282 for each of 800 households on the Blackfeet Reservation. Blackfeet heating suppliers include Glacier Electric, NorthWestern Energy and three propane companies. Citgo money also has been directed to facilities such as schools and tribal agencies on reservations. Tension between Chavez and the Bush administration has involved a number of issues, including Chavez’s criticism of U.S. foreign policy, his stance on oil pricing and his friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. “Regardless of whether he (Chavez) has a hidden agenda, or whether this is a publicity ploy to counter negative publicity on the national level, I suspect that people on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation just feel warmer this winter as a result,” Stevenson said. Garay said Citgo has donated extensively to charities near its refineries and has given more than $83 million over the past two decades to fight muscular dystrophy.