GREAT FALLS (AP)
Native American tribes in Montana are looking to spend money contained in the federal stimulus package on projects that include improving health care facilities, homes, roads and jails. Nationally, tribes are to receive some $2.5 billion in funds. Most of the money is intended to reduce the longstanding backlog of much-needed projects, including building new schools and hospitals, along with rehabilitating roads and funding law enforcement and water projects. In Montana, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation officials have identified $35 million in projects that they'd like to address, including the water treatment plant, transportation and irrigation projects, and the completion of a detention and treatment center. Loren "Bum" Stiffarm, the chief administrative officer for the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said the water treatment plant is the reservation's highest priority. "We got to get that built," Stiffarm said. The tribe's 40-year-old water treatment plant has not been able to handle the needs of its 2,500 water users at Fort Belknap Agency. For the past four years, Fort Belknap Agency residents have had to boil their water to avoid getting sick, Stiffarm said. The stimulus funds should give a boost to the Fort Belknap Indian Community, Stiffarm said. At this point, tribal officials are working with 40 percent of its normal funding because the federal government has not passed its federal budget. Chippewa Cree tribal compliance officer Neil Rosette said the stimulus money will help the tribe address health care, housing and water line projects on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. "We're expecting some stimulus fallout. How much of that we'll get we don't know at this point," Rosette said. "We anticipate some pretty substantial increases in our funding Levels." The stimulus funds will be distributed using the same formulas and federal agencies that serve Native Americans, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services. Tribes will also compete for stimulus cash with other tribes through a grant-writing process, Rosette said. Stiffarm disagreed with having federal agencies disperse the money, saying he'd like the funds to be distributed directly to the tribes because they know their needs best. Still, tribal officials on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation have been anxiously waiting to hear how much they'll receive as part of the package, Stiffarm said. ___ Information from: Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune. com.