U.S. Sen. Max Baucus made a trip to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation to meet with Chippewa Cree Tribal officials.
The trip started at Stone Child College with a talk, lasting more than an hour, mostly on the subject of the damage from May flooding to the Tribe’s health center and reservation infrastructure.
The council thanked Baucus for his help in securing a full waiver from the Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements that would have required the Tribe to pay a portion of the recovery cost.
Tribal Council Chairman Raymond “Jake” Parker said that damage across the reservation had been estimated at around $32 million, $18 million of which was in the health center. The rest was in repairs to roads, irrigation systems and other damaged infrastructure.
Officials said the damaged clinic was 57,000 square feet. The old facility they have had to move into is only 20,000 square feet, which they said was not enough for regular operation, much less the needs of all the people affected by the floods.
The Tribe hopes to secure funding not only to reopen but also expand the old facility to 90,000 square feet, and they wanted to see it open in about two years.
As for funding for such a project, Baucus said it would be difficult but possible.
“Appropriations are hard to get right now,” Baucus said. “I think we can find some dollars for this.”
Another issue discussed was the problem with housing on the reservation and attaining funding for those programs, and the 500 families on a housing waiting list right now.
Different members of the Tribe talked about how the flood has affected all of these issues. The housing shortage has put four to five families in three-bedroom houses. Then the growth of black mold from flood damage is causing serious respiratory problems, they said. And as winter sets in, people are starting to seal their homes, trapping themselves and the mold together.
Through this, the senator emphasized the importance of positivity.
“I think our main challenge should be to work hard with a positive tone to find solutions,” Baucus said.
In another moment of relative positivity toward the end of the meeting, the Tribe offered a plaque to Tony Priete in appreciation of the work he had done for the Tribe over the past few decades. He returned the appreciation. Priete was Montana Commerce commissioner, and was recently appointed to a high-level post at Montana State University-Northern.
“I’ve loved what I’ve done,” Priete said. “But I’ve always loved working with the Chippewa Cree.”
Shortly after presenting the plaque, the meeting at Stone Child College ended and members of the Tribal council guided the senator on a tour of the reservation, including the clinics they had just talked about.