By Ron VandenBoom
Gov. Judy Martz was greeted with applause Wednesday when she presented a proclamation to the Chippewa Cree Tribal Council affirming the sovereignty of Indian reservations in Montana and pledging cooperation between reservations and state government.
The proclamation is a continuation of a similar proclamation instituted by the Racicot administration.
"The proclamation was very important to us," said Tribal Chairman Alvin Windy Boy Sr. "I thought that was very commendable on her part to do that."
Rocky Boy's is the first reservation Martz visited in fulfillment of a pledge made during her State of the State address in January to visit all seven Indian reservations in Montana to discuss Indian concerns. Martz said she plans to visit the other reservations before the end of July.
"We have to figure out what are the pluses we can work on together and where are the lines where we can't," Martz said. "Then we have to hook up the right people."
Martz said she plans to ask each of the tribes what its agenda items are and encourage them to write to her with their concerns.
Martz said some issues may have to be dealt with through federal channels.
"But where we do have the opportunity to work together, she said, "some creative way may be found to meet the common goal."
Windy Boy said he normally takes a wait-and-see attitude in dealings with government, but was pleased because the visit was the first time in his 12 years on the council that "we have had a very hospitable and productive meeting with the governor of the state of Montana."
He said he looks forward to working with Martz to address other issues like economic development and health issues on the reservation.
But Windy Boy expressed less confidence in the state bureaucracy.
"There are people that work for her, that carry out the functions (of government) on a number of projects, and how they carry out those functions at our level is kind of wait and see," he said.
Council member Jonathan Windy Boy also expressed strong support for the proclamation, saying it is something all Montana tribes have been wanting from Martz.
"I strongly support it," he said, adding that he believes it to be an encouraging sign.
The most encouraging aspect of the proclamation for Jonathan Windy Boy is recognition that all reservations are on an equal basis in their dealings with each other and with state government, with no one tribe taking priority over any other.
Windy Boy said that because each tribe is different, Martz should pinpoint the top objectives for each reservation.
Work will soon begin on drafting a letter to the governor listing the top priorities of Rocky Boy's, Windy Boy said.
He also said he hopes Martz will make followup visits to check on the progress of Rocky Boy's concerns.
Martz and her newly appointed state Director of Indian Affairs, Bruce Meyers, a Rocky Boy native, spent several hours before the Tribal Council addressing issues of concern.
She asked about the reservation's unemployment rate and was told it is 70 percent. Charles Gopher, a Tribal Council member, told the governor that better communication between law enforcement agencies was needed and expressed concern over jurisdictional issues when criminals are chased, or take refuge on the reservation.
Martz also addressed the issues of road construction on the reservation, the return of the bodies of Native American military veterans buried overseas, and what tribal leaders believe was an undercount in the last census.
Martz said she had to defer many of the issues to federal agencies, but provided the leaders with the names and numbers of agencies that might be able to help.
Following the meeting with the Tribal Council, Martz toured the Senior Citizens Center, Stone Child College, Fire Department, powwow grounds and other reservation facilities.
"They're proud of what's here and they're willing to make it better," Martz said in an interview following the tour.
"If I didn't know about the high unemployment rate, I wouldn't have known it by the community because it's kept up so well," she said.