By Tim Eberly
Employees from RJS & Associates Inc., crafted applications requesting federal grants for school systems on three different Indian reservations in Montana in 2000.
Of those financial requests for the development of 21st century learning centers programs which provide after-school activities for students Fort Belknap's Indian Reservation was the only applicant to receive the money.
A year later, extra funds became available and Rocky Boy and Fort Peck were granted the federal money unbeknownst to them. Salesman wanting to get a piece of the money in exchange for supplies to build the learning centers called the two reservations, sparking a whirlwind of confusion.
"They said What are you talking about? We didn't get funded,' " said Jim Swan, the chief operating officer at RJS & Associates Inc., a private for-profit consulting firm. "They didn't know they had been funded until some salesman had called."
For whatever reason, Rocky Boy and Fort Peck were not notified as recipients of the grant. However, neither reservation was complaining.
"We ended up going 3-for-3 on that," said Swan, whose Rocky Boy-based company is Native American-owned, operated and staffed.
For those projects, Fort Peck and Rocky Boy obtained $1 million and $720,000, respectively. During the 2001 fiscal year, RJS & Associates recorded a banner year, securing nearly $20 million for its clients, 95 percent of which are Native American.
"We've done the same thing we've always been doing: look at the need, look at the funding available and then write the proposal," said Swan, whose firm has represented Rocky Boy and Box Elder schools and Rocky Boy's Stone Child College for at least five years. The Chippewa Cree Tribe signed on as a client almost two years ago. "It's just that we happened to have gotten more and bigger grants funded this year."
Most of the capital RJS & Associates brings to the reservations $12 million this fiscal year is funneled into programs for education, economic development, welfare, housing renovation, drug prevention and many others.
Using money from a federal grant, Stone Child College is currently building a new campus three miles west of its current campus, which is located in the hub of Rocky Boy's Reservation.
"The fact that I can drive by that construction site and see a tangible result of the work that we've done is probably the most significant success story of the year," Swan said.
Grant money will also be used in the upcoming months for Stone Child's library ($2,000) and Rocky Boy's housing ($2.5 million).
"We've always considered that our focus is on Indian clients, but we don't want to exclude other clients," Swan said.
Because word has spread of the proficiency of his 25-year-old company, Swan is in the process of picking up a few new clients Montana State University-Northern and the Northern Montana Hospital.
"We've been trying to diversify our client base," Swan said. "As residents of north-central Montana, we want to see things improve throughout our local area. We want to see things improve for people who are essentially our neighbors."
Though RJS & Associates has garnered more than $47 million for its clients in the last three years, its goal for the 2002 fiscal year is to eclipse the $20 million mark $200,000 more than in 2001.
"We plan to have a more successful year in 2002," Swan said. "The economy of Montana is not the strongest in the nation, to say the least. And any time that much-needed services can be brought to Montana and create jobs, it helps our economy."