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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
The people at a summit held at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation Monday found more problems than solutions to bringing jobs to reservations, but set working groups in four areas to find ways to reduce the problems. “I think this is going to be the start of a long discussion,” state Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, who called the summit, said at its close. Windy Boy a Democrat from Box Elder, invited representatives of all the tribes in Montana and Wyoming to the summit. Due to weather and schedul ing conf l ict s, only the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation were represented at the summit. Windy Boy said the recording of the session would be sent to all the tribes, and all would be involved in future discussions. Windy Boy said the day-long session's recording made by New Media Broadcasting, also would be sent to the Oval Office for review by President Barack Obama's administration. Windy Boy called for the summit, to examine job creation in Indian Country, to be held in relation to with a summi t he ld by Obama i n Washington Thursday. Obama this morning said in a speech that some of the savings from the bailout of the financial industry would be used to create jobs in the United States, including tax incentives and tax credits, investments in infrastructure across the nation and an investment in energy efficiency and clean energy. At the end of the Rocky Boy summit, Windy Boy created four working groups to find ways to increase job creation in Indian Country. Those included a group to look at policy development on the reservations and on a state and national level, bringing capital investment to the reservations, finding technical assistance for job creation, and looking at diversified investment such as that used by the representatives of a holding company of the Indian tribes in the Canadian province of Manitoba. Bud Moran, vice chair of the Salish Kootenai Tribes, said the reservations have vast resources that essentially are untouched. The tribes need to work together to overcome the barriers and find ways to utilize those resources and get jobs for their people, he said. The resources including timber and energy resources like coal, oil and gas could be used through teamwork to provide both jobs and resources like housing and infrastructure on the reservations, Moran said. Members of the group early on described many problems in creating jobs on Indian reservations, especially in bringing capital for business and job creation. The fact that the land is held in trust by the federal government prevents it from being used as collateral, and that along with general Concerns about loaning or investing on a reservation keeps most banks and businesses from bringing money in, he said. State Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, who heads the Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. at Rocky Boy, said the inability to get credit is a major problem on reservations. “I think that's one of the greatest things lacking in Indian Country,” he said. Belcourt also said requirements and stipulations in government programs cause problems. For example, he said, the construction corporation is taking some 22 people at 4:30 a.m. every day to work at the Rocky Boy's-North Central Montana Regional Water System at Tiber Dam each day. The company has to pay the costs of transporting the workers, and also is training many of the workers, but has to pay them full wages under federal Davis-Bacon rules, he said. He said regulations hurt in other areas as well. Rocky Boy residents used to receive $1 million in aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, until a new interpretation of rules cut that back to $100,000 a year, he said. Another problem listed was getting training for people on reservations so they can get jobs. Lisa Belcourt said the three main barriers are getting a high school degree or its equivalent, avoiding drug and alcohol issues, and getting a driver's license. She added that another problem is misrepresentation of unemployment rates while the state says the unemployment rate on the reservations is 14.8 percent, it actually is closer to 65 percent, she said. “It is not showing a true picture of what is happening,” she said. Ronni e Joe Henry of Chippewa Cree Construction said another false picture is presented by casinos on the reservations. All but the Salish Kootenai Tribes have invested in casinos, but those casinos do not provide the tribes with a lot of revenue, Henry said. However, that seems to be holding back payment of state and federal revenues, he said. “They think we make a lot of money on gaming, but we don't,” Henry said.