Sunday, March 19, 2006

STEVE POLLOCK: Homeboy Superintendent


Steven Pollock’s family is honoring him today with a ceremony at 10 AM on the campus of the Blackfeet Community College in Browning.

Pollock made Blackfeet history when he was appointed in mid-February as superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Blackfeet Reservation.

“This is a historical moment because Steven is the first Blackfeet tribal member to hold this position of superintendent,” said Betty Cooper, a tribal council member and Pollock’s aunt.

Keith Beartusk, regional director for the Rocky Mountain Region of the BIA, said Pollock is not the first Native American to return to his home as a BIA superintendent, but this is a first for the Blackfeet.

“I would agree that this is a historical moment,” Beartusk said Monday. “Other tribes, even within this region, have had this, but this is a first for the Blackfeet.”

As superintendent, Pollock is in charge of all tribal programs except for law enforcement and education, according to Beartusk. He manages 60 full-time employees and that will double during the summer, Beartusk said.

Pollock is a civil engineer, and in that capacity he worked for the Blackfeet years ago. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service and most recently served as a dam safety officer for the Rocky Mountain Regional Office within the BIA.

Pollock’s appointment took effect Feb. 19.


Here are Pollock’s own words as quoted by the “Glacier Reporter” in the March 16 issue: “This is beyond my imagination and beyond my expectations. I thought about the job. Is it meant for me to take on responsibility and try to help our tribe as it grows and becomes a sovereign nation? I believe very strongly this is where I was meant to be.

“We are here to assist at the will of the Tribe. No longer is the BIA the paternal father of the Tribe. The Tribe stands on its own now. It’s up to the Tribe to determine its own destiny, now and forever... so I pledge on behalf of the BIA that I will cooperate. I will assist, I will endeavor to see our Tribe succeed.

“This is really important to me. On my first day, driving to Browning to go to work, I saw children waiting for the bus, and I thought, what is their world? What is Browning to them? Is it a world of hope and promise?... I hope so. It’s our responsibility as leaders to provide that for our children.”


Comment by myself
: I remember Steve Pollock as a high school English student. He was conscientious, intelligent, and easy-going. In a climate where political tumult prompts people to dredge up old grudges and complaints, I don’t hear any about Steve Pollock.

The first Indian agents were mostly the winners of political spoils and the dregs of Civil War survivors. The idea of “faith-based” management meant that the Blackfeet were assigned a Methodist minister as superintendent in spite of early contact with Jesuit Missions, thus touching off yet another source of division in a climate already divided. Then the Indian superintendent started a war with the school superintendent, driving another wedge. Division has been the Devil afflicting the tribe ever since.

Every time I hear the phrase “Brokeback Mountain,” I don’t think of Annie Proulx’s story but rather of the actual mountain up behind Heart Butte named “Major Steele’s Back.” If it ain’t broke, it sure is sagging. The real Major Steele was agent in the James Willard Schultz days and both of them had back problems. Schultz found that “l’herbe” (today we’d say “grass”) helped relax his own back but Steele resorted to morphine. To disguise his zonked-out state, he did business through a little closeable hole in his office door, rather like a speakeasy door or maybe the doors of the early trading forts. Finally the reservation doctor blew the whistle on him.

We’ve come a long way since then. Bill Grissom, agent in the Sixties, was a earnest and intelligent man who was a genuine hero during the 1964 Flood, operating heavy equipment himself as well as organizing search and rescue operations 24/7, following up with emergency measures to house survivors, and then planning years of rebuilding. (Too bad they didn’t have someone like him in charge in New Orleans.)

There have been Indian BIA superintendents in Browning already, but none who were “homeboys.” Pollock joins many other quiet achievers. People who drive through Browning and say, “Oh, it’s so depressing,” cannot see the real changes. No one invited them to the Honor Ceremonies and there’s no reason why they should have been. This is a matter of deep satisfaction for the Amskapi Pikuni, something neither Schultz nor Steele ever imagined.

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