Saturday, January 10, 2015


Persons who are wanting to follow the governmental aspect of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana (Amskapi Pikuni or Southern Piegan) probably ought to either subscribe to the Glacier Reporter as a paper or to sign up online at  The Glacier Reporter is owned by the Cut Bank located Pioneer Press with all that implies consciousness-wise and economically.  There has been no newspaper indigenous to the rez for years.

Maybe you’re “just not into” all that anyway, so I’ll quickly note two elected reform leaders, Harry Barnes who is the present Blackfeet Tribal Business Council chair, and Joe McKay, Glacier County Commissioner as well as a convener of a group working on the Blackfeet Constitutional reform.  As well I want to note two other off-rez sources:  Bob Juneau, whose formal organization goes by the acronym of BEAR (Blackfeet Enrollment Amendment Reform),  and Saokio Heritage, based at the University of Montana and publishing daily on YouTube, which is video instead of print.

Harry Barnes and his "captured" cavalry hat
That Blackfeet purists made him give up.


The council has established three goals for recovery:
1.  Reduce the cost of operations.
2.  Find new revenues.
3.  Consolidate debt.

These are meant to reunify the political split that has so paralyzed and confused everything, to say nothing of plunging the tribe into debt.  To look at the audits go to Federal Audit Clearinghouse (FAC) at, then go to the bottom of the page and click on “Find Audit Information.”  Next click on Option #2, “Entity Search,” enter “Blackfeet Tribe” and this will present all audits from 1997 to 2011.  2012 is being checked by the government.  (The BTBC is closely monitored and controlled by the BIA.  One wonders where they’ve been in recent years.)

A new Dialysis Treatment Facility and an associated new nursing home are in planning stages.  Negotiations are underway to work with the Blood Tribe Agricultural Program (BTAP) which employs 202 up there.  There are unique opportunities related to things like marketing timothy hay pellets.

Harry Barnes is a good writer and his column is a pleasure to read.

Screen grab of Joe McKay

Joe’s column, “Legally Speaking” is full of facts and figures about the tribe’s enterprises.  It’s a BUSINESS council, after all.  He lists them and gives the figures, as follows:

Glacier Peaks Casino is not a gold mine.  Net last year was $1,037,274 with $611,553 left to pay on its long-term loan.  The winnings are mostly going OUT of the community.  Probably they will never sustain per capita payments.  Anyway, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and close BIA supervision reject that idea.  But profits can legally be contributed to tribal debts.

Siyeh is a wholly owned corporation within the BTCB portfolio with its own council, which is meant to shield it from benefiting private family interests.  In turn, this sub-portfolio includes several enterprises.  One is Glacier Family Foods, which opened about two years ago.  Though Teeple’s IGA is a major profit-maker and the original store for the state-wide Teeple corporation, Glacier Family Foods is not making money, so far.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel, managed by Blackfeet Hospitality, Inc., is also not a money-maker yet.  $2 million of the original cost came out of Blackfeet Housing and will have to be paid back to them.  Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is a common business practice, but a tricky one to keep track of.  It was interesting to read about the cost of the “Holiday Inn” franchise: $275,000 per year.  The Confederated Salish and Kootenai have dropped their “Best Western” association and they are better situated in terms of population density.  The cooperation with the Casino does not seem to have developed as was planned.

The statue is "An Honest Try" by Bob Scriver
who  originally built this building.

Three smaller sub-enterprises managed by Siyeh are Starlink Cable, Oki Communications and the Blackfeet Heritage Center in the former Scriver Museum building.  All are taking a loss.  I know first hand that so did the Scriver Museum in the beginning.  In fact, the 1964 basically eliminated all income from the Museum since there was NO tourist traffic.  Bob borrowed from his mother that year.

Most of these ideas are based on assumptions from the 19th century or from small white communities around the rez, without real investigation or reflection.  One of the keys to renewal has to be reconsideration of some of those ideas.  


Bob Juneau is focused on Blood Quantum, not so much the idea of a special kind of blood in the circulation of individuals, as the idea of provenance and inheritance according to parentage, usually descended from 19th century white record-keeping.  The idea of the half-breed has been incendiary and confusing in terms of identity, but we’re way past that now.  People are “one-sixty-fourth” and a person can have children and grandchildren, half of whom are “enrolled” and half of whom are not.  As the generations disappear over the legal limits of membership and quantum-defined access or funding for education and other program, Juneau figures the tribe will be extinct and lose their land base by 2080.  That was the frank goal of the government whites who set it up.

He calls his organization BEAR, Blackfeet Enrollment Amendment Reform, which can be accessed on Facebook at Blackfeet Descendants Group. 


Rosalyn LaPier is looking at history in a different way, extending the cultural work of the Piegan Institute and the National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian in 2004 by using YouTube.  One subscribes to the daily vids.  The vid of each word is only twenty seconds or so.  Shirlee Crowshoe pronounces the words for you.  You could print it on a 3X5 card or record it on your own Smart Phone and use the word until you’ve got it safely tucked in your brain and on your tongue.  You can contact the group by email:  This sort of effort comes and goes over the decades and centuries, but this one seems to be sticking.  I so enjoy using Blackfeet words among white people.

Tribal council at the agency about 1900.

Looking back over this material, I see two built-in conflicts or confusions.  One is that the BTCB is operating a mixture of entrepreneurial capitalism aimed at making a profit from the tribe’s assets and on the other hand is operating service organizations for the sake of the welfare of the population, which would tolerate breaking even or a slight temporary loss.  Some of these things are mixed, for instance the Casino, which quite apart from the gambling, has proven to be a kind of public square where oldsters can sit by the fireplace to watch people come and go, meeting space with food service, and a landmark.  

It’s interesting to note that Harry Barnes has experience with both his successful building supply business and as a board member for 3 Rivers Communications cooperative.  3 Rivers has been problematic in my view.  I’m aware of how they struggle with people who can’t pay their phone bills and demand high deposits as compensation.  They tend to be very “white” and conservative.  Their service to Valier is always behind the curve.  When I taught in Heart Butte in 1990-91, it was a scandal.
Chief Mountain is on the 49th Parallel

The other difference I see is between official (you can’t get more official than the BIA) and person-anchored groups.  The former is often secretive and located across the continent.  Their resources in terms of money are nearly limitless.  The latter is often emotional, connected to friendship networks, and in Montana but not on the rez and sometimes in university towns.  Not much money is involved.  There are some other “players,” for instance churches and other foundations interested in helping, however they interpret that, but I don’t know much about what they’re doing.

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