HARRY BARNES, CHAIR OF THE BLACKFEET NATION, WRITES THIS REPORT FOR THE GLACIER REPORTER.
(I have edited it.)
. . .I did think it was important to let you know what is going on in Tribal government. It is hard to look forward to the next year without reviewing some of the highlights of 2016. There was actually a lot accomplished. Not the least of which was the election of new Council and election of officers for the 2016/18 Council. I am very optimistic with the choices the people have made. Some new faces and some old ones. They all bring different skill sets and perspectives to the table. as long as we focus on the needs of the people and Tribe and avoid personal agendas, we will do great. We will make the Blackfeet great again.
We have been reactive for the last 2 1/2 years to what we inherited. We hope to be proactive moving forward.
We continue our ongoing efforts to right the ship after a tumultuous breakdown in our Tribal government. We adopted a three-prong approach just to scratch our way back to “zero.” We were going to cut the cost of doing business, consolidate our debt, and find new revenue streams. The treasurer reported at the last General Council meeting that she had looked back on 20 years of audits and found that 2015 was the first of those years when the Tribe was fully compliant and current with audits. Those audits are available on the Federal Audit Clearinghouse. It is our intent to stay current and make those audits available to the members.
Entering 2016 it would have been very hard to find anyone who believed we could get the Water Compact through what appeared to be a very dysfunctional Congress. We spent countless hours lobbying and visiting with Congress. Thanks to our State delegation of Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Representative Zinke, we beat all the odds makers, and President Obama signed the bill ours was attached to. Historic. The bill contains over $430 million in projects to upgrade our water and quantifies for the first time the Blackfeet ownership rights. Now it is up to a vote of the Tribal members to vote for or against the Compact. Several Councils ago a resolution was adopted directing the Council to get the best deal they could and bring it back to the members. We will be scheduling a referendum election for a vote.
We were successful in getting the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, to cancel oil and gas leases that were illegally let in 1982. This has been fought by the Blackfeet Tribe since they were let without proper consultation or permitting. We picked up the fight and pushed it through. Secretary Jewell visited Blackfeet and spent two days with us and hiked the Badger-Two Medicine (like to kill me). Many friends, Council and staff joined in this fight and made it possible for us to save this place for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
Last December we started a conversation with Parks Canada which controls a herd of buffalo which are the descendants of the buffalo that were captured near Buffalo Lake here on the Blackfeet Reservation. They were taken to the Salish/Kootenai reservation and in 1905 were sold to the Canadian government, by now numbering 700. Through an agreement with Parks Canada and subsequently an MOU with the Oakland Zoo, we released 88 pure buffalo 35 miles south of where their ancestors were captured. They are now corralled at the Smith Ranch.
We cannot take credit for the Land Buy-Back Program — that honor and thanks goes to Eloise Cobell, a tireless warrior for Indian people. It is in full swing, and over $373 million in assessed values have gone out. If you have not received an offer that you believe that you have coming, contact the local Land Buy-Back program located at the Federal Building. Time is running out. This is strictly a voluntary program, and you should educate yourself on how selling will affect you and your family.
As of Dec. 28 the Program has received over $120 million in response. That comes out to 123,387 equivalent acres that will be returned to the Tribe. Thedis Crowe reported they were seeing 200 interested parties a day. Some payments are being slowed if you have IIM account backed loans or court judgments against your IIM account.
IIM means “Individual Indian Money” accounts managed by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs will be conducting a Secretarial Election of eligible Blackfeet voters. To be eligible to vote, you must be an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe and be over 18 and you must register to vote! This is a Federal election and not a Tribal election, and so all registering and voting is by mail. While this may seem controversial, it was asked for by the people by petition. Again, like the Water Compact, the Council has a duty to move both issues to the people to decide. We are, in fact, following our existing Constitution and Federal Regulations.
The referendum vote and the Secretarial Election voting are very different, and they will both happen the first half of the year. Look for and take advantage of community meetings to provide education on this important issue. The last time our Constitution was changed was 1998 (term limits). We had just over 10,000 members that were sent background info and registration forms. These were the eligible voters. Of the 10,000, those that took the time to register numbered 1,900. Of the 1,800 that registered to vote, 897 returned their ballots. Help me with the math here, but it appears that 18% of the electorate decided a very important issue on governance.
Now we are faced with the most profound change in how we decide our future and how we will govern ourselves. How many will take the time to register and vote? Whether you agree or disagree, if you do not register to vote, you have silenced your voice.
There’s more. You can contact the Glacier Reporter. Address: 208 N Piegan St, Browning, MT 59417 Phone: (406) 338-2090. I would recommend a subscription.
blackfeetnation.com has a directory to the offices. Barnes is on Facebook.