LET’S LOOK AT THIS “VALIER GROWTH” FROM THE OTHER END. WHAT IS THE CARRYING CAPACITY FOR THIS LOCATION? WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR LIVING HERE?
- Born here: historic immigration in boom times.
- Local family ties, sometimes the need to support older family members
- Grain farming, some of it on dry land where the only source of family water is a cistern filled from Valier wells. Other farming entwined with the irrigation business: Pondera Canal Company which manages the impoundment that is Lake Francis, the feeder system that originates at Swift Dam and all the ditches. This is the main reason for the existence of Valier.
- Businesses in support of grain farming: equipment sales and maintenance, chemicals, the elevator and railroad, trucking, quality monitoring, storage.
- Livestock in much variation: organic free-range pigs, pig battery raising (Hutterite), traditional grazing livestock, cow-calf pairs, steer fattening.
- Businesses in support of livestock: supplies and equipment, custom butcher, veterinarian, sorting and shipping corrals, horse activities like rodeo, brand inspection, predator control, feeds (alfalfa, pelletizing)
- Computer technicians and wireless service
- Infrastructure managers: electrical, gas, water, sewage systems plus the associated bookkeeping; streets and alleys. Trash and recycling. Nothing to do with internet or telephone.
- Interface with Hutterite colonies. (Vegetable raising, chickens, eggs)
- Interface with the reservation.
- Small businesses like Pony Expressions, Medicine River Gallery, Kneads for Knots, hairdressers, the Panther, the motel, the green house, the counseling service
- Crafts and arts people: painters, jewelry, writers, quilters, wood carvers, leatherworkers. This is a slower, quieter place where one can work peacefully. Most people are doing these things as supplements to other income.
- The library
- The Clinic and home support for the ill and aged
- Senior citizen meals
- Several thriving churches, two struggling. No resident ministers.
- Various kind of law enforcement officers.
- The shooting range. Are these law enforcement people using it?
- Gravel and excavation
- Highway maintenance
IF WE ADD UP ALL THESE JOBS, HOW MANY ARE THERE? HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE COMMUTING INTO VALIER TO WORK? HOW MANY ARE COMMUTING OUT?
WHAT REASONS DISCOURAGE PEOPLE FROM LIVING HERE?
- Rising expectations for housing. Three times now I’ve known of prospective school superintendents who refused to come to Heart Butte or in Valier because there was NO house they considered suitable. Twice this was resolved by the school supplying a manufactured home. This was enmeshed with the conviction that equity in a house was a major source of family wealth. This may have changed drastically.
- All infrastructure is aged, which means both the old breaking down and not pushing ahead to the new galloping technology. We’ve barely disposed of the Big Dishes and cable TV though people have long moved on to the small “pizza pan” receivers or internet streaming. We have yet to built the first cell tower for cell phones (smart phones have just arrived in Montana anyway) and now there is news about tiny cell gizmos that will replace the towers.
- Shortage of young volunteers to be EMT’s and fire fighters.
- No bus or other sort of support for non-drivers in order to access larger towns or even the national railroad, bus and air networks. The Senior Surrey didn’t get enough business to continue because people rely on family and friends informally. No one has begun a private chauffeur service, probably because of insurance.
- No laundromat. Some prob -- most people have washing machines.
- Xenophobia: I’m being nice and not saying “racism.” The other side of it is unjustified esteem for outsiders who purport to be expert, rich, etc. High school cues, people.
- Locals are saying they love the schools and feel they are excellent. I have doubts. I see the loss of many long-time stable teachers.
- No one is addressing the prevention of cancer and diabetes in this community.
- Thinking of jobs in terms of a payroll instead of a small entrepreneurial business, possibly online.
- Balky distributors: Curry’s has to struggle to make them keep delivering bread and produce because we don’t buy enough to make it “worth their while.” Yet we are prevented by state health rules from running our own bakery or even a canning business or fancy cakes.
- Personal jealousies and feuds. Oh, boy.
ATTITUDES THAT SLOW US DOWN
- The idea that one can live in a rural place with every amenity available in a major city. (There is no major city in Montana anyway. Calgary is the closest, but the border is a hindrance now.)
- Passivity: the idea that things should be managed and supplied by someone else.
- Lack of savvy about how things work, who should do what, self-reliance.
- Out-sourcing to “consultants” (Sorry, guys.) The greatest value in such studies as this growth plan is realizations on the part of the investigators.
- Ancestor worship.
- Lack of awareness of planetary issues, particularly the impact of China; the changing weather; planetary pollution; natural resource exhaustion.
- Assumptions about the abilities of local residents. There’s more talent here than the various committees seem to realize.
- Over-obedience to laws. (Surprised? It’s what Jesus called “jot and tittle” morality instead of looking at the spirit.)
WHAT INFORMATION DO WE NEED?
- What is the carrying capacity of the present grain industry?
- Likewise, how many livestock ranchers can this area support?
- What sort of value-adding or supporting businesses could be added? I suspect most will be related to distribution, pulling back from the major corporate systems like Cargill or whatever meat buyers are here. Do we know who they are? How many people are working on contract and how many have developed specialty markets?
- What has been the impact of the military for good or bad in a time of constant foreign “interventions?” How many youngsters join? Is their training helpful after they leave?
- How many houses are currently for sale? Has anyone inquired into what the no doubt assorted reasons might be?
- There was some interest in the recent meeting about how good the match is between CRP (being paid not to grow a crop) and the productivity of the land (CRP was supposed to apply to land too sandy, alkaline, or whatever).
- What would oil or coal development mean to Valier?
There’s a peculiar local (peculiar but not uncommon) dynamic in which people who already have lived here a while think they know everything but, more than that, really resent outsiders knowing things. (I remember the silence in the room when someone sneered, “What kind of words are “Ponoka” and “Ptau” anyway? Why don’t we just rename those streets?” I said, “They’re Blackfeet words. Ponoka means elk. Ptau -- usually spelled Peta -- means eagle. Historic stuff.” A strange mix of embarrassment, resentment, and realization. (Same thing in Heart Butte when a white teacher there demanded to know what the heck a “Calf Boss Rib” was. It’s the name of a prominent family. It’s also the most desirable meat possible: taken from the ribs that have a sticking-up knob that forms the hump on the shoulders of the animal.)
Alongside that, there is a kind of crushing, deeply denied pressure to make this town work because of fears survival would not be possible elsewhere. (Saying this will anger some. It’s also true on the rez.) The result of both emotions (they are NOT rational) is paralysis, the inability to think, to generate options, to use outsider expertise without being dependent on it.
I do not think that building nice houses in the expectation that if one does that, nice occupants will come, is effective. This opinion is a starting point for discussion and action, NOT reason to shut down.