Blackfeet Indian Reservation

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation or Blackfeet Nation is an Indian reservation of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana in the United States. It is located east of Glacier National Park and borders Canada to the north. Cut Bank Creek and Birch Creek make up part of its eastern and southern borders. The reservation contains 3,000 square miles, half again the size of the national park and larger than the size of the state of Delaware. It is located in parts of Glacier and Pondera Counties.


Elevations in the reservation range from a low of 3,400 feet to a high of 9,066 feet at Chief Mountain. Adjacent mountains include Ninaki Mountain and Papoose. The eastern part of the reservation is mostly open hills of grassland while a narrow strip along the western edge is covered by forests of fir and spruce. Free-ranging cattle are present in several areas, sometimes including on roadways.
Several waterways drain the area with the largest being the St. Mary River, Two Medicine River, Milk River, Birch Creek and Cut Bank Creek. There are 175 miles of streams and eight major lakes on the reservation.


The 2000 census reported a population of 10,100 living on the reservation lands. The population density is 4.26 people per square mile. The Blackfeet Nation has 16,500 registered members. The main community is Browning which is the seat of tribal government. Other towns serve the tourist economy along the edge of the park: St. Mary and East Glacier Park which has an Amtrak station and the historic Glacier Park Lodge. Small communities include Babb, Kiowa, Blackfoot, Seville, Heart Butte, Star School, and Glacier Homes. North American Indian Days is an annual festival held on pow-wow grounds near the Museum of the Plains Indianin Browning. Not on the reservation, but adjacent to its eastern edge, is the city of Cut Bank.
As on other American reservations, the tribe runs local government and provides most services including courts, child welfare, employment assistance, wildlife management, health care, education, land management, senior services as well as garbage collection and water systems. The native police were replaced by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2003 because of problems in the local force.


The reservation includes several types of land use. Of the total 1,462,640 acres, 650,558 acres are held in trust for enrolled tribal members, 311,324 acres are held directly by the tribe, 8,292 acres are Government Reserve, mostly irrigation projects and the Cut Bank Boarding School Reserve. The remaining 529,826 acres are Fee land which is taxable and may be privately owned by the tribe, tribe members or non-tribe members.
The tribe leases land for homes, farms, grazing, and commercial uses. Leases must always be offered to tribe members first before non-members. The tribe also has the right of first refusal; all private land offered for sale must be offered to the tribe first. If they decline to purchase it a waiver is granted.


Unemployment runs very high on the reservation. In 2001, the BIA reported 69% unemployment among registered members of the tribe. Among those who were employed that year, 26% earned less than the poverty guideline. The Blackfeet tribal business council is chaired by Willie Sharp.


The major income source of the reservation is oil and natural gas leases on the oil fields on tribal lands. In 1982, there were 643 producing oil wells and 47 producing gas wells. The reservation also has a significant tourist industry. Other economic activities include ranching and a small timber industry which supported the Blackfeet Indian Writing Company pencil factory in Browning.


There are no paved north-south roads in Glacier National Park, access to sites on the east side of the park is provided by US 89 which runs through the reservation to the Canadian border crossing near Chief Mountainwhich provides access to the Canadian sister park, Waterton Lakes National Park. Both east-west routes for the park travel through the reservation as does passenger train service. Several hiking trails continue out of the park across the reservation and require Blackfeet-issued permits.


Wildfire firefighting is a major seasonal income source. In 2000, some 1,000 Blackfeet worked as firefighters including the elite Chief Mountain Hotshots team. Firefighting income brought in $6.1 million that year. However, this income is highly variable depending on the severity of the wildfire season.


Update —May 5, 2010— In a marathon session Friday, April 30, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council (BTBC) approved three major initiatives totaling $5.5 million to be paid from an upcoming oil exploration payment from Newfield Production Co.


The approved items include a $200 special per capita for all 16,500 members, initial funding for a new Browning grocery store, and over $1 million for land acquisition. It is anticipated the $200 per capita will be paid within 60 days. This special per capita is separate from the annual December per capita.

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