FW: Blackfeet[sic]Hard-Pressed To Take Care Of Newcomers
jcraven at SPAMclark.edu
Wed Dec 15 17:13:12 MST 1999
From: Long Standing Bear Chief [mailto:pikanii at hotmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 15, 1999 3:48 PM
To: jcraven at clark.edu; egray at med.unr.edu
Subject: Blackfeet Hard-Pressed To Take Care Of Newcomers
Hey folks try this story for size. Give me your reaction.
>From: Pat Morris <wlfskr at leba.net>
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>To: wlfskr at leba.net
>Subject: [aim-talk] Blackfeet Hard-Pressed To Take Care Of Newcomers
>Date: Mon, 13 Dec 1999 12:36:02 -0500
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> >Welfare vs. Way of Life
> >By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian
> >Influx on the Blackfeet reservation
> >BROWNING - Roger Ground's phone is ringing.
> >It used to sit quietly there on his desk for days on end, but now it
> >rattles the calm two, three, four, sometimes five times every day, with
> >people calling from across the nation.
> >"They're calling because they want to come live in Browning," he said.
> >"They're calling to ask if I can help find them a house."
> >They are calling, Ground said, because they are eager to move onto the
> >Blackfeet Indian Reservation, attracted by the high unemployment and a
> >shocking lack of jobs that is resulting in a flood of immigrants.
> >Ground, who just took over as acting housing director for the tribe,
> >understands why 70 percent unemployment could be enticing, but he simply
> >doesn't have enough roofs to cover the demand.
> >"It's welfare reform," he said. "That's why they're coming; 99 percent of
> >these people calling are out of work. When people living in the cities
> >lose their welfare because they haven't found a job, they start looking
> >for places like Browning to dwell. But we don't have enough dwellings."
> >In 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform act, forcing recipients to get
> >job within a certain time frame or else lose their benefits. Individual
> >states chose different time scales; Montana, for instance, chose a
> >five years, while states like Washington and California chose a more
> >hard-nosed two-year limit.
> >But written into the reform package was a little-known exclusion - if you
> >lived in Indian Country, in a community where unemployment was greater
> >than 51 percent, then the clock stopped ticking.
> >If you live in a place like Browning, tucked into the Blackfeet
> >Reservation with unemployment rates averaging nearly 70 percent and
> >climbing as high as 80 or 85 percent in the depths of winter, then your
> >benefits are safe. You cannot be removed from the welfare rolls, even if
> >you don't find a job.
> >And now, with many in Washington and California and elsewhere on the
> >of losing their welfare livelihood, Roger Ground's phone is ringing.
> >"We were already backed into the corner," said tribal Chairman Bill Old
> >Chief. "We can't afford this exodus from the cities. I was wondering why
> >everyone and their uncle was coming back to the reservation; why this
> >great immigration? Was it the beautiful lands, the mountains, the clean
> >water? Lo and behold, it's because they're being cut off from welfare in
> >Spokane and Tacoma."
> >The problem is actually many problems, he said. The first thread is a
> >people just three or four generations removed from their traditional
> >Weave in starvation winters and smallpox and whiskey and boarding schools
> >and cultural eradication and reservations and the picture begins to take
> >shape. To survive, families banded together, relying on kin for a place
> >sleep, a meal, a few dollars and a shoulder to lean on.
> >Circumstances forced people to share everything, Old Chief said, giving
> >the Blackfeet a somewhat different notion of what we call welfare.
> >Even today, Old Chief said, "family" has a central meaning on the
> >reservation. Despite the tough economy and lack of opportunities, he
> >people stay in Browning because that's where their family is. And so
> >although such familial ties have kept their world from crumbling
> >those ties also have kept a large number of people in a place with a very
> >small number of jobs.
> >That, when woven together with a peripheral American culture that seems
> >neither surprised nor overly concerned about a town next door steeped in
> >poverty and everything that attends poverty, has led to the 70 percent
> >unemployment rate.
> >And now, Old Chief said, the federal welfare loophole that is causing a
> >flood of newcomers is bringing a new element to town. The newcomers, he
> >said, do not share family and community ties with others on the
> >reservation. They do not share the same traditions.
> >And so they import their own, often brought directly from America's
> >poorest inner cities.
> >"Some of them are Blackfeet," Ground said, "but they've got city ways.
> >They've got gangs, drugs, all the problems of the city."
> >Browning has recently created its first gang task force, Old Chief said,
> >and this is the first year a police officer has been asked to patrol
> >school hallways.
> >Graffiti is cropping up across town, said Fred Guardipee, director of law
> >enforcement. There are more assaults, more gang fights, more drive-by
> >shootings and more violence, including murders.
> >"It's much more vicious than in the past," Guardipee said. "I believe it
> >will get worse because of welfare reform."
> >Welfare reform, it seems, is making itself felt throughout Indian
> >Of Montana's seven Indian reservations, six are excluded from the 1996
> >rules because of unemployment rates over 51 percent. Only the Flathead
> >Reservation has been spared.
> >And as people living elsewhere - enrolled members and non-members,
> >and non-Indians - learn of the exception to the rule, they are calling
> >people like Grounds and moving into places like Browning.
> >Every social service is impacted, Old Chief said. There aren't enough
> >desks in the school, enough beds in the hospital. Social workers are
> >working double time, and everyone, he said, is scrambling to keep up with
> >the surprising immigration.
> >No one has yet been able to nail down immigrant numbers, he said, but he
> >puts the number in the hundreds, with thousands still expected. That
> >overwhelm a community that already numbers about 9,000.
> >In an attempt to count the immigrants, Grounds is keeping track of his
> >phone calls, and welfare workers are keeping track of newcomers. The
> >results of those informal surveys are still pending, Old Chief said, but
> >he doesn't need a survey to feel which way the wind in blowing.
> >"As we get closer to the (Montana) five-year limit for welfare," he said,
> >"it's only going to get worse. Give it a couple years and we'll be into a
> >major crunch time."
> >Looking from the outside in, the major crunch time appears here already.
> >Last year, the reservation was 800 houses short, Old Chief said. Now,
> >another 100 have been added to the waiting lists. The community is
> >so fast it should have a minimum of 40 patrol officers and 15 criminal
> >investigators. Instead, it has 13 patrolmen and three investigators.
> >Hospital numbers have jumped from 68,000 to well over 100,000 in just a
> >few years. A dental appointment must be made a year in advance.
> >"I just can't see why the people who lobbied for this 51 percent
> >unemployment exclusion didn't anticipate the impact," Old Chief said.
> >"We're pressed to the wall. People are living in cars, sleeping on floors
> >three families to a house. This welfare reform and the exodus from the
> >cities could be all it takes to push things over an edge."
> >The Blackfeet Reservation, Old Chief said, has the highest percentage of
> >welfare recipients in the state, and the highest poverty rate in the
> >For his part, Old Chief has formed strategies that many hope will bring
> >the unemployment at least below 50 percent, stemming the tide of
> >newcomers. He is looking at new industries, new technologies, even a
> >wind-driven power plant to sell the one thing Browning seems to have in
> >excess. He imagines Internet entrepreneurs and new economic relations
> >nearby Glacier National Park. He imagines oil and gas potentials, tapping
> >into a hidden economy beneath the reservation. He imagines a high-tech
> >medical industry and a skilled construction force at work rebuilding from
> >the ground up.
> >But the problems faced in Blackfeet country are so large they seem to
> >throw a pitch-black shadow on such diverse plans. The housing and
> >infrastructure backlog alone would require nearly $200 million to fix.
> >Thousands of jobs would be required to bring Browning in line with state
> >and national unemployment figures. And those jobs, if they can be
> >will require training and education and expertise beyond that currently
> >But before any economic development steps can be successful, Old Chief
> >said, the welfare reform loophole has to be closed before a wave of
> >immigration swamps the system once and for all. Toward that end, he has
> >called a meeting with state, tribal and federal officials to examine the
> >issue, and has named Angela Johnson as tribal welfare reform coordinator.
> >Between the two of them, they hope to aim a spotlight at the issue.
> >Said Johnson: "The state, the federal government, the people in Montana,
> >have become accustomed to us just keeping our mouths shut. But somebody
> >has to say something. The conditions are just unacceptable."
> >Old Chief agrees, and says he has no intention of keeping his mouth shut.
> >"This welfare reform is great for the cities," he said. "It makes their
> >unemployment numbers look great. It gets the poor Indians off their
> >But all it's really done is move the problem and concentrate the worst of
> >it right here on the reservations, where people are least able to deal
> >with it. Well I cannot accept that, and it's time we let people know this
> >is not acceptable."
> >He hopes the upcoming meeting between state, tribal and federal officials
> >will be a step toward bringing Browning and other Indian towns out of the
> >third-world and into the mainstream, and has promised his Nation he will
> >keep shouting until he is heard, especially regarding welfare reform.
> >"You've got to make noise," he said. "You've got to be ... not annoying,
> >but squeaky. It's the only way we'll get the grease."
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