MORE THAN YELLOWSTONE TO LOVE IN MONTANA
The Blackfeet Indian Reservation rolls across the plains just east of Glacier National Park. There’s a hotel and casino. There are gas stations, a few eateries and a museum to learn about the culture and history of the people who have occupied the territory long before the arrival of the US Cavalry.
These days, hordes of modern-day visitors roll into the nearby mountains, but little of the money they spend ends up in the business tills of the reservation’s communities.
While Montana, US, might be known internationally for recreational jewels such as Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, Native Americans say the state needs to do more to develop and promote its vast tribal lands as tourist destinations.
Some politicians want the state to invest more into drawing visitors to places of historical and cultural importance to the state’s Indian tribes – not only to spark entrepreneurship but also help outsiders better understand Native Americans.
“Folks want to come, and they want to see Native American people, and see our culture, and learn about our history.
“I think that’s going to create income when they come flying in,” says state Senator Lea Whitford, who represents Browning and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Tourism is one of the Montana’s most important and lucrative industries, generating more than $US4 billion ($A5.3 billion) annually from 12.3 million visitors and supporting nearly 55,000 jobs.
Little of that money or jobs go to the state’s tribal members.
Ms Whitford and other members of the Legislature’s Native American caucus want improved representation on the state’s tourism advisory council, which she says might not be aware of the potential for cultural tourism. They also want a sliver of money generated by lodging facility taxes to go toward tribal economic development.
To be sure, many of Montana’s Native American communities lack the infrastructure – like hotels, restaurants and well-developed attractions and amenities – to begin marketing themselves as tourist attractions. But tribes haven’t received much help to identify and develop opportunities, says Sharon Stewart-Peregoy from the Crow Indian Reservation.
They say it would be a modest step toward incubating entrepreneurship on tribal and help combat the rampant joblessness on the state’s seven Indian reservations.
“Everything seems to be about Yellowstone and Glacier,” Ms Stewart-Peregoy says.
“But there’s other places like Little Bighorn Battlefield and other historical places, which have stories to tell – and should be told – but can’t be fully appreciated because the spotlight isn’t there.”
The battlefield marks the site of one the last clashes between the US Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.