Tribal leaders from around Montana gathered in Missoula this afternoon, to tell the chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs committee what they think is needed to boost economic development in Indian country.
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and Montana Senator Jon Tester hosted the listening session at the University of Montana law school. Many of the speakers echoed the view of the chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, Joe Durglo, that federal budget cuts are hindering Native American economic development - and hurting the poorest of the poor.
"I'd argue that tribal nations have been in a great depression since treaty times," said Durglo."Our employment levels, health status and personal wealth are among the lowest in the United States...It is our firm position that programs serving the poorest of the poor, should be exempt from sequestration."
Chippewa Cree tribal chairman Rick Morsette outlined infrastructure needs on his reservation, including a new water treatment facility. Morsette says people are getting sick from contaminated water.
Fort Peck tribal executive board member Stony Anketell also urged more federal funding for infrastructure, education and housing. And he wants more bison transferred from Yellowstone Park to the northern Montana reservations.
"Because of the moral value," said Anketell." I don't want it to stop."
Although the tribal representatives didn't mince words about their needs, they thanked Senators Tester and Cantwell for the opportunity to meet with them.