Fort Belknap Small Business Development Center : Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Harlem, Montana

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Southern New Hampshire University
Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, established in May 1888 is the homeland of the Gros Ventre and the Assiniboine Tribes. Fort Belknap is one of seven Indian reservations in Montana. It is located in north central Montana, 40 miles from the Canadian order and four miles southeast of Harlem, Montana. It covers an area of approximately 30 miles wide and 45 miles long. approximately 3800 enrolled members live on or near the reservation. The Fort Belknap Community Council is the official governing body of the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Fort Belknap Indian Reservation consists of three communities. Fort Belknap Agency, located four miles southeast of Harlem, Montana, on U.S. Highway 2, is the site of the Tribal headquarters, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Services and Fort Belknap College, and has a population of approximately 2000 residents. Most people employed on Fort Belknap travel from other areas of the reservation to work at one of the mentioned service centers. A beautiful Senior Center, built in 1995, provides meals and a friendly meeting place for the seniors. Hays, located at the south end of the reservation, thirty-five miles from Fort Belknap Agency, is at the foothills of the beautiful Little Rocky Mountains, has a population of approximately 1300. Hays originated with the establishment of a Catholic mission, known as Saint Paul's Mission, in the late 1800's, when the Jesuit priests and the Ursaline nuns began a boarding school for the native American children. Today, Saint Paul's Mission is no longer a boarding school, however, it continues to serve the community of Hays, educating the youth, in grades K-6 and provides employment for approximately fifteen community members in positions of teacher aids, staff, bus drivers and maintenance. Hays has a public school for grades 7-12. This is a fairly new school, built in the early 1980's. This school employees approximately forty community members in positions of administrators, faculty, staffs maintenance and bus drivers. A beautiful Senior Center was built by Fort Belknap Housing in the 1980's as part of an elderly complex. The community of Lodge Pole, also located at the foothills of the Little Rocky Mountains, is twelve miles East of Hays. Lodge Pole has an estimated population of 500 people. It has a public school, K-6 and employees approximately fifteen community members in positions of Administrators, faculty, staff, bus, drivers and maintenance. Both Hays and Lodge Pole have Senior Centers and Community Centers, which provide phone and fax access to services offered at Fort Belknap Agency's central offices. These Centers are staffed by the Fort Belknap Community Council with clerical, cooks and maintenance. The economy of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation largely consists of transfer payments from the Tribal government, Indian health Service (IHS), Bureau of Indian Affairs, (BIA), Fort Belknap College, Aid To Families with Dependent Children, and General Assistance. Additional sources of income contributing to the economy include firefighting, dry land farming and ranching. Ninety-three percent of this inflow of income to these agencies on the reservation flows off the reservation and is spent in bordering communities along U.S. Highway 2, Harlem, five miles northwest, Chinook, twenty-five miles west, Havre, fifty miles west and Malta, thirty miles east Fort Belknap Indian Reservation lacks the basic economic needs for most families, the 3800 residents must travel from one-hundred miles to one-hundred and eighty miles, round trip, to fill their basic economic needs, for purchasing clothing, household items, appliances, auto sales and repairs, hardware, lumber and normal bank transactions. Other components of Fort Belknap's economic mix include natural resources, construction, and small businesses. Each community has two convenience type grocery stores, which sell gasoline and deli items. Fort Belknap Agency also has a Trading Post and a newly opened grocery store. Small entrepreneurial ventures are developing a long overlooked aspect of economic development on the reservation, the individual with home based businesses. These ventures include art-work, quilt-making, land-scaping services, logging and other services consistent with the cultural and environmental needs of the tribal community. (Author abstract)