Unemployment rates are alarmingly high throughout Indian Country, and Montana is no exception. With seven out of 10 able-bodied men and women out of work on some reservations in the state, these numbers can be hard to ignore.
Few would argue that jobs are easy to come by elsewhere in the United States, but the nationwide 9 percent unemployment rate — though high by recent standards — pales in comparison to reservations in Montana.
So when careers define our lives and our families, what does this mean on reservations where economic resources are scarce or blocked by bureaucracy?
Mainstream news coverage of reservations across the country often focuses solely on economic struggle, but rarely offers insight into what’s being done to fix it. This coverage fails to recognize that where there are challenges, there are also solutions.
Many on Montana’s reservations are creating jobs and business, not just for themselves, but for their tribe. Their persistence and creativity has led to opportunity on reservations, allowing tribal members to work in the community they cherish and on the land they grew up with.
This year, The University of Montana School of Journalism’s Native News Honors Project explore stories of this path to success, and what it takes to make it work on the reservation. The path has been different for each of Montana’s first people.
On Fort Peck, success means rising and setting with the sun in hopes of turning a profit for the tribal ranch. A flower and coffee shop on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation has found a dedicated market, as has the Flathead Reservation in specializing in high-tech electronics manufacturing.
For those gazing out the window of the bus taking them to and from Fort Belknap and Havre for work and school, the journey to success is a long one. In cities and towns across the state, the landless Little Shell tribe has taken their fortune and success into their own hands.
Wide plains and tall peaks separate these stories, but each is centered on the way Montana natives make a living as individuals and tribes, in spite of long odds.
PAID ON THE PLAINS - By Sam Lungren Photos & Multimedia by Nick Gast
WIRED TO SUCCEED - By Will Freihofer Photos & Multimedia by Megan Jae Riggs
A LONG WAY TO GO - By Emily Wendler Photos & Multimedia by Jayme Fraser
A RANCH HAND SHORT - By Kelly Conde Photos & Multimedia by Sally Finneran
MAKING IT WORK - By Alyssa Small
Photos & Multimedia by John Crepeau
STOCKING THE AISLES - By Emily Downing Photos & Multimedia by Patrick Record
RISK AND REWARD - By Hannah Grover Photos & Multimedia by Abigail Redfern
FROM THE GROUND UP - By Morgan Sparks Photos & Multimedia by Kyle Hollinger