NEWS REPORTS paint Montana’s reservations as depressing and rife with problems: Anemic economies. Corrupt politics. Malnutrition. Substance abuse.
Efforts to see things differently often go underreported. Each of the state’s seven reservations can count among its members proud people who see opportunities for change.
This year’s edition of the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Native News Honors Project examines the search for innovative approaches to problems on tribal lands.
On some reservations, business is a driving force. A grocery store undergoes a makeover to improve nutrition in a food desert on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. A pub in Fort Peck challenges stereotypes of alcohol abuse.
In other cases, tribes turn to their elders to ensure their cultural traditions remain strong. On the Fort Belknap reservation, a foster grandmother tries to relate to the youth at the school where she works. On the Flathead, Kootenai elders struggle to preserve the language that expresses their worldview in ways English cannot.
Even for those mired in troubles, there are visions of change. Law enforcement officers seek an arrangement that can serve the vast expanse of the Crow reservation. A mother on the Rocky Boy’s reservation imagines the life her son could have in a detention center closer to home — one already built but unused. A Blackfeet woman collects signatures on a petition to recall the fractured tribal council that has paralyzed her reservation.
Then there are those who find their identities challenged in ways unimaginable to many Montanans. There is the question of whether to live on or off the reservation: A Fort Peck woman looks back at yellowing photographs of her family’s relocation to California. A number of artists — visual artists, filmmakers, musicians — find that following their muse means thinking deeply about the role of their cultures in their work.
This year marks the 23rd Native News Honors Project. The stories are told in print, multimedia and, for the first time, as audio presentations. Some things change; others stay the same. Change can be a frightening proposition, but for the people in these stories, it is often, quite simply, a consequence of self-determination — attempts to mold life on the reservation into something a little different and, hopefully, better.