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Native Lands, Natural Resources

The University of Montana School of Journalism 2011

For countless generations, American Indians relied on natural resources to survive. Not only did they use these resources for food and shelter, their culture and spirituality were centered on the land.

As settlers moved west, ownership of those resources became the spark for many battles. Ultimately, Indians were forced onto reservations, ceding vast territory to the government. In return, the Indian tribes got concessions and an understanding that their lands were not to be infringed upon by new settlers. But over time the pressures increased on native people, settlers wanted the land for farming or the mineral wealth it provided, and the size of many reservations started to shrink.

Although much of the Native American way of life was lost, connections to the land remain a large part of the culture. In this report, students in the University of Montana School of Journalism's Native News Honors class explore how natural resource issues provide new challenges and new opportunities for Montana's native people.

Many tribes are grappling with trade-offs between a traditional way of life and opportunities for economic development. On the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, the tribal council is exploring coal development. The Fort Peck Reservation is anticipating an oil boom. The Crow tribe is working to preserve the rights to water on their land, while on the Flathead Reservation, tribal scientists are trying to save the native bull trout from extinction. Fort Belknap is raising buffalo and using the sacred animals in new ways to provide money for their tribe. On the Blackfeet Reservation, tribal members are continuing to use native plants for medicinal remedies and to pass on their knowledge to succeeding generations. Engrained in each of these natural resource issues are the stories of the people behind them. Their struggles and victories highlight the continued importance of natural resources for Montana's first peoples.

Download a pdf of the articles here