Money is spread thin across the country. Financial worries constrain the American dream, while government spending cuts sweep across state and reservation boundaries. For Montana’s Native Americans, spending has to be stretched across vast expenses.

Over the past year, the United States federal government paid over $3 billion from the Cobell and Salazar settlements for decades of mismanaging Individual Indian Money accounts, bringing in money to families and tribes across the nation and state.

But making ends meet remains a challenge for Montana’s reservations; 33 percent of the state’s Native American population lives in poverty.

Stereotypes of money management in Indian Country focus on crooked tribal lawmakers and casinos as the only source of revenue. The University of Montana School of Journalism’s Native News Honors Project seeks to cut through the superficial image of Native Americans and money to focus on the spending issues and decisions facing Montana’s tribes.

Families on the Northern Cheyenne reservation are still recovering from the 2012 fire season that destroyed more than 20 homes. Other homeowners on the Crow reservation, especially those seeking to buy houses, face years of bureaucratic hurdles and invisible homelessness.

Tribal members and descendants question enrollment in the Blackfeet and the high cost for maintaining tribal identity. For the landless Little Shell tribe, the price of keeping their culture alive has led them to depend on volunteers, while people on the Fort Peck reservation voluntarily fight high prices with an informal, trade-and-barter economy. Meanwhile, on the Fort Belknap reservation, the cost and availability of health care can be a life-or-death matter.

On reservations, spending does not fit a neat equation. It is complex and messy. The stories here span a variety of themes, ranging from researching centuries-old bloodlines to cutting through bureaucratic red tape. Each though, shows spending as a personal, familial and tribal affair, the impacts of which affect the day-to-day lives of Montana’s Native Americans.

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