Native News ’14: Driving Forces


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.