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Helping our neighbors

Rez Hope helps Blackfeet reservation people during uncertain times

By Lailani Upham

A group of 50 walked the streets of Browning over a month ago dedicated to prayer for their community and tribal government on April 11.  (Lailani Upham photo) A group of 50 walked the streets of Browning over a month ago dedicated to prayer for their community and tribal government on April 11. (Lailani Upham photo)

BROWNING — Behind the political meltdown happening on the Blackfeet Reservation the one’s behind the scenes are becoming homeless, hungry, living with no electricity or water and babies are going without diapers or milk.

The Blackfeet Nation tribal government has been in the limelight of the media for nearly two years regarding division of the tribal council members.

This story is not about the split or who said or did what – it’s about the people who feel they are being used as pawns in a political power war.

As of Tuesday, May 20, the Blackfeet tribal employees, tribal TANF and General Assistance recipients have not seen a check since Friday, April 18, and are losing hope.

There are 800 employees and hundreds of more folks on assistance programs going without real needs and are frustrated to say the least.

Tuesday morning, a group of local folks have rallied efforts to desperately fill a need to the neighboring Blackfeet Reservation.

Rez Hope a small non-profit organization, has put a shout to a community Facebook page to get fundraising and donations to many families that have not received a pay check in nearly a month from the Blackfeet Tribe.

They are collecting from the Flathead Reservation area and will be transporting items and donation on Sunday, May 25.

Glacier Electric, who services the Browning and Cut Bank area, say they have been receiving donations to help folks keep power, however the amount is not reaching every household.

“We are getting donations and applying where needed. We appreciate everyone who are helping our members,” stated Virginia Harman, communications manager for Glacier Electric.

One elderly lady on disability said her next-door neighbor, a tribal employee, had their water shut off and is doing what she can to allow them to take water from her. “I’m on social security and can’t do much, but every little bit helps.”

Upset tribal member Denise Heavyrunner stated that tribal council leaders - “legal and illegal” - have caused much turmoil, stress, grief and tension in the community, “It’s unbelievable,” she said.

She added that the council members would be left with a brand of “poor leadership, greed for power, lying, stealing and allowing their Blackfeet people to go without.”

Carrie Lynn Bear Chief, tribal employee, said it came to a point where she and many other employees were at the Office of Public Assistance signing up for food stamps, a task many thought they would not have to do. “People looked so sad, because many tribal employees give back to the community in so many ways and it’s difficult for us to be on the side of needing help.”

The shock and instability is rampant throughout the community, it’s not only hitting that community but the overflow has reached the Flathead community.

A member of the Rez Hope group and also a CSKT member stated she has close relatives on the Blackfeet and due to the non-payment they are not able to travel to be with their mother who is the hospital on this side of the mountains.

Another Blackfeet tribal employee of 19 years who chooses to remain anonymous shared the fear or being fired or retaliated against, “As a Tribal employee I have never ever experience anything so terrible as this. It’s so senseless. It’s mind blogging. I am at lost for words almost to describe what is going on or how I personally am feeling lately.”

She added that, “But amidst all this I still have some hope deep inside that these two factions will open their minds and hearts to the turmoil they’re causing and say okay let’s call a truce and come to an agreement, and most of all get everyone paid.”

“At this point and time I am just trying to keep my head above the water, but if this keeps up I am not sure what will happen. I did sign up for unemployment yesterday, job attached, but not sure when and if I’ll even get it. Funny thing when I called the Unemployment Insurance, a lady from Helena office, and I asked her if I could sign up - she told me ‘Yes, just go online and do a claim, we are still trying to figure out what to do with you all guys up there,’” the long-time employee stated. “She knew what was going on here,” she added.

Several sources have stepped to assist in donations in the Browning area.

Glacier Electric is taking donations and prefer donation to be specified to a person or you may identify the donation to go to tribal employee or tribal TANF members.

As of Tuesday afternoon Glacier Electric received a significant amount from Town Pump to help several households from getting power shutoff, stated Harman.

For Glacier Electric donations call (406) 338-5400.

Contact Northwestern Energy for heat and gas donations at (406) 432-2275.

The Browning Evangelistic Center church, and the Eagle Shield Center, are accepting donations for distribution. Call Browning Evangelistic Center at (406) 338-2824; and Eagle Shield Center at (406) 338-7257.

For the Rez Hope organization on the Flathead Reservation donations contact Eska Wood at (406) 317-3502; or email her at Seminole.mommy@gmail.com; or Judy Gobert at (406) 830-6364; judygobert05@gmail.com.

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