Tribes Contribute Billions to State Economy

May 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 13-4: The Many Faces of Leadership, Tribal College News
By Ron Selden

Tribal college, government, and housing authority payrolls contribute about $2.2 billion a year to the state of Montana’s overall economy, according to a new study. Each of those dollars circulates approximately five times in local and regional markets, according to Robert J. Swan of RJS & Associates, the consulting firm that conducted the study for the State-Tribal Economic Development Commission. “It [tribal contributions to the economy] runs into the many billions when you look at it all,” he said. The commission is an advisory panel created by the 1999 Montana Legislature to explore ways to improve reservation economies.

Swan noted the $2.2 billion figure doesn’t include tribal government expenditures for goods and services or federal agency payrolls and work-related expenditures.

The study found that tribal colleges on five of the state’s seven reservations have total annual budgets of about $27.5 million. Two colleges — the Crow Reservation’s Little Big Horn College and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation’s Chief Dull Knife College — did not provide budget data to the investigators.

Six of the seven tribal colleges reported a total of 4,110 full-time students last year. Indian students outnumbered non-Indian students 2,100 to 551, and females outnumbered males at the colleges 2,138 to 1,592, the study shows.

As part of the study, tribal college administrators and staff members were asked to complete questionnaires on reservation economic development. “The state of Montana needs to recognize that the seven Indian reservations exist and to make a conscientious effort to work more diligently with the various tribal entities for the good of ALL residents of Montana,” one anonymous commentator wrote. Another respondent criticized lawmakers for not providing adequate funding for non-Indians who attend tribal colleges.

The $46,000 study examined tribal government and private business operations, existing infrastructure and infrastructure needs, land base and land use, employment and unemployment rates, banking services and education systems, among other topics.

The report has drawn criticism from some quarters for its lack of detail. Swan said his study team was hampered by a variety of factors, including the fact that several tribal governments were changing administrations during the study period, which slowed down or in some cases halted the flow of information. In addition, he said, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, with one exception, refused to cooperate with the study. The combined complications caused the 300-page study to go over budget by about $20,000, which the firm was forced to absorb, according to Swan. He said part of the difficulty accessing information came from inherent tribal distrust of state government.

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