Fort Peck Tackles Economic Development

Aug 15th, 2001 | By | Category: 13-1: Honoring Our Students & Alumni, Tribal College News

More than 300 people attended the first economic summit on the Fort Peck Reservation last April. The participants included government, business, education, and tribal officials from throughout the region and Canada. Montana Lt. Governor Karl Ohs and Fort Peck Community College President Dr. James Shanley both emphasized the importance of family, according to articles in Wotanin Wowapi, the tribal newspaper. “We want our children to stay in this state and have decent jobs,” Ohs said.

Shanley referred to the college’s programs to strengthen and educate families on the reservation (see TCJ, Vol. 12, N. 4). Developing families leads to a healthy atmosphere, which leads to a healthy lifestyle, which leads to a healthy economy, he said, according to reporter Richard Peterson.

Fort Peck Community College Vice President Margarett Campbell pointed out that the college is responding to the community’s needs beyond academics. “We see our role as helping communities and businesses expand,” she said. In fact, the college’s community services office played a major role in organizing the conference. That office includes Mark Sansaver, director of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Enterprise Office, and Craig Smith, director of the Tribal Business Information Center.

Tribal college graduates have established a reputation for becoming entrepreneurs and creating jobs, despite extremely high unemployment rates on reservations. These contributions are not always valued in standard economic reports. On the Fort Peck Reservation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs reports a 52% unemployment rate, but this does not take into account people who are self-employed as artists or caterers, for example.

At the conference, State Coordinator of Indian Affairs Louie Clayborn reported on a recent study. He said local small business on reservations contribute more than expected to the economy proportionately, as compared with federal dollars coming into the reservation area. Smith and Sansaver are now sorting through the comments made in the various work groups about barriers to economic development and what can be done about them.

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