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Martz hears tribes

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HELENA, Mont. - Gov. Judy Martz received a ranked list of five nominees for the post of state Indian affairs coordinator during a meeting, in her office, with tribal leaders.

Tribes are allowed to submit nominations and the governor typically picks from that list. Clayborn held the job from 1982-89, and was asked by former Gov. Marc Racicot to return when Wyman McDonald retired in late 1999.

So far Martz has kept Clayborn but told more than three dozen tribal officials she will review the list and get back to them. A proposal to revamp some duties was introduced by Rep. Bill Eggers, D-Crow Agency.

Tribal leaders, at the capitol to attend the biennial State of Tribal Nations address before a joint session of the Legislature Feb. 8, presented Martz with a revised government-to-government proclamation they'd like her to sign. Racicot approved a similar document in 1993 that recognized tribal governments as sovereign entities and pledged a "mutually beneficial approach to conflict resolution."

Windy Boy said it includes a clause mandating repercussions for state officials who stubbornly fail to work with tribes. Martz, a Republican, promised to bring the matter up during her next cabinet meeting.

Alvin Windy Boy, chairman of the Chippewa-Cree Business Committee, asked Martz to formally support a proposal to elevate the director of the Indian Health Service to cabinet status. The position is now under the secretary's office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He also wants state government to grant more recognition to Indian stockgrowers, who represent about one-fourth of Montana's beef producers.

Fred Matt, chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, noted that while Montana tribes have multiple issues of mutual concern, many topics only affect specific tribes. Top issues on his Flathead Reservation include completing a compact over federal, reserved water rights and negotiating a new state gaming compact with the state.

Fort Belknap Community Council Chairman Joe McConnell said he appreciates that the state is trying to step up reclamation efforts at the Zortman-Landusky mine complex in the Little Rocky Mountains just outside his reservation, but said cleanup work is far from finished. He also wants a comprehensive review of state welfare programs so tribes are better served.

Patt Iron Cloud of the Fort Peck council said she's concerned so many bills sponsored by Indian lawmakers have already died in the 2001 Legislature and encouraged Martz to work more closely with Indian people and take their many issues to heart, since so many promises have been broken. Too many decisions are being made without tribal input, and that must change, she added.

Martz said she'd like tribal leaders to submit a list of priority bills so she can use her influence to help move them through the Legislature. Open to appointing more Indians to state boards and commissions and including them in all facets of government, she said, "I'll come to the table when you ask me, but I need you to be active. It goes both ways."

Geri Small, the first Northern Cheyenne chairwoman, said her tribe has significant concerns about the state push for more coal mining and energy generation in southeastern Montana. Of particular concern is development of the Otter Creek coal tracts, traded to the state by the federal government as part of an agreement to stop a hardrock mining development outside Yellowstone National Park.

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Small told Martz her tribe has ceremonial, medicinal and traditional burial sites in the Otter Creek area, and she's extremely disappointed no tribal input was sought regarding development.

Martz explained the coal tracts were promised by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and the federal government has thus far refused to turn them over.

"There's no secrets going on behind your back," Martz said. "We will not back-door you in any way. All I'm asking is to do what the law says."

Crow Chairman Clifford Birdinground said tribal leaders are examining the possibility of locating new coal-fired generating plants on the Crow Reservation and may want to develop coal-bed methane as an energy source. He urged the state to help reduce reservation unemployment, improve housing opportunities and ensure that more tribal students graduate from college.

Jonathan Windy Boy told Martz tribes would like the state to co-sponsor a statewide summit on Indian issues, soon.

Martz agreed and asked tribes to provide details about their proposal.

Tribal leaders expressed worries tight state finances may adversely impact public school funding, on and off reservations.

Martz, who has seen her proposed 2002-03 budget trimmed in the Legislature, said she "inherited a budget that is not very user-friendly." Latest projections show only about $5 million in reserve funding under Martz's financial plan. They should be in the $30 million to $50 million range to ensure the state can weather a fiscal crisis, she said.

"Cutting is not fun, and I'm trying not to do that."

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Earl Old Person, who delivered the State of Tribal Nations address, said that while hopes are high on reservations, many Indian people feel disenfranchised by the state and federal governments. Also speaking to lawmakers was Henrietta Mann, chairwoman of the Native American studies program at MSU-Bozeman and the recent recipient of a prestigious state humanities award.

During his speech, Old Person implored the Legislature to treat Indian nations equitably and with respect.

"We all want the same things for ourselves, for our families and for our people. But the question is, how do we get there? Do we continue doing what we did for the last 100 years, or do we change what we're going to do in the next 99 years, starting today?"