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Montana tribes contribute $1 billion to economy

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A new report says the tribes in Montana contribute about $1 billion toward the state's economy.

The state-funded study, published in the latest issue of Montana Business Quarterly, is considered a first step in identifying the sources and uses of tribal funds. Information came from audited financial reports and government documents for Montana's seven reservations and the landless Little Shell Band of Chippewa.

''This is a first step in evaluating the impact of the tribes' monetary contributions'' to Montana, said Shawn Real Bird, chairman of the state tribal commission. ''In growing the state's economy, it is important we acknowledge the tribes' contributions.

Eleanor Yellow Robe, who lives on the Rocky Boy's Reservation, wrote the report after doing three years of research while a student at the University of Montana.

Paul Polzin, director of UM's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, edited the final report.

''Montana's American Indian tribes have long been important components of the state's political and social landscape,'' Polzin said. ''In an initial report like this, credibility is of paramount importance because this is the first time putting it all together.''

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He said the numbers are larger than many people thought and document what tribal leaders have long suspected: direct and indirect activities have a lot of zeros behind them.

The information gathered is limited to tribal, federal and state sources. It does not include money from privately owned businesses operating on the reservations.

About 69,300 people in Montana, or 7 percent of the state's population, are tribal members. Montana's reservations encompass about 8,626 of the state's 147,046 square miles.

State Sen. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, said the information will help in discussions with tribal and legislative leadership, especially in matters of economic development and education.

''It was a good report,'' Juneau said. ''And it's the first time I've seen such a detailed report from our tribal communities.''

According to the study, the Flathead Reservation had the greatest share of economic activities among the reservations at $317 million. Fort Belknap had the least at $76 million, or about 7.4 percent. The landless Little Shell Tribe had economic activities of about $204,600.