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Two-state leaders council reorganizes

BILLINGS, Mont. - Reorganization of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council will allow subcommittees to keep the organization connected to the grass-roots needs of the tribes and give them more control.

In a Feb. 27 meeting here the council unanimously passed a resolution creating 11 subcommittees and ratifying the reappointment of Chippewa Cree Chairman Jonathan Windy Boy, who will serve as chairman until Jan. 2003. The Blackfeet, Shoshone, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne and the Chippewa-Cree tribal councils were represented.

Once tribal leaders get all the basic groundwork done on local issues, they'll bring the items to the proper subcommittee, Windy Boy said in an interview.

He said regular quarterly council meetings will be scheduled, rather than monthly meetings, to allow time for the subcommittees to conduct business. Quarterly meetings also will give him more freedom and time to visit each reservation.

Subcommittees are the MT-WY Indian Stockgrowers Association, welfare reform, Native American Advisory Council, MT-WY Indian Health Board, law enforcement/tribal judges association, education, elder issues, Internet/communications/newspaper, economic development, natural resources, highways/roads.

"Each individual committee can conduct business however they decide, with conference calls and at least monthly meetings. They are only going to be as strong, vocal and pro-active as that chair of that subcommittee will be," he said.

By the March 22 council meeting in Billings, the council will determine the chairman of each committee.

"It will not only enhance the organization, it will allow tribes to get more involved because each tribe will be represented in each sub-committee, so each committee will have 10 members.

"We'll have a grass-roots order. It'll be up to each sub-committee to address the collective local issues," Windy Boy said as they move from the local to regional and national levels. "It'll give us an opportunity to address area issues to particular areas and become more effective, while giving us an opportunity to pursue our efforts in moving forward with our coalition of large land-based tribes.

"To bring each issue to the forefront, each subcommittee will provide quarterly reports at the regular meeting ... resolutions or action items, because each tribe will be involved in each subcommittee and will all be able to speak for their tribes."

In the future, organizations, presenters and tribal members who want to meet with the tribal leaders will have to contact the council's executive director Gordon Belcourt, who will direct them to the appropriate subcommittee, he said.

Chairmen will be responsible for providing technical assistance to their subcommittee.

The council consists of representatives of eight tribal governments in Montana and two in Wyoming.

"For the three years since we've been on the council, we've submitted drafts for reorganization of the tribal leaders council," said Fort Belknap Community Council President Joe McConnell. In a draft resolution, Fort Belknap recommended that the leaders council be renamed to United Indian Nations of Montana and Wyoming and that subcommittees be formed, he said.

"Indian country is at a crossroads right now. We have 10 voices. We need one organization that carries out that voice."

A Montana-Wyoming Tribal Youth Council is being developed to allow an opportunity for youth councils to mirror the tribal leaders council. "It is like a mentor program," Windy Boy said.

The youth will attend meetings and work hand and hand with members of all the subcommittees with the council as an umbrella.

The council will work with former Congressman Pat Williams and the University of Montana's Center for the Rocky Mountain West to create an institute for training assistance.

"The university has expressed great support for the development of the institute," said Williams, senior fellow for the regional humanities center. "Everyone involved intends for it to become a reality, but it's still on the drawing board.

"It'll look like we will hold at least one conference and likely more each year, attended by leaders of the various Montana and Wyoming tribes. Here at the center we will provide the education that the tribal leaders tell us is important to them.

"As we see it the institute will be a part of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and the tribes will contract for the services," Williams said.

"This will prepare our newly elected council members, who are new in the arena, and educate them on basic issues, as well as the youth council to be educated on the issues at hand," Windy Boy said.