Creating a successful economic future in northern Montana through tourism
George Horse Capture Jr.
The people of the Nakoda and Aaniiih Nations in north central Montana have a saying about our home. We often say this land is as close to heaven as you are going to get.
For many years we have invited visitors to experience Fort Belknap. We have opened our reservation for others to learn our history and explore our water and mountains. We do this because we are proud of where we live and of our culture. Increasing tourism is one solution to bring more sustainable economic opportunities to our communities and build a better future for our children.
But honest work takes time. Our reservation shares the same hurdles as other communities on the Hi-Line who are working to promote the Missouri River Country. We are not very close to established visitor destinations and our infrastructure needs work to handle more people. However, I’m a great believer there is opportunity for everyone in our region to address these challenges and diversify our collective economy.
As the new director of Aaniiih Nakoda Tours / Discover Fort Belknap, we have much planned and many ideas. That work includes continuing to improve our visitor infrastructure in the Fort Belknap Indian Community. It includes building more recreation opportunities like hiking trails and better promoting the experiences we are known for. Most importantly, it means continuing to build relationships with our neighbors, so we can all promote our region and expand the length of our visitor season.
I take much comfort in knowing we are not alone in this work. Our neighbor, American Prairie Reserve is working hard to promote this region and have been busy building visitor infrastructure like campgrounds and more recreation opportunities. They are partnering with downtown Lewistown to bring a new National Discovery Center to that community. They are working with educational groups in Montana to introduce more kids to the great outdoors and help them develop a land ethic. They are organizing volunteers to restore and rehabilitate historical structures.
And, as more people learn about opportunities to explore northcentral Montana, we need to be equipped to capture this opportunity. That’s why I’m grateful for a recent collaboration with American Prairie Reserve and the National Association for Interpretation to train local people from our community to better interpret what visitors experience and discover.
In early December, several members of Fort Belknap Indian Community spent a week at American Prairie Reserve’s Enrico Education & Science Center. They joined the reserve staff to receive training to become Certified Interpretive Guides. These members received the nationally recognized certification from the NationalAssociation for Interpretation, which is designed for anyone in the interpretive field to help them better deliver education at visitor centers, nature centers, parks, museums, and guide companies.
This is good news for Fort Belknap and the future of Aaniiih Nakoda Tours / Discover Fort Belknap. This is just one example of this community’s work with American Prairie Reserve over the years, and yet is just the beginning of what we hope to do.
I am a great believer there is demand for more visitors to experience what we have to offer. I have personally interpreted the prairie landscape for visitors to Fort Belknap and nearby natural areas for decades. When people see this land they open their eyes. They eat our food and they meet our people. I believe they go home changed for the better.
I want more visitors to not just experience Fort Belknap, but also many other wonderful communities like Malta, Havre, Chinook, Zortman, Landusky, and Lewistown. The things I want for my grandkids, I want it for our neighbors’ grandkids too. We can all work together for a better future because we are in this together.
George ‘Junior’ Horse Capture, Jr. is director of Aaniiih Nakoda Tours, Discover Fort Belknap and has been an interpretive guide for a number years.