A Week on the Fort Peck Reservation, or, There and Back Again

Technically, this makes me an international journalist. For my Native News honors project/capstone class, I traveled with photo/videographer Sam Wilson (click the link for photos of the trip) to Wolf Point, Mont., in the far northeast corner of the state, the largest city (pop. ~3,500) on the Fort Peck Reservation. We were finally on the ground for a story we had spent months developing: the direct economy. When the few goods and services that exist in the ultra-rural region are too expensive for the economically depressed population to afford, and the nearest Walmart is 100 miles away in Williston, N.D., an alternative economy must exist to make ends meet. We were told numerous times that people “are in survival mode” and thus do whatever it takes to get by. So we found people exemplary of this idea, which wasn’t at all difficult, especially considering the strong population on this Facebook group.

Sam Wilson shoots B-roll on a hill north of Brockton, Mont., 35 miles east of Wolf Point.
Sam Wilson shoots B-roll on a hill north of Brockton, Mont., 35 miles east of Wolf Point.

 

We traveled a 120-mile round trip in a woman’s truck as she hauled her 1,800 lb. quarter horse to be traded for reclaimed lumber and $1,500. We were told by many at the Fort Peck Community College that life is paycheck-to-paycheck, and scrounging for necessites is a daily reality. We found empty shelves at Albertsons in Wolf Point and $6 gallons of milk in Poplar. We visited with the tribal chairman, Floyd Azure, as he showed us around his garage and explained the economic situation and rising rents due to the Bakken Formation. We found people that traded food stamps for gas money. We watched a trio of brothers in their fifties install a transmission in their sister’s Ford Windstar. We waited with a 19-year-old mother in her apartment for a high chair to be delivered (via the Facebook group) for her 2-month-old. We watched a dozen children, 8-14, play basketball under dim lights as a man bought meth in a house across the street.

Looking south on Highway 2, the main corridor crossing the Fort Peck Reservation
Looking south on Highway 2, the main corridor crossing the Fort Peck Reservation east to west.

For tweets about all the teams’ trips across the state, scroll through #NativeNewsMT and follow @NativeNewsMT.

For the final product of my trip, your patience will be rewarded when the site goes live around May 18 (graduation day) and the full-color insert runs in the Missoulian and Billings Gazette some Saturday not far away…

In the meantime, read my latest Keep Missoula Weird column and scan the Kaimin’s exclusive and breaking package of budget cuts stories that I contributed to. Not to mention the editorial I penned calling on greater administrative transparency, action from the legislature and higher in-state tuition to fix the funding gaps. I entered that beauty into a contest with the hopes of winning $1,000; I’ll have to wait until the Dean Stone Awards Banquet to know my (or, the editorial ‘our’) fate. Until then~

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