Spurred by the upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentennial, tribal leaders are forming a new coalition to coordinate events on Montana’s seven Indian reservations.
Efforts to organize the Montana Tribal Tourism Alliance (MTTA) have been ongoing the past year, says Darrell Martin, tourism director for the Assiniboine and Gro Ventre tribes. Bylaws have been drawn up, interim officers are in place, and organizers are now seeking nonprofit status for the group. Formal incorporation is slated for next summer.
Nationwide commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition will officially begin in 2003, and major events are expected to subside in 2006. Some analysts predict up to 9 million visitors could be drawn to Montana, all seeking a piece of the explorers’ lore.
Tribes don’t want to become lost in the crowds, especially considering that Lewis, Clark and their entourage relied heavily on Indian help. Another aspect that must not be forgotten, Martin and other tribal leaders say, is that the expedition cracked the lid for westward expansion, which nearly decimated tribes in its wake.
“We want to tell our story ourselves,” Martin explains, adding that the group will also focus on directing more tourists to reservation activities and businesses that are not connected to the bicentennial. “It all boils down to economics, and that’s one of the reasons for MTTA.”
Clint Blackwood, executive director of the Montana Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission, told a recent gathering of tribal leaders that the state is committed to working with them.
“We don’t want to be the ones trying to tell your story,” he said. “Our invitation is for you to share that with others. We’ll help you any way we can. You’re the ones in the driver’s seat.” Blackwood said if tribes want to steer clear of commemorative activities, that’s certainly their prerogative.
“But we don’t want to sit at a state commission level and decide for you,” he added. “We can’t. You can stand in the corner and throw rocks. The other side of it is to get involved.”
Blackwood noted that three American Indians—Martin, Curley Youpee from the Fort Peck Tribes, and Darrell Kipp from the Blackfeet Tribe—serve on the statewide commission. While the clock is ticking, he said, there’s still time for Indian leaders to chart their own commemorative paths, whatever they may be.