Tribe tussles over target range

 

MONTANA

The Fort Belknap Indian Community in north-central Montana, home to the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes, is split on a proposal that would allow the Montana Air National Guard to drop dummy bombs and fire dummy bullets on tribal trust land. The one-mile-square target area would be in the center of a 15-square-mile buffer zone that also includes state, federal and private lands.

Darrell Martin, tribal liaison between the Department of Defense and the Tribal Council, believes the money and 12 long-term jobs gained from leasing the land would be a much-needed economic boon for the tribes; the Fort Belknap Indian Community suffers from an unemployment rate of more than 70 percent. "We had a lot of community meetings and the outcome showed a wide majority for the project," he says.

"I don't know who they're kidding," says Ina Nez Perce, manager for the tribe's Environmental Protection Program. She says the public is largely unaware of the project.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Schulz, pilot for the Montana Air National Guard's 120th fighter wing, says that everything but the one-mile-square target area could still be used for cattle grazing. Because of safety issues, however, traditional subsistence hunting and plant gathering would be prohibited during training.

Schulz says the Guard is also considering two nontribal sites. "If they don't want it, we won't press it," he says.

An environmental impact statement on the target range is due out in July.

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