Philip Belangie: The coverage sheds light on the Indian country

Perhaps the greatest compliment a reader can give an author is that they make an impression.

An image sticks in your head and the reader has another encounter that broadens his horizons. Reporter Nora Mabie has that talent. I have never written a letter to an editor thanking you for the value your reporters bring to the reader. As a longtime consumer of Montana newspapers, Nora’s coverage of Indian Country in Montana is outstanding.

To grasp the depth of my support, reach into your archives and read how her work compares to that of generations of Indian country observers before her. Most of the time, the articles just focus on tribal dysfunction, government bribery, multiple freeway deaths, an occasional basketball triumph, and of course, the pow-wow. It has been my experience that we have come a long way in our acceptance of diversity in Montana and our understanding of tribes; However, we also have a long journey ahead of us. Somehow, through her choice of stories and portrayal of the people and culture, Nora has set a new standard in reporting that is characterized by her honesty. More importantly, in each story she adds to our collection of knowledge and gives the reader, even the informed reader, just a little more understanding of the Montana Indian country.

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I make these comments with some understanding of Montana and the Montana tribes. When I was young, there was no Indian education for everyone. While living in Missoula, with my family living in the Bitterroot, and traveling to Flathead Lake to play, my understanding of Native Americans, if they even came to mind, was vague and fuzzy at best. They really were out of sight, out of mind.

There were family histories from Indian Country, but they were rooted in the past. At worst, Indians didn’t work, were always late, never did anything with the land, and were the image that Hollywood presented. My understanding was based on stereotypes and dominant white Montana racism. Self-discovery can be a great adventure after the initial pain of facing your lies.

Part of my adventure was working in Indian country developing programs at the Montana Department of Commerce. Over the years, our programs have provided and continue to provide millions of dollars to support individual tribal entrepreneurs and community and tribal business development organizations, as well as to coordinate economic development goals with tribal governments and the Office of the Governor. I met and worked with hundreds of tribesmen. It’s difficult to put my experience into words; All I can say is that after all these years I am in awe of the way the tribes think and feel.

Honestly, my only point in the paragraph above is to add value to my vote. For twenty years I have had the good fortune of meeting people and traveling in Indian Country. Often, Nora will highlight a tribe member I’ve met or a tribal program we’ve supported. I have never met anyone in my travels who had an eye for the Indian country that Nora developed. She always reflects the understanding and happiness that one finds when working with remarkable people.

I don’t know Nora but I will say this. In my experience, a few good people in the military and manufacturing and in the Indian country make all the difference in change. You should be humbled that you have a reporter of her insight and skill. No doubt it will one day expand its capabilities, I suspect, with a national readership. Appreciate her work, support her and hold on to her as long as she is willing to share her stories.

Philip Belangie was the Entrepreneur Development Manager in the Montana Department of Commerce from 2001 to 2019. Working with tribesmen, he identified loopholes that prohibited a tribesman from starting a business. He created solutions by designing and implementing key funding programs and providing funding to tribal community organizations that supported private sector businesses. His email address is [email protected]

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