Keys to the Marketplace: Problems and Issues in Cultural and Heritage Tourism

By Patricia Atkinson Wells | Go to book overview

8
BLACKFEET CULTURAL AND ECONOMIC
DEVELOPMENT THROUGH TRIBAL ARTS: A SURVEY
OF PIKUNI ARTISTS

FRANCESCA MCLEAN


Introduction

If you take the Wolf Creek exit off of I-15, follow Route 287 to Highway 89, and turn north you will find yourself running parallel to some of the most breath-taking scenery in America, the eastern front range of the Rocky Mountains. When you reach Birch Creek, you’ve reached the southern border of the Blackfeet Reservation. The Blackfeet call these mountains “the backbone of the world,” easy to understand when you see them, and easy to understand when you know that the stegosaurus spikes of their peaks rise to between 10,000 and 14,000 feet above the foothills and prairies of central Montana. They tower above the Montana landscape and form the spine of the inter-mountain West as well as the hub of the Pikuni world.

The Pikuni (Piegan, Poor Robes), the Blackfeet of Montana, is one of three bands in a confederacy that includes the Bloods (Kainah, Many Chiefs) and the Northern Blackfeet (Siksika, Blackfeet), both of whom reside in the province of Alberta, separated from the Blackfeet by the political boundary of the 49th parallel, the US-Canadian border. The Pikuni nation has approximately 14,000 enrolled members with over half that number living on the reservation. There are over one and a half million acres of land within the boundaries of the reservation; almost 950,000 acres are owned in trust status by individual Indians or by the Tribe, with 38% owned by non-Indians. In this rural landscape the population density is only four persons per square mile.

Tribal unemployment is approximately 64% for the full year, and rises to 85% during the winter. Vet because the reservation is bordered to the west by the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park, close to two million people pass through the reservation each year. This dichotomy in numbers makes clear how little economic benefit the Blackfeet reap from the tourism dollars that are spent on or near the reservation each year.

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