Native News… And Why It’s Worth Your Time

EDIT: If you have time and can read through all of this, I’d greatly appreciate it. Make sure to click on Native News to view past projects.

A few days ago at work, a friend and I were discussing life after college. The topic of volunteering in foreign countries came up and, while we agreed this is important, we both felt there is a lot in America that desperately needs attention. Sometimes it’s easy to sweep America’s impoverished areas under the rug and instead focus on a more “exotic” location. While many Americans do live white-picket-fence dreams, millions more lack adequate attention. This poverty can be found on numerous reservations throughout the United States, where some live without what most would consider basic necessities -clean water, education, even sidewalks and street lamps.

Lame Deer, Mont.

This semester I’m taking Native News, a semester-long class that focuses on issues on Montana’s eight reservations. Reporters and photographers are teamed up in twos and assigned a reservation. The next couple of months are spent making calls, forming contacts and researching the history of the reservations before the teams head out to to interview, photograph and record. By May, each team will have produced at 2,000 word feature, a multimedia piece and a photo gallery, all which will be available online. The feature and photos will also run in an insert that will go in the Great Falls Tribune.

This year, the project’s topic is natural resources. My partner, Kate Whittle, and I are focusing on coal development on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Estimates of 20 – 50 billion tons of coal sit below the surface, prompting some to question why the impoverished tribe has yet to develop it. We’ve spent the past two days on the reservation talking with people both for and against the development. Many anti-coal tribal members cite environmental, cultural and spiritual beliefs as to why they are against the proposed development, while pro-coal tribal members point out a lack of opportunities and an unemployment rate that hovers around 70%.

The flooded basement of an abandoned house. This house sits just across the street from the tribal office.

Leroy Spang, former coal miner and current president of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, in front of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Office. Mr. Spang, who is pro-coal, hopes to this development will generate revenue for the tribe.

Quickly glancing at the situation, it is easy for me to side with the anti-coal members who are concerned about environmental and cultural impacts, but then I must remember that I have never had to worry if my house has heat or if I am receiving an adequate education or if  I can find a job to support my family. Each person we’ve talked to, whether they be for or against the development, has given a passionate, personal and powerful interview, and I am truly grateful for each of them taking the time to meet with us. Kate and I plan to head up again soon to finish our interviews.

An empty trailer on a hill, which overlooks Lame Deer’s main street.

Twenty miles from Lame Deer, off the reservation, sits Colstrip, Mont., a town roughly the size of Lame Deer, but with about twice the median income. Much of this income is generated from coal mining and electricity production.

A man bikes near the Colstrip power plant. Thanks to Kate, who pointed out this photo.

Please take the time to check out the link to the Native News site -it’s truly worth your time. Also, I normally don’t make pleas, but please, if you have the time, try and spend a few hours helping someone, even if it’s just talking with him or her. Those few hours can really make a difference.




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