The chairman of the Blackfeet Nation called for an increase in economic development for Native American tribes in the annual State of the Tribal Nations address Thursday.
Increasing tourism by dispelling the stereotype that reservations are lawless places is important for economic advancement of the Native American tribes, Willie Sharp told state lawmakers.
Native Americans make up 6.5 percent of the population in Montana, and Sharp said they could soon make up the largest minority in the state. That makes cooperation between the Legislature and the Native American reservations very important, he said.
“I say together we can work and strive for economic sovereignty for each of our nations. We can work together, work to improve and enhance the quality of life for our nations,” Sharp said.
He acknowledged difficulties facing Native Americans, including poverty, unemployment, a short life expectancy and high death rates. He also highlighted the need for improved education investment, strong tribal leadership and an easing of racial stereotypes between Native Americans and other Montanans.