Blackfeet Tribe

When the Blackfeet Tribe learned its tribal members were about to start receiving payouts from a massive federal court settlement, the tribe wanted to get ahead of some of the problems that can arise when a lot of money floods a cash-based society.

"There was about 150 some million dollars that was injected into this economy here," says Mark Magee, the Blackfeet Tribe’s land department director.

Blackfeet tribal members rejected a measure to reform their constitution Tuesday.

The proposed reform constitution would have drastically revamped the structure of the tribe’s government by establishing a three-branch system with built-in checks and balances. But that change was rejected by tribal members. Instead, the tribe will retain its current nine-member, single branch governing body, called the Tribal Business Council, which has been in place for the past 82 years.

“Repeal and replace” is not just a mantra for Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, it’s also a rallying cry for constitutional reform on the Blackfeet Reservation.

"We've been at this for 82 years," says  Joe McKay, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.

For the past three years, McKay’s spearheaded an effort to reform the Blackfeet Nation’s current constitution, written in 1935.

Step out of a world governed by clocks and calendars and into the world of the Kootenai and Blackfeet peoples, whose traditional territories included the area that is now Glacier National Park.

Graduation ceremonies this spring became the testing ground for a new state law that protects tribal members’ right to wear regalia at significant public events. Most have gone off without a hitch — students across the state are receiving their diplomas in beaded caps and gowns, but schools are still trying to figure out how to implement the new law.