Funding for Rocky Boy flood recovery welcome and right

Great Falls Tribune

by Editorial

The dark cloud that dumped flukish heavy rains on Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation back in June was no darker than the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the small northcentral Montana reservation in the two months since the deluge.

As the damage assessments mounted and the shape of federal disaster relief became clear, Chippewa Cree officials despaired over how they would raise the local quarter share of a $28 million damage estimate. “We were trying to figure out how to come up with 25 percent because we didn’t have it,” said state Rep. Tony Belcourt, who lives on the reservation — where finances were something of an issue even before the flood disaster.

All of that changed last week when the tribe got word the federal government would waive the usual Federal Emergency Management Agency 25 percent requirement.

“The president has determined that the damage in the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Reservation … is of sufficient severity and magnitude that special conditions are warranted,” White House announced in a statement Friday.

Prolonged, heavy rains in May and June wiped out houses, roads and other infrastructure, and the reservation’s relatively new health clinic was seriously damaged.

“It’s a beautiful building, and it’s breaking apart because the soil underneath it is moving,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said on the reservation in late June. “It’s slipping away from itself.”

The clinic damage, in fact, forced curtailment of many medical services for tribal members, to the point where a $1.1 million Indian Health Service grant was needed in July to defray expenses of reservation residents who had to go off the reservation for medical services.

News of last week’s White House announcement is “a stress-reliever for everybody,” said Jonathan Windy Boy, vice chairman of the tribe and a state senator. Full payment for the damage had been urged by the congressional delegation, as well as Gov.

Brian Schweitzer and Windy Boy, who handdelivered a letter to the president during an unrelated bill-signing ceremony in Washington.

“These folks have been through a nightmare,” Sen. Max Baucus,

D-Mont., said, “and we’ve got to keep working together with partners on all levels to see them pull through. I’m happy FEMA responded to our requests to grant these folks an extra boost when they need it the most.”

The government’s speedy action to fully fund restoration efforts on the reservation is heartening, but it’s been the hard work and spirit of the community’s leaders and residents that are the real story of the flood recovery.

We hope it continues.