January 29, 2002

Fort Belknap Indian Reservation


The Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana is occupied by members of the Gros-Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes.

Annual Indian celebrations such as the Milk River Indian Days, Hays Powwow, and Chief Joseph Memorial Days feature traditional dancing and various cultural activities.

Fort Belknap Indian Reservation



The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes signed treaties in the 1800’s with the United States which are the legal documents defining the relationship with the United States that established the original Tribal boundaries and recognized our rights as a sovereign government.

The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was established by the U.S. Congress in the Act of March 2, 1889. The Tribal government maintains jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservation including all rights-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States. The Tribal government operates under a constitution consistent with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and approved by the Tribal membership. The administration of Tribal government is conducted by the Fort Belknap Community Council. The Community Council consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer, and four additional Council members which are elected by the Tribal membership.

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The Tribal Council Chairman is the administrative head of the Tribe and serves a two year term. The Chairman and the other officers of the Tribal Council are elected at large. The other members of the Council are elected from twodistricts.

Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Districts:

1. Mountain
2. River

Fort Belknap Agency,
Counties: Blair and Phillips
Counties, Montana
Federal Reservation: Yes
Tribal membership: 5,133
Reservation Native
Labor Force: Not available
Unemployment rates: Not available
Language: Assiniboine, Gros Ventre,
and English


Total Area: 638,061
Tribal/Allotted Owned:
Other 19,691

The Fort Belknap Reservation encompasses 1,200 square miles in northern Montana. The northern three-fourths of
the reservation drains into the Milk River and consists of flat treeless glacier plains and alluvial bottom lands. The southern fourth of the reservation drains into the Missouri River and consists of rolling grassland, river “breaks”, and mountain ranges (Bearpaw and Little Rocky) which reach an elevation of approximately 6,000 feet.

The Fort Belknap Reservation is located in north central Montana and includes Blaine and Phillips counties with the majority of the Indian people residing in Fort Belknap Agency, Hays and Lodge Pole areas. The Hays/Lodge Pole area is in the southern portion of the Fort Belknap Reservation approximately 35 miles south of the Fort Belknap Agency. It is estimated that approximately 35 percent of the population reside in the Hays/Lodge Pole area and 55 percent reside by the Fort Belknap Agency and along U.S. Highway 2. The Fort Belknap Agency is located 3 miles southeast of Harlem, Montana, on U.S. Highway 2 and is the seat of the Fort Belknap Tribal Government, BIA, and Fort Belknap Indian Hospital.


The Fort Belknap Reservation is occupied by members of the Gros-Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. Annual Indian
celebrations such as the Milk River Indian Days, Hays Powwow, and Chief Joseph Memorial Days feature traditional dancing and various cultural activities. Rodeos, county fairs, and sporting events provide residents with a busy calendar year round.


The climate characteristics vary by season and year. The total amount of annual precipitation varies from 9 to 10 inches in the plains portion to 17 inches in the mountain portion of the reservation. Temperature can range from -50oF in the winter to over 100oF during the summer months of July and early August. The relative low humidity tends to make sub-zero and high temperatures more tolerable. The frost-free growing season is from 119 to 131 days.


The Fort Belknap Reservation is served by state Highways 2, 66, and 204 along with Bureau of Indian Affairs roads. There exists no public transportation to remote parts of the reservation.Air service is available at the Harlem airport, 7.5 miles north to the Fort Belknap Agency. This field is used by private owners and operators of small aircraft and is in good condition. Horizon Airlines operate daily flights out of Havre Airport into connecting flights east into North Dakota, and south to Great Falls and Billings from which connectionsare made to major airlines.


There are over 5,200 enrolled members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes, many of whom live on the 645,576 acre reservation which is located in north-central Montana. Dryland farming and ranching is a common occupation of tribal members. Many are also employed by the Indian Health
Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Fort Belknap Tribe. Tourism and marketing local arts and crafts has enhanced the economy.

The majority of the reservation’s population lives in the communities of Fort Belknap Agency, Hays, Lodgepole, and Beaver Creek. Headquarters for the tribal government, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Indian Health Service are located at Fort Belknap Agency. Shopping in the reservation communities is limited. However, the off-reservation town of Harlem is only 10 minutes away from Fort Belknap Agency. Havre, Chinook, and Glasgow are within easy driving distance of the reservation.


A rural, small town atmosphere extends throughout the reservation. School sporting events such as football and basketball are avidly supported by the local communities. The reservation community promotes various activities such as rodeos, church socials, and softball teams. Fort Belknap Agency has a recreational complex that offers such activities as indoor swimming, aerobic classes, weight training,
roller skating, and basketball leagues.

Numerous historical sites are located throughout the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Chief Joseph Battleground Monument, The St. Paul’s Mission Church, the Natural Bridge State Monument located in the Little Rocky Mountains, the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and the Missouri River Breaks are all in the area.

Annual Indian celebrations such as the Milk River Indian Days Powow, and Chief Joseph Memorial Days, feature traditional dancing and various cultural activities. Rodeos, county fairs, and sporting events provide residents with a busy calendar year round.

Wildlife management is important to the tribal members. The Tribe maintains its own buffalo herd. The reservation has abundant wildlife such as deer, antelope, big horn sheep, and elk. Pheasant, sharptail grouse, and sage grouse are plentiful for bird hunters. Excellent fishing can be found on the Missouri River and at the Snake Butte Reservoir.


Public schools are available for grades K-12 in both Harlem and Hays, and grades K-8 in Lodgepole. There is a Catholic school for grades K-8 in Hays and preschool Headstart programs are available in all reservation communities. The Fort Belknap Community College in Fort Belknap Agency offers several associated degree programs and Montana State University – Northern, located in Havre, one hour away from Fort Belknap, offers many bachelor degree programs.


Electric service is provided by .Telephone communication is availabe to the entire reservation. The Havre and Great Falls radio stations serve the reservation and it is estimated that all homes have a radio. Great Falls and a Canadian television station serve the reservation homes. Cable television is available to some areas of the reservation and more homes now have satellites which provide numerous television stations. A number of reservation residents have citizens band transceivers that are used for commnication between Hays, Fort Belknap Agency, and the Tribal police station.


A new 6-bed Hospital and Health Center Clinic at Hays, Montana with dental services are operated by the Indian Health Service for the Tribal population. The Tribe provides an Elderly Nutrition Program and Youth Cultural/ Recreational Activities. Additional health care is provided by the Tribal Health Department including the Community Health Representative, Health Education and Ambulance Service.


The Fort Belknap Indian Housing Authority manages units in the communities and on rural scattered sites through HUD Low Rent and Mutual Help home ownership housing programs. Other housing is available through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service for government employees. Private housing stock is limited.

The majority of the Tribal members live in Blaine and Phillips counties of north central Montana with Indian people residing primarily in three communities and in border towns such as Harlem, Dodson, Landusky, and Zortman. The principle communities on the Fort Belknap Reservation are as follows:

HARLEM – Located near the northwest comer of the reservation and is the closest trading center. More
services are available in Chinook and Havre to the west and Malta to the east. Great Falls, second largest city in the State, approximately 160 miles southwest of the reservation is the closest metropolitan area. Billings, the largest city in the State, is 201 miles south of the reservation. Approximately 521 Indian people reside here.

FORT BELKNAP AGENCY – Located 3 miles southeast of Harlem and is the seat of the Tribal government on the reservation. At the present time, is it largely a “government” community, but as more Tribal housing units are built in the area its composition will change. There are approximately 1,965 Indian people residing here and approximately 143 Indian people residing in the Milk River Valley area.

HAYS/HAYS RURAL – Located on the western side of the Little Rocky Mountains and approximately 35 miles from the Fort Belknap Agency in the southern sector of the reservation. It is composed of a small non-Indian owned townsite. Approximately 653 Indian people live in Hays and approximately 580 Indian people live in the rural Hays area.


The Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes desire to continue progress in providing for our people and the development of increased self-sufficiency. There are plans underway to develop natural and cultural resources to preserve traditions and educate Tribal members and non-members, and strengthen the economy on the reservation. The Tribe will continue to search for ways to maintain our culture and develop new economic opportunities for our future generations.

Environmental Summary:

Terrain: The reservation land forms include flat, treeless glacial plains, alluvial river bottom lands, rolling hills, river “breaks”, and mountain ranges.

Tribal Land Uses Acres
Agriculture 10,769
Grazing 26,301
Forestry Unknown

Environmenal Problem Statement:


In 1997, Tribal environmental staff identified gold mining on ceded lands and northern drainage to the reservation as the major reservation environmental problem.

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