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Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

July 17, 2017 lawson james 0 Comments

 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Today I visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana: Mark Zuckerberg.

The reservation is a microcosm of how the pillars of a fair government, strong economy, and healthy community are all connected.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

The Blackfeet have been on this land for 10,000 years, and for most of that time they followed the buffalo -- for food, shelter and clothing. Then settlers came, took their land through war, and implemented programs that made the Blackfeet dependent on the state. The chairman told me they "ripped the pride out of our chests and back filled it with alcohol."

The US government forced the the Blackfeet to adopt a tribal council government, which lacks checks and balances that are important for maintaining a fair society, like independent courts. In this system, judges report to the council and are fireable. This has led to corruption where people who know council members can often avoid being charged or convicted of crimes.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Without a fair government, the economy can't thrive. When outside businesses invest and, for example, try to collect payment from members of the tribe, they find the courts always rule in favor of tribal members. This creates a massive disincentive for people to invest or start new businesses, which in turn reduces opportunity and jobs.

The result is a feeling of helplessness. I asked what the last new business in town was, and they told me about a fabric store that opened five years ago. The last major industrial development was a pencil factory that closed in 1981. 
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Of their relatively low employment, more than 70% of jobs are working for the government. One person told me they've lost confidence in their ability to build businesses.

The lack of fair governance and economic growth has also contributed to poor community health.
On the Blackfeet reservation, drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. More than a quarter of babies are born dependent on drugs from drug-addicted mothers (50 of 196 babies born in the last year). That has further negative effects on those children's ability to learn and contribute to the economy.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

The life expectancy here is 20 years less than our national average. With poverty and poor access to quality food, they struggle with the dual issues of starvation and obesity. Even the chairman of the tribe had some of his toes amputated as a result of diabetes.

One difficult dynamic I've noticed is that areas with weaker economies and more health issues need social services for more of their citizens but can afford them less. 

These areas have smaller tax bases from fewer working people compared to a larger number of unemployed people they have to support. By contrast, wealthier areas with more working and healthy people have larger tax bases and fewer people to support.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

This just shows how important strong economic growth is for providing social services, and how important it is to set up these services well to give people the dignity and confidence to be entrepreneurial rather than making them feel helpless and dependent.

A lot of what I saw comes back to the basic idea of freedom. If people have the freedom to do what they want -- whether that's taking a chance on a new idea or building their community -- the inherent creativity and goodness in people will help different parts of society flourish.

the rule of law, strong economies, and community health are all related. When we impose unfair systems, it is easy to get in the way and push everything out of balance.
When I asked the Blackfeet leaders what will help change this, they talked about self-reliance. They want to get back to supporting themselves and controlling the land they've lived on for thousands of years.

They're winning some battles. The tribe recently won a fight to prevent the US government giving an oil company rights to land that plays an important part in the tribe's origin story. But that fight took 30 years -- and that time could have been spent growing their economy in other ways. They also recently won control of 90% of the water on the reservation, which they want to bottle and sell, but right now that's just a plan.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Some of their hope still comes from the buffalo. They recently started a new herd and now have more than 700. It's a source of pride and self-reliance, and a symbol that things are changing.

Last month, the tribe even took a vote on whether to change the tribal council government structure. It failed by a few hundred votes, but they aren't giving up. For thousands of years, personal freedom was a way of life for the Blackfeet. Now they'll fight until they get it back.

Thanks to the Blackfeet for hosting me today. I'm confident things will keep improving as they get the personal freedom they and all people strive for.

The impact of climate change is very clear at Glacier. In the last hundred years, the average global temperature has risen 1.5 degrees. But in the high elevations of Montana where Glacier is the temperature is warming at 3x the global average -- enough to melt glaciers.
 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Since the 1850s, the number of glaciers here has gone from 150 to 25. In a couple of decades, there may not be any glaciers left in the park at all. The people here have no idea what the effects will be when glacier water stops flowing into the ecosystem.

 Mark Zuckerberg visited the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its capital in Browning, Montana

Thanks to all the rangers for all you do and for showing me around such an amazing place. We need to make sure parks like Glacier -- and the planet overall -- are around for future generations to enjoy.


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