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Economics/Industry, Health
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North America
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Native American, Montana, Reservation, USA, Environment, Pollution, Natural Resources
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Rhonda Snell of the Fort Belknap reservation located in the northeastern part of Montana blames a nearby mine site for many health problems found on the reservation but little information is available to verify the connections. Snell wants the tribal government to thoroughly investigate the problems so it can better handle its sovereign responsibility to guard the health of its people.
Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel

2004 — student award of excellence

Diversity is something not overlooked in today's world. When walking down the street it is not uncommon to see people of a different skin tone than you. The melding of cultures in America began the moment the first settlers came to this country - a unique culture that is still preserved today is Native Americans.

Within the seven Indian Reservations spread across Montana, there is one ambition that each shares: the desire to be free from outside interference and have the right to self-govern. Sovereignty. The goal is to have supreme authority in each reservation, making them a politically independent state. Yet this goal is not as easy as it seems since the government determined they can be a "sovereign" nation but cannot do what Congress forbids.

The concept of sovereignty was first recognized when the United States government began making treaties with the Native Americans that lived in the territory. The law defined the legal concept of Indian sovereignty in 1831. Sovereignty affects tribal members' lives day in and day out.

This ambition for sovereignty is seen more in terms of education and economics for the Montana reservations. Going back to their old roots. The end goal may be for each reservation to become one again and reclaim more traditional ways of living. Some other topics related directly to sovereignty among the Indian reservations of Montana include: water rights, control of tribal lands, courts, authority, health care, welfare and gambling, just to name a few.

The Native Americans of Montana are unique in their culture, something that is often overlooked. A state that is so rich with a unique society that draws ancestors back for decades is something that interests me. I have lived in Montana my whole life and this semester I want to explore this idea of sovereignty within the Native populations of Montana.

I am going to focus specifically on the Fort Belknap reservation located in the northeastern part of Montana, and tell their story through photographs of distinctive culture and their desire for sovereignty within the borders of Montana. After shooting this photo story I will be able to share this with other people to help them understand the deep culture of Native Americans in our Montana.

The photos will be published in a special report by the University of Montana School of Journalism and distributed in three state newspapers. I am one part of fourteen journalists seeking to tell the story of Montana's Indians through stories and photographs. It is called the Native News Honors Project and is in its 12th year at the University of Montana. The goal is to broaden culture understanding of the seven reservations through a 36-page newspaper style tab. The fourteen students are paired up and sent to cover an issue within the seven reservations. This year's topic is, sovereignty.

Financial support for this project comes from a few willing donors. Even then, being able to adequately cover the large expanse of Montana can be difficult. If given this grant from the Alexia Foundation I would happily give my share back to the School of Journalism for future classes to be able to use to produce their stories.

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Rhonda Snell embraces her grandson Eddy in her father's home in Hays, Montana located near the mines. Rhonda blames the Zorman-Landshky mine sites for many health problems found on the reservation but little information is available to verify the connections. Snell wants the tribal government to thoroughly investigate the problems so it can better handle its sovereign responsibility to guard the health of its people. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
The residents take precautions to avoid contaminated water, some still run into unforeseen problems. Rhonda Snell's opinion on why her children and grandchildren are getting sick is that, "when the kids walk in the water, they stir up sediment and the bottoms of their feet act like sponges and it (the toxins) goes up through their feet into their bloodstream. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Jammi Snell (right) shares a laugh with her best friend and cousin Gwena McConnell while taking care of dolls for a High School class project. Without Gwena, Jammi says life would be a lot harder. When Rhonda Snell was pregnant with Jammi three major spills occurred at the Zortman-Landsky mines. "My belief is that the mine did this to my daughter," Rhonda says. Jammi suffers seizures from a degenerative brain disease. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Gus Helgeson takes apart a cigarette as thanks to the spirits at the site of last year's medicine lodge. Every year this sacred sun dance is held at the foot of the Little Rocky Mountains. The four-day ceremony is a time for prayer and giving thanks. The Snell family believes that Jammi (along with numerous other residents) was healed by the powers of this sun dance. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Returning from an afternoon swim, Eddy Snell (right) is disappointed when his uncle, Vincent Snell, (left) tells him he shouldn't be swimming near the mine anymore. Aunts Jammi and Isabel agree. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Gus Helgeson talks with his good friend Rhonda Snell in the home of Rhonda's father. The three reminisce of old times when it was safe to drink directly from the river. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Erik Snell gives his nephew Eddy a piggyback ride across a deep section of a local swimming hole. Eddy is not allowed to play in the water near the canyon minutes from his home. The children now have to travel to "the Plunge," a 45-minute drive off the reservation. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation
Virgil McConnell walks past a car on his property where bison skulls are drying in preparation for this year's sun dance. McConnell used traditional Native American Medicines to treat the illnesses his grandchildren Erik and Jammi have suffered. Lisa Hornstein-Kunkel/Alexia Foundation