Rocky Boy Indian Reservation

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General view of buildings at Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, 1936

The Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation of the federally recognized Chippewa Cree Tribe located in the U.S. state of Montana. It was established by Congressional Statute on September 7, 1916 (39 Stat. 739, Sec. 10). Its government is known as the Business Committee made up of one (1) Chairman, and eight council-members, organized and approved in accordance with section 16 of the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984) as amended by the Act of June 15, 1935 (Pub. No. 147, 74TH Cong), and final approval of their constitution was on November 23, 1935.


The smallest reservation in the state, it was established by Congressional Statute on September 7, 1916 (39 Stat. 739, Sec. 10). The Chippewa Cree Tribe (CCT) the governing body, referred to as the Business Committee of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation was organized in accordance with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (34 Stat. P. 984) as amended by the Act of June 15, 1935. The Tribe is federally recognized now as the Chippewa Cree Tribe/previously as Rocky Boy's Band of Chippewa Indians of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, Montana, in the Federal Register, Vol. 68, No. 234, pp. 68179–68184. The governing document is the Constitution and By-Laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, Montana enacted in 1935, as amended on May 17, 1972; and February 6, 2004 to include but not limited to: (creating Article XI - Rights of Members, codifying the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 and its amendments; and Article XII - Judicial Branch, appointing tribal court judges versus the old system of electing them). The Tribe also ratified a Corporate Charter on July 25, 1936, in accordance with section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934 (48 Stat. 984) as amended by the Act of June 15, 1935 (Pub. No. 147, 74TH Cong).

The Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation is located in the beautiful Bear's Paw Mountains. According to the map of Montana, there are two counties within the State of Montana that overlap the Reservation, and they include: [Hill County, and Chouteau County] located in northeastern Montana, about 40 miles (64 km) from the Canadian border. It is the smallest reservation in terms of land area in the state, with a total land area of 171.4 square miles (443.9 km2), which includes extensive off-reservation trust lands. The population was 3,323 at the 2010 census, an increase of 24 percent compared to 2000.[1] The Bureau of Indian Affairs' Labor Force Report of 2005 reported 5,656 enrolled members. Its largest community is Box Elder, although a small part of Box Elder extends off reservation lands. Three other reservations of the seven in the state also had growth during this period.[1]

Rocky Boy's unusual name came about from the English mistranslation of the name of the tribal chief, Ahsiniiwin (Chippewa/Anishanaabe). His name was closer in meaning to "Stone Child."


At the start of the 20th century, Chief Little Shell III was the leader of the Chippewa-Cree in Montana. He and his band migrated there over generations from the Great Lakes area of Canada. He owned land near present-day Plentywood.

Chief Ahsiniiwin (Rocky Boy)

After he died in 1901, Chief Ahsiniiwin (called Rocky Boy), assumed leadership of the landless Chippewa-Cree. Between 1902 and 1912, they did not have a reservation.

In 1902, Chief Rocky Boy petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for a "closed reservation" for the Chippewa and the Cree, in which the land would be preserved only for them. In 1904, a Bill was introduced into Congress to set aside a home in the Flathead Indian Reservation for the Chippewa and the Cree, some of whom already lived there. It did not gain passage.

Chief Rocky Boy worked with the Republican Senator Joseph M. Dixon and influential individuals in Montana to achieve his goal. He lived mainly in north central Montana, although he also traveled to southwestern and western areas of the state, keeping in touch with the Chippewa-Cree people. He was instrumental in helping the Chippewa-Cree of those Montana locations, as well as those who lived on the Crow Indian Reservation and the immediate surrounding area. He also frequently lived on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

In 1908, Montana passed the Land Acts, regulating Native American lands. The Swan Valley Massacre of 1908 aroused outrage among Native Americans, as they were attacked while hunting off reservation, a right protected by treaties with the US government. The US Congress eventually established what was first called Rocky Boy's Reservation (named for the European-American understanding of Ahsiniiwin's name). The Indian Inspector Frank Churchill was sent to Montana to negotiate with the chief. Asiniiwin made Churchill understand that the Chippewa-Cree lived all around Montana, including at the Blackfeet and Flathead reservations, as well as near many cities dominated by European Americans, including Anaconda, Billings, Butte, Deer Lodge, Great Falls, Havre, Helena, Missoula, Wolf Point and others.

Churchill requested that all of Valley County be withdrawn from white settlement and that a new closed Chippewa-Cree Reservation be set aside there. Both requests were granted by the Department of Interior. In the end, many of the Chippewa-Cree who lived in western Montana were not willing to relocate to far northeastern Montana.

In November 1909, over 100 landless Chippewa-Cree, from southwestern and western Montana and northern Idaho (the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation), gathered near Helena to be relocated to a new homeland on the Blackfeet Reservation, which was closer to them. With the new Chippewa-Cree Reservation approved and set aside, the government redirected the Chippewa-Cree to the tribe's new home. The new Reservation was located between St. Mary, Babb, and the Canadian border, and it was first called the Babb Reservation. Chief Little Bear soon followed Rocky Boy with his own band, arriving with about 200 Cree.

Anishinaabe leaders feared they would lose the land and forced the Chippewa and Cree away, as they were not Blackfeet people and were not entitled to allotments. The US Army had allowed the Chippewa and other landless Indians to include the Cree to settle at Fort Assinniboine in Hill County, Montana. Nearly 600 Chippewa and Cree were already living on the large Fort Assinniboine Military Reservation by 1912-1913. These conditions contributed to the founding of the Rocky Boy Reservation, formed in part by land ceded from Fort Assinniboine.

Chief Rocky Boy was living on the new Chippewa Reservation near Babb with 50 to 60 people. He negotiated with the US Indian agent for additional lands, which were approved in 1916. Chippewa and other landless Indians to include the Cree from north central Montana, western Montana, and northern Idaho settled to live alongside those already living on the new Rocky Boy Reservation, soon after the Reservation was officially established.

In 2008, The history of the Chippewa and Cree of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation (available online) was published by Stone Child College.[2]

Chippewa Cree Business Committee[edit]

The Chippewa Cree Tribe referred to as the Business Committee (is the Tribal Council) and is the governing body of the Tribe. The eight (8) Council members and Chairman are elected at large; they serve 4-year terms on staggered schedules of elections.

The Tribe elected to 'consolidate' the Bureau of Indian Affairs (FY 93) and Indian Health Service (FY 94) programs under Title IV of the P.l. 93-638 Act. The historical Act allowed Tribes the opportunity to determine priorities and to become truly self-governing and to exercise the tribal sovereignty.

The sitting members of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee are the following:

  • Ricky Morsette, Chairman
  • Ted E. Whitford Sr., Vice-Chairman
  • Dustin Whitford, Business Committee Member
  • Ted Demontiney, Committee Member
  • Harlan Baker-Gopher, Business Committee Member
  • Gerald Small, Sr., Business Committee Member
  • Ted Russette III, Business Committee Member
  • John Chance Houle, Business Business Committee Member

Economic development[edit]

According to the Tribal Chairman’s Address to the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce in January 2007, the annual tribal revenue of $52 million is infused into the local economy as a result of federal programs, private business, and tribal businesses on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation. The majority of reservation residents work for the self-governing Chippewa Cree Tribe. Compacts are maintained with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian Health Service. Funds originating within the BIA [note: there is only one BIA employee at Rocky Boy due to the self-governance compact], together with tribal government, provide work for (231, full- and part-time) employees.

Other employers include: Chippewa Cree Community Development Corporation (25), Rocky Boy public schools (184), Stone Child Community College (57), Chippewa Cree Construction Company (20), Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation (14), National Tribal Development Association (9), Northern Winz Casino (70), RJS & Associates (4), and Chippewa Cree Housing Authority (25). By the Tribe’s compact with the Indian Health Service, it employs 135 staff within the Rocky Boy Health Board.[3]

In 2011, the tribe began a new business with Plain Green Loans, an online lending company. It had a staff of 25 as of December 2011. Plain Green and similar companies owned by other tribes have been criticized for profiting by making high-interest online loans (called predatory lending) to Americans. The Chippewa Cree are part of the Native American Lending Alliance, an organization of tribes that are in the business of online lending.[4]

Northern Winz Casino[edit]

The Chippewa Cree tribe operates the Northern Winz Casino. Construction began in May 2006, with the tribal grand opening occurring in February 2007, and a public grand opening March 30, 2007. The casino is located on US Highway 87, 6 miles (10 km) east of Box Elder, Montana.[5]

Religious institutions[edit]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has long maintained a mission, Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, at the reservation. Toward the end of 1999, Rev. Joseph W. Bailey Sr. was joined by Christian youth groups from around the country; together they built a new sanctuary and outdoor chapel, and started work on a retreat center.[6]

St. Mary's Catholic Church has the Rev. Peter Guthneck officiating. He is assisted by Sister Margaret Mary O'Doherty.

The Baptist mission church was established in late 1999. The church building was erected in June 2002. The Rocky Boy Assembly of God Church is self-governing and self-supporting. Eric and Amanda Reed assumed the senior pastor position in Rocky Boy in the Spring of 2006.

While most of the Chippewa are Christian, the Chippewa-Cree Tribe also has maintained traditional spiritual beliefs and cultural ceremonies/activities. The traditional Thirst Dance, more commonly known as the Sun Dance, is held the first week of July. The annual Pow-Wow Celebration is held the first week of August. Other cultural events are held throughout the year, including an annual Christmas Dance, round dances, ceremonial feasts, revived cultural ceremonies, and cultural camps.


Rocky Boy Reservation has nine settlements, eight of which are classified by the US Census Bureau as census-designated places (CDP). Most of the CDPs are located in the Bear Paw Mountains.

  • Agency (official CDP name is "Rocky Boy's Agency") - population 355 at the 2010 census
  • Azure - located in the Bear Paw Mountains
  • Boneau - located 7 miles east of Box Elder, near the Bear Paw Mountains
  • Box Elder - population 87 at the 2010 census; located on the plains
  • Parker School
  • Rocky Boy West, or New Box Elder - population 890 at the 2010 census; located on the southeast side of Box Elder, on the plains
  • Saint Pierre - population 350 at the 2010 census
  • Sangrey - situated at the edge and just within the Bear Paw Mountains

In addition, a new settlement is sited about 3 miles west of Boneau, with around 23 housing units.


Rocky Boy Reservation has a wide variation of climate conditions. Near Box Elder, the climate is warmer during the summer months, as a result of the lower elevation, and windier during the cold winter months. During the cold winter months, the Chinook Winds often wreak havoc around the Box Elder region. High wind storms often occur during the winter months. However, the Chinook Winds not only bring warmer temperatures during the winter months, they quickly melt the snow. Though, the Chinook Winds occur in the Bear Paw Mountains, their strength is not as great as on the open plains. The winds also warm up the communities located in the Bear Paw Mountains during the winter months. Precipitation, especially in the form of snow, is a bit higher in the mountains than on the plains.

Average low temperatures during the winter months of December, January, and February at Box Elder are 9, 5, and 9. Average high temperatures for the same winter months at Box Elder are 30, 26, and 31. Average high temperatures for the summer months of June, July, and August are 76, 85, and 84. Average low temperatures for the same summer months at Box Elder are 49, 54, and 51.

Notable Chippewa-Cree[edit]

  • Black Powder (c.1800 - d. 1865) was an Ojibwa ogima (leader) His date of birth is not known but may have occurred between 1800 and 1805. Ogima Black Powder was native to the Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan regions. Little has been recorded about his life. He died in 1865.
  • Little Bear (c.1850-1921) The son of Big Bear, considered Cree, though it may have been said that his mother was a Chippewa whose people had relocated from Wisconsin to Montana. Little Bear was born around 1850. After his father relocated to Montana from Idaho, the family settled in southwestern and north central Montana, depending on the season. The latter had vast herds of buffalo and was extremely important to native people. The Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) had reported seeing the largest buffalo herds in the region from present-day Great Falls to north of the area where the Rocky Boy Reservation is located. Little Bear was one of the principal Cree leaders who fought in the 1885 Northwest Rebellion in Canada. He was accused of taking part in the Frog Lake Massacre, along with ogima Lucky Man. After the short conflict ended, Little Bear fled from Canada back to Montana.

By the start of the 20th century, Little Bear returned to Montana, his native country, and began to follow Rocky Boy. In 1905, Little Bear contacted Canadian leaders to request allowing the Cree from Montana to relocate to Canada. Officials agreed and the Cree settled primarily with the Onion Lake First Nation and the Samson First Nation (this reserve includes the Ermineskin, Louis Bull, and Montana First Nations). In 1908, Little Bear again contacted Canadian leaders requesting permission for more landless Chippewa and Cree to relocate from Montana to Canada. After the Rocky Boy Reservation was officially established in 1916, Little Bear followed Rocky Boy and his band there, bringing about 200 of his own people. He took over as leader of the new Reservation after Rocky Boy's death in 1916. Little Bear died in 1921.

  • Rocky Boy (c.1852-d. 1916) Asiniiwin, more correctly called Stone Child, was born to a Chippewa family in present-day Montana between Anaconda, Butte, and Deer Lodge in either 1852 or 1853. Other sources say he was born in Wisconsin and migrated to the Montana region in the 1880s. Rocky Boy claimed to be native to southwest Montana and may have lived in southern Idaho. He became a popular leader in the early 1900s among both the Chippewa-Cree and the European Americans. He managed to gain Executive Orders by United States presidents to set aside land for two Chippewa-Cree reservations in northeastern Montana. Rocky Boy died in 1916, before Congress officially established the Rocky Boy Reservation. Some sources have speculated he was assassinated.
  • Pennato: The brother of Rocky Boy, Pennato had suggested that the Fort Assinniboine Military Reservation become a new closed Chippewa-Cree Reservation. In December 1911, Pennato and 150 Chippewa fled the Babb Chippewa Reservation.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Associated Press (28 March 2011). "Census shows growth at 4 Montana reservations". Helena Independent Record. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  2. ^ Stamper, Ed (2008). The history of the Chippewa Cree of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Box Elder, Montana: Stone Child College. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  3. ^ "Main Page". Chippewa Cree Tribe. Retrieved 2008-09-17. 
  4. ^ "Chippewa Cree tribe cashes in on high-interest online loans". The Missoulian. Retrieved 2011-12-27. 
  5. ^ "Northern Winz Casino". Chippewa Cree Tribe. Retrieved 2007-09-20. [dead link]
  6. ^ Our Saviour's Lutheran Church - Our Church

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°17′N 109°54′W / 48.28°N 109.9°W / 48.28; -109.9