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Many Blackfeet members likely felt relieved to learn the Blackfeet Tribe voted to distribute $800 COVID-19 relief payments by mail to the membership by around the end of this month. The money to pay for the distribution is coming from the Water Settlement, Public Information Officer James McNeely said, and members have until July 15 to update their mailing information.

With some members asking about funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), McNeely notes the U.S. Treasury has yet to issue its rules regarding how the money may be used. 

“At this point, it has nothing for Tribal Members,” he said, “and other Tribes may be jumping the gun.”

With approximately 17,500 members, McNeely said the Tribe is being careful to follow the rules in order to avoid having to pay back the funding. 

“The Tribal Council is waiting on the U.S. Treasury,” he said. “Every day there are new things coming up, but none of the money is being spent now.”

McNeely estimated the Tribe will be working with some $81 million in ARPA funding.

This week also marks the first Celebration of Healing, an event held in place of North American Indian Days on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Tribal Council wanted to begin healing - physically, emotionally and spiritually – from the pandemic,” McNeely said. “We’re doing better with testing and vaccines, but the new Arbor will not be ready until 2022. It’s a version of North American Indian Days but without contest dancing and outside vendors.”

There will be camping and dancing from Friday through Sunday, and a parade at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Charging Home Stampede Park will be busy with Indian relay, rodeo, flat track racing, kids rodeo and a group bringing exhibition chariot racing.

Rations will be distributed on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s getting back to what it used to be,” McNeely said. “We hope to have a camp crier, and everybody is probably ready for some relief.”

Along with the festivities, both Blackfeet Community Hospital and the Southern Piegan Health Center are offering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations all through the Celebration, with facilities located in the parking lot of the Museum of the Plains Indian. Folks from out of town will have access to the “one-shot” Johnson and Johnson vaccine while locals will likely receive the first or second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

“It’s a good opportunity for anyone to get vaccinated,” McNeely said.

Other events surrounding the Celebration include a soft tournament, a golf tournament and 3-on-3 basketball at the cages at All Chiefs Park. Many local businesses are now open at 100% capacity, including Glacier Peaks Casino, but alcohol sales will cease at 2 a.m. Friday, July 9, and resume at 8 a.m. on Monday, July 12.

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