The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reopen the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park, a year after the council unilaterally closed it to protect tribal members from COVID-19.
The vote to reopen the border comes the same day the tribe announced that it has vaccinated 95% of eligible residents on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. As of March 17, 6,693 people have been vaccinated on the reservation. The tribe recently moved to Phase 3 of its reopening plan.
“With the move to Phase 3 as well as consultation with medical authorities and the high rate of vaccination on the Blackfeet Reservation, the Council felt that it was time to allow the east entrance to open,” said Public Information Officer James McNeely.
Glacier Park was closed for much of last spring before reopening in June. However, the Blackfeet threw a curveball at that reopening by deciding to keep its border with the park closed indefinitely. That decision prevented access to many popular sites in the park, including Many Glacier, the Two Medicine Valley and the eastern half of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Having half of the park closed presented a number of challenges for managers and, most notably, added pressure to the already congested Going-to-the-Sun Road. Late last year, Superintendent Jeff Mow called it “a summer like no other.” The park and local businesses have been anxiously waiting to see what the tribe would do this year.
In a press release, the tribe said it will still require people to wear masks when social distancing is not possible on the reservation. McNeely noted that it might be a “couple years” before that is lifted.
Since March 2020, nearly 1,400 Blackfeet residents have gotten COVID-19 and 47 tribal members have died (40 members on the reservation and seven outside of it). As of March 15, there were two active cases on the reservation.
The Lake County Commission sent a letter to Gov. Greg Gianforte informing him that the local sheriff’s office and criminal justice system would no longer handle felony law enforcement on the reservation. The agreement between the state and tribe is one-of-a-kind in Montana.
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