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Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana

The Fort Peck Indian Reservation is located in the north-eastern stretch of the Missouri River Country on Montana’s famous ‘Hi-Line’ route.

This is the second-largest Indian Reservation in Montana, stretching over 100 miles from East to West, 50 miles from North to South across the region’s prairie lands and low hills, bisected by the Poplar River.

The reservation is home to two Indian Nations by way of the Assiniboine and Sioux, along with the various sub-divisions of each.

The tribes of Fort Peck have an estimated 10,000 enrolled members with approximately 6,000 of them residents on the Reservation. The tribal headquarters are located in Poplar, although the largest reservation town is Wolf Point.

Fort Peck Indian Reservation is home to an abundance of artifacts and other items, including a few prominent historical spots and sites.

Visitors are welcome and can see some of the key components of Native Indian heritage and culture here including tipi rings, buffalo jumps, and sacred sites.

Most of the reservation is located in Roosevelt County with some sections touching the Valley, Daniels, and Sheridan counties.

fort peck indian reservation
Image: USDA NRCS Montana

History of Fort Peck Reservation

history
Image: Unnamed

Fort Peck Reservation was originally established in 1871 to serve the Assiniboine and Sioux Indians. The land initially allocated for the Agency was located within the old Fort Peck stockade.

However, due to the fact that it was actually located on a flood plain, the reservation was relocated in 1878 to its present-day location after annual spring flooding occurred.

The initial previous efforts of the U.S. government to locate the Sioux to agencies along the Missouri had ended up in warfare, with some tribal members eventually agreeing to the agencies while others resisted.

This was the period of battles that occurred in Rosebud County and eventually culminated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

The early 1880s brought about many changes along with yet more suffering and survival issues. By 1881, all the buffalo had disappeared from the region, and this was such a major issue for the Indians that just a couple of years or so later hundreds of Assiniboine actually died of starvation at the Wolf Point sub-agency as available rations were inadequate for the needs of the community.

Severe winters and other traumas brought about by the reservation made life very difficult for the agency’s tribes. Negotiations took place in the winter of 1886-87, when many of the modern-day boundaries were established.

Around the same time, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which legislated that tribally-owned Indian Reservations could be divided into smaller sections of land to be given to individuals.

This was close to the turn of the century when more and more homesteaders had settled in the surrounding areas of the reservation which was prime farming and grazing land.

Eventually, Congress was pressured to open up the Fort Peck Reservation to homesteading.

The final turning point came by way of the Congressional Act of May 30, 1908—also known as the Fort Peck Allotment Act, which implemented the allotment of lands now part of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation along with the sale and dispersal of all the remaining surplus areas.

Eligible Indians were designated 320 acres of grazing land, which came along with regions containing timber and farmable land.

Some of the lands were kept back for the construction and implementation of schools and a church. The Great Northern Railroad also came in for some of this designated land.

Educational history on the Reservation includes a boarding school program that lasted for around 40 years, although various Mormon Missionary Schools were set up from time to time but with minimal interest or involvement from the Indians.

history of fort peck indian reservation
Image: Selyem, Bruce

Recreation on or around the Reservation

Due to its location in Montana’s north-eastern regions, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Reservation and its surrounding regions have some great outdoor recreation.

This includes top-notch Missouri River fishing along with some top-notch hunting. The surrounding grasslands contain significant populations of game birds like grouse and partridge, as well as bigger game like elk, deer, and antelope.

Special permits are usually required for these activities on Reservation Land.

If you head around 80 miles in a western direction from Poplar (60 miles from Wolf Point) you will encounter one of the country’s top walleye fisheries by way of Fort Peck Reservoir.

This man-made body of water is 130 miles long—making it the largest dam in the world—and it is apparently jam-packed with some impressively-sized walleye. Aside from that, there are also around 50 other fish species in all in the lake.

With 1,500 miles of shoreline, anglers can land huge northern pike along with trophy walleye, sauger, chinooks, paddlefish, smallmouth, crappie, yellow perch, freshwater drum, and sturgeon, with many of the larger fish coming in regularly at trophy size.

Due to the sheer size of the lake, there is every chance that you can fish here without even encountering another angler.

The Fort Peck fishery is regarded as such a prominent Montana fishery that the Professional Walleye Trail uses it frequently as one of its major tournament sites.

recreation on or around the reservation
Image: MicaelaYoung

Tradition and Culture on Fort Peck Reservation

Reservation life is still deeply entrenched in culture and tradition. This means that ceremonies and events like the annual pow wows—the Native Indian Thanksgiving Ceremony—take place throughout the summer months.

The events are believed to renew and strengthen the participants as they indulge in their annual homage to the ancestral culture. Special powwows are known to be held for anyone who has accomplished a particular goal or passed a certain milestone in their life.

Certain traditions are still passed down orally from the elders to the youth, and a plethora of dance styles are on display that follows ancestral customs like the celebration of a close connection to the earth and inhabited land.

Events are open to non-tribal members who can witness dancing and drumming, traditional foods and cooking, story-telling, and much more.

Some of the notable celebrations and events held on the Fort Peck Reservation include the June Red Bottom Celebration in Fraser, the Fort Kipp event in July, and the Wadopana Celebration, which is held in Wolf Point the first weekend in August.

Fort Peck Indian Reservation – Final Thoughts

The Fort Peck Reservation serves as an integral part of the Montana Native Peoples’ community and lifestyle.

Along with the various other neighboring reservations in the Eastern Montana region, Fort Peck contributes greatly to the sustenance and continuing development of the land and people for the better good of the tribes.

The Reservation also stands as a testament to the culture and heritage of the people on the land and is thus a fantastic place to visit for non-tribal members interested in finding out more about the lifestyle and history of the people there.

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