The Great Northern Route

The 1.5-million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation, stretching north to the Canadian border along the eastern border of Glacier National Park, is a weather-beaten land home to 17,321 members of what was once the most powerful nation on the Northern Plains. The Blackfeet, whose nomadic lives took them all over the plains in pursuit of buffalo, were feared and respected for their fighting and hunting abilities, though contact with white traders brought smallpox, alcoholism, and other diseases that devastated the nation. Their strength in battle won the Blackfeet concessions from the encroaching U.S. government, including a huge swath of land that, in 1855, included everything north of the Yellowstone River between the Dakotas and the Continental Divide. Much of this land, including what’s now the eastern half of Glacier National Park, was later bought back or simply taken away; the Blackfeet Nation now earns most of its income from ranching and oil and natural gas leases.

The Blackfeet Nation’s headquarters and main commercial center is Browning (pop. 1,061), located on US-2 near the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park. Like many reservation towns, Browning has a desolate and depressing feel to it, but there are a couple of places worth stopping, including the Museum of the Plains Indian (Tues.-Sat. summer, Mon.-Fri. fall-spring, $5), near the west end of town at the junction of US-2 and US-89. Operated by the U.S. government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, the bland building contains a small collection of Plains Indian arts and crafts, mostly blankets and jewelry. Browning, which comes alive during the annual North American Indian Days Powwow in early July, also has a couple of cafés, a small casino, and a large concrete tepee.