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Associated Press

BROWNING (AP) - The Blackfeet Tribe is moving forward with plans to study building a multimillion-dollar luxury resort near Glacier National Park.

"This is an exciting project with the possibility of opening up the doors to … streams of revenue for the Blackfeet Tribe," said Don Kittson, marketing director of Pikuni Industries Inc., a tribally owned manufacturing and construction firm working with the tribal council on the project. "Everybody's optimistic. I haven't heard one dissonant voice yet."

The tribe's business council voted unanimously to pursue an extensive feasibility study of the proposed resort, which would be located on the shore of Lower St. Mary's Lake, about four miles east of the park.

Plans call for a 62-room, 44,780-square-foot hotel on 30 to 50 acres of the northwestern part of the reservation at the Chewing Blackbones Campgrounds area.

Initial cost estimates are in the range of $7 million to $10 million, Kittson said.

If financing is secured, construction could begin as early as this summer and would take 12 to 18 months to complete, Kittson said.

He said the Browning-based Native American National Bank told tribal officials it would consider pursuing a guaranteed loan through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help fund construction.

Tribal Councilman Leo Kennerly III said it's imperative the area be kept as natural as possible.

"We don't want to overdevelop," Kennerly said. "We don't want to bother our natural scene or anything that is valuable to our people."

About 1.7 million tourists visited Glacier last year, spending more than $44 million. But there are only a few Indian-owned motels on the reservation, where the unemployment rate runs as high as 80 percent.

"A lot of people around here in the whole area have been waiting for the Blackfeet Tribe to do something," said Kennerly, whose late father, a former planning director, envisioned a resort as early as the late 1960s.

"If you talk with the local Indians here it's pretty unanimous," Kittson said. "To them it's going to be a source of pride. It's going to be a tribal monument."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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