BROWNING — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte last month signed into law a bill to name a stretch of US Highway 89 in Glacier County the "Chief Earl Old Person Memorial Highway."
Old Person, the longest-serving elected tribal official in the U.S., died in October 2021 at the age of 92.
He was an orator and leader for the Blackfeet People, the Blackfoot Confederacy, and Indian People across the United States and Canada. In 1994, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Montana in recognition of his accomplishments and contributions.
When Old Person died, Gianforte said in a news release: "Chief Old Person leaves a lasting legacy with his love for people, unparalleled strength of character, dedication to service, and commitment to preserving cultural heritage. Chief Old Person dedicated his life as a tireless advocate, educator, storyteller, and song singer not only for the Blackfeet people, but also for our state and nation."
The new law states:
(1) There is established the Chief Earl Old Person memorial highway on the existing U.S. Highway 89 from its intersection with Border Road to its intersection with U.S. Highway 2.
(2) The department shall design and install appropriate signs marking the location of the Chief Earl Old Person memorial highway.
(3) Maps that identify roadways in the state must be updated to include the Chief Earl Old Person memorial highway when the department updates and publishes the state maps.
The bill provides the following background:
WHEREAS, Earl Old Person, whose Blackfoot name is Ahka Pa Ka Pee, which means "Charging Home," was born in 1929 to Juniper and Milly Old Person, who raised him near Starr School and taught him his native Blackfeet language; and WHEREAS, at 7 years of age Earl Old Person presented Blackfeet culture to the people of Montana by performing Blackfeet song and dance when Browning High School made its first appearance in the state basketball tournament, and continued in his youth to present Blackfeet culture to the people of the United States and the world; and WHEREAS, Earl Old Person was elected to his first term as a tribal council member in 1954, and became chairman 10 years later, and served as chairman for 34 years; and WHEREAS, Earl Old Person became chief of the Blackfeet Nation in 1978; and WHEREAS, Earl Old Person delivered the first State of the Tribes address to the Montana Legislature in 1993.
The bill was introduced in the Montana Legislature by state Sen. Susan Webber of Browning.