Gov. Gianforte Signs into Law Chief Earl Old Person Memorial Highway

Chief Earl Old Person was the longest-serving elected tribal official in the U.S. and died in October of 2021 at 92 years old after a battle with cancer

By Nicole Girten, Daily Montanan
Earl Old Person. Beacon file photo

Gov. Greg Gianforte approved the designation of the Chief Earl Old Person Memorial Highway by signing Senate Bill 120 into law last week.

The governor signed the bill surrounded by Old Person’s family, members of the Blackfeet Nation and bill sponsor Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, according to a spokesperson.

“Chief Earl Old Person dedicated his life as a tireless advocate, educator, storyteller, and song singer for the Blackfeet people,” said Gianforte, a Republican, in a statement from his office. “With the new Chief Earl Old Person Memorial Highway, we honor his life and lasting legacy.”

Chief Earl Old Person was the longest-serving elected tribal official in the U.S. and died in October of 2021 at 92 years old after a battle with cancer.

Webber said during the first hearing the bill was requested by the 17,000 members of the Blackfeet Indian Nation of Montana. Webber said the family requested the road that went toward the high school to bear his name because Old Person was a “big fan and supporter of the Blackfeet children of our reservation.”

During the hearing, Webber spoke to the legacy and impact Old Person had both locally and on the international stage. She said Old Person met with every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, drank tea with the Shah of Iran and spoke at the 1988 Republican National Convention.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, carried the bill in the House and said on the House floor the legislation was an understatement for what should be done to honor Old Person.

“But for now this is what we need to do,” Running Wolf said.

Webber said Wednesday she was honored to carry this bill to honor Chief Earl Old Person.

“It was more trouble than it should have been to get it across the finish line, but I’m grateful that we did,” Webber said in a statement. “All of us are looking forward to unveiling the designation this summer during North American Indian Days. From now on, visitors will be reminded of the towering figure in history that Chief Earl Old Person was.”

SB 120 was the first bill to be “blasted” onto the Senate floor after it was tabled by all but one Republican in the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee in January. Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, voted with Democrats to support it.

However, the bill went on to pass unanimously out of the House Transportation committee and with sweeping support on the House floor.

The Department of Transportation is slated to install the memorial sign according to the bill language.

This story originally appeared in the The Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.

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