Tester statement on Little Shell recognition progress
(U.S. SENATE) - Senator Jon Tester today released the following statement after the U.S. Interior Department this week announced that the Little Shell Tribe is eligible to be reconsidered for federal tribal recognition. Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is pushing legislation to recognize the Little Shell:
"The Little Shell deserve recognition, and this week's news re-opens one avenue to achieve that goal. While the journey has been difficult, the Little Shell have the backing of the State of Montana, all affected local governments and all of Montana's tribes. I will continue to press for the long-overdue respect and federal recognition the Little Shell earned."
Chairman Gerald Gray, who Tester introduced at an October 2013 Indian Affairs Committee hearing, echoed Tester's comments.
"While obviously we would rather the Department have acted immediately to recognize the Little Shell Tribe, we are happy with its decision on our petition and understand and respect its process. The Department's decision allows us to live to fight another day for our duly deserved federal recognition. We remain optimistic that in the interim Senator Tester's Little Shell recognition bill will continue to move forward toward passage in the Senate," Gray said.
In 2007, Tester introduced legislation-his first as a U.S. Senator-to grant the Little Shell Tribe federal recognition. The State of Montana has officially recognized the Little Shell Tribe since 2000.
At October's Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Gray urged Congress to enact Tester's Little Shell Tribe of Indians Restoration Act, emphasizing the importance of federal recognition to his tribe.
Under a 1978 law, the Interior Department can recognize tribes based on history, culture and science. Congress can also recognize tribes. Tester is a long-standing advocate of reforming the government's process for recognizing Indian tribes, believing its timeliness and efficiency need to be improved.
The Little Shell Tribe is made up of approximately 4,300 members, most of whom live in the Great Falls area.