Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves Tester and Walshs Little Shell recognition bill
(U.S. SENATE) - The Senate Indian Affairs Committee today approved Senator Jon Tester and Senator John Walsh's bill to recognize Montana's Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians.
Tester, the new chairman of the committee, pushed the Little Shell Tribe of Indians Restoration Act through his committee just weeks after taking charge of the panel. Passing the bill moves federal recognition of the Little Shell - something the tribe has been seeking for more than 35 years - closer to reality.
"The Little Shell deserve recognition and passing this bill through committee is a big step in the right direction," Tester said. "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."
"This important step towards recognition is long-overdue for the Little Shell," Walsh said. "I'm proud to partner with Chairman Tester to help finally right a wrong that will allow the Little Shell to have the federal recognition they deserve."
In 2007, Tester introduced legislation-his first as a U.S. Senator-to grant the Little Shell Tribe federal recognition. Walsh co-sponsored the Little Shell Tribe of Indians Restoration Act earlier this year as one of his first acts as Senator. The State of Montana has officially recognized the Little Shell Tribe since 2000, but the federal government has not.
Under a 1978 law, the Interior Department can recognize tribes based on history, culture and science. The Interior Department in January announced that the Little Shell Tribe is eligible to be reconsidered for federal tribal recognition through the federal government's administrative process. While the tribe awaits the administrative decision, another path for recognition comes through Congressional legislation, such as Tester and Walsh's Little Shell Tribe of Indians Restoration Act.
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.
At an October Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Little Shell Chairman Gerald Gray urged Congress to pass the bill, emphasizing the importance of federal recognition to his tribe.
The Little Shell Tribe is made up of approximately 4,300 members, most of whom live in the Great Falls area. The bill could next be considered by the full Senate.