Tester to Zinke: Meet with tribes before complicating Interior Department

by Char-Koosta News

BOZEMAN – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pushing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to meet with tribal governments before attempting to make the U.S. Interior Department more complicated.

Zinke announced last month that he will propose a plan to Congress to reorganize the Interior Department, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education. Tester is fighting to make sure that Zinke doesn’t turn his back on Montana tribes and fail to uphold the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibilities as Zinke prepares his reorganization proposal.

“Making any changes within the Department will undoubtedly impact tribes and requires rigorous and meaningful consultation,” Tester wrote. “It is the Department’s duty to uphold this special trust responsibility and to meet the obligations that arise from these unique government to government relationships.”

Zinke’s plan to reorganize the Interior Department will impact 415 million acres of public land, 70,000 employees, and $12 billion in federal funding. Montana tribes especially would be impacted by the proposal, which would create 13 regions based on natural watersheds instead of state boundaries, effectively splitting Montana into two regions. Currently, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Rocky Mountain Region-located in Billings-works with all of Montana’s tribes except the Flathead Indian Reservation, which works with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Northwest Region.

In addition to tribal consultation, Tester is also pushing Zinke to publish the proposal online, solicit public comments, and guarantee that Montana is not split into two management districts by the agency.

“The reorganization of one of our nation’s most important departments should be an open and transparent process,” Tester added.

Tester last year helped pass the Indian Employment, Training and Related Service Consolidation Act to provide tribes with more flexibility to consolidate federal employment programs and build a single focused job training mission that works best for each tribe.

Tester also helped pass the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience Act to require federal agencies who promote tourism to include tribes and Native American organizations in their national tourism recruitment efforts and provide Native American communities with access to resources that can help develop a sustainable tourism infrastructure.