HAVRE DAILY NEWS: Lawmakers continue push for Little Shell federal recognition

by Tim Leeds, Havre Daily News

With the clock ticking on this year’s session, the members of Montana’s congressional delegation are continuing to work on passing federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., said Thursday he is working to include his bill — which already passed the House in a 403-21 vote March 26 — in the House version of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

He asked the leaders of the House Armed Services Committee to inlcude his Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, H.R. 297, in the authorization.

“The Little Shell people have waited long enough. It is time to give them the overdue recognition they deserve,” Gianforte wrote to committee leaders. “I urge you to provide federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe in the final National Defense Authorization Act.”

The Little Shell Tribe, which was recognized by the state of Montana in 2001, has been fighting for more than a century to receive federal recognition.

The tribe has been without a recognized homeland since the late 1800s, when Chief Little Shell and his followers in North Dakota broke off treaty negotiations with the U.S. government. Tribe members later settled in Montana and southern Canada.

Tribal historians trace the tribe’s other attempts to gain recognition back to the 1860s, when the Pembina Band of Chippewa signed a treaty with the U.S. government.

In 1978, the Little Shell petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition through the Bureau‘s Federal Acknowledgement Process. Despite a favorable report by the Department of the Interior in 2000 and recognition of the tribe by the Montana government that same year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the tribe recognition in 2009 and again in 2013.

Montana’s congressional delegation has been trying to have Congress give the recognition ever since.

Last year was the closest Congress has come, with the House passing Gianforte’s bill to give the tribe recognition, the first time it had passed a Little Shell recognition bill.

But the effort died in the Senate last year with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, blocking a vote on Little Shell recognition.

The Senate already passed a bill including Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., giving the tribe recognition.

That was included in the must-pass Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Now, the House must add the recognition bill to its version and pass that bill to send the tribe’s recognition to the president.

The bill gives federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe and allows the tribe to purchase 200 acres of land to serve as its reservation. The legislation makes the Little Shell Tribe eligible for federal resources including for economic development, health and education.

Montana’s senators are continuing the push along with Gianforte.

Daines spokeswoman Julia Doyle said the senator is continuing the push in the Senate for Little Shell recognition and will continue to press the leadership to keep the recognition in the authorization.

A spokeswoman for Tester, who has sponsored Little Shell recognition since he was first elected to the Senate, said he also will continue the push.

“He’s optimistic the House and Senate can work out the differences between their respective bills to get Little Shell signed into law.” Sarah Feldman said. “This was the very first bill he introduced when he got to the Senate, and after more than a decade leading the charge to get it passed, he’s hopeful we’re almost at the finish line.”

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