Tester: Little Shell people ‘deserve a decision—not another delay’
Senator also invites Interior Department official to Montana
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Montana’s only member of the Indian Affairs Committee, today told a top Interior Department official that he is “greatly concerned” about delaying the decision to federally recognize Montana’s Little Shell Tribe.
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs George Skibine this week told the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians that he is postponing by 60 days the decision to formally recognize the tribe. The delay is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Little Shell Tribe, which has sought federal recognition for more than 31 years.
“I know how difficult and important these decisions are, but another delay for the Little Shell people is a major setback for them,” Tester wrote today in a letter to Skibine. “Time is not on our side. And considering the timeline of events over the past 31 years, the Little Shell people deserve a decision—not another delay.”
Tester added that he “eagerly awaits” a decision from the Interior Department no later than September 25. Tester also invited Skibine to Montana “to see firsthand the issues the Little Shell people face, and to meet its members.”
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.
During an Indian Affairs Committee hearing earlier this year, Tester pressed U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about why recognizing the Little Shell Tribe has taken so long. Salazar agreed the federal recognition process needs to be streamlined.
The Little Shell Tribe is made up of approximately 4,300 members, most of whom live in the Great Falls area.
Tester’s letter to Assistant Secretary George Skibine appears below.
Mr. George Skibine
Acting Principal Deputy
Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
Department of the Interior
Office of the Secretary
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Mr. Skibine:
I am greatly concerned about your agency’s letter this week to the Little Shell Tribe of Montana postponing your decision to grant the tribe federal recognition.
I know how difficult and important these decisions are, but another delay for the Little Shell people is a major setback for them. As you know, the 4,300 members of the Little Shell Tribe have been waiting for many years for federal recognition, and all they’ve gotten is setback after setback.
George, members of unrecognized Indian tribes are suffering every day. Time is not on our side. And considering the timeline of events over the past 31 years, the Little Shell people deserve a decision—not another delay.
- 1978: BIA creates the Office of Federal Acknowledgement (OFA)
- 4/28/78: Little Shell submits its Letter of Intent to Petition for acknowledgement.
- 2000: State of Montana formally recognizes Little Shell Tribe
- 7/21/00: OFA issues its proposed favorable finding
- 3/12/01: Montana Legislature passes a resolution urging the Department of Interior to recognize the tribe.
- 8/1/07: OFA begins active consideration on Final Determination
- 7/24/08: OFA asks for, and receives an extension
- 1/15/08: OFA asks for, and receives another extension
- 7/27/09: OFA asks for, and receives yet another extension
As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I eagerly await your decision by no later than September 25. Please contact me immediately if the Little Shell Tribe cannot expect a decision by then.
As always, you’re welcome to visit Montana to see firsthand the issues the Little Shell people face, and to meet its members. I’d be happy to host you on a visit to the Big Sky State.
United States Senator