Tester gets commitment to shorten tribal recognition timeline

During hearing, Little Shell chairman also testifies about ‘broken’ recognition process

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Under pressure from Senator Jon Tester, government officials today committed to shortening the timeline for federally recognizing Indian tribes.

Tester is a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which held a hearing today on how to fix what he calls the “broken” federal tribal recognition process.

Today’s hearing was scheduled only hours after the federal government decided last week to not recognize Montana’s Little Shell Tribe as a federal Indian tribe.  The Tribe had waited for the decision for 31 years.

Tester also invited the Little Shell Chairman John Sinclair to share with the Senate his experience with the recognition process.

Sinclair told the committee that the State of Montana recognizes the Little Shell as an official tribe, as do all of the other Indian tribes in the state. He also outlined the history of the tribe, which has existed for many generations.

“The administrative recognition process is a mess and, in all fairness and justice to Indian people, the Congress must step in and fix it,” Sinclair testified, noting that the Little Shell Tribe has collected 70,000 pages worth of documents supporting federal recognition. “Every time a legitimate tribe fails, it undermines the sovereignty of all tribes.”

During the hearing, Tester also quizzed U.S. Interior Department officials about the length of the recognition process and the criteria used to determine whether a tribe should be recognized by the federal government.

“We heard about the deeply flawed process and that the flawed process cannot be counted on to come up with the right result,” Tester said. “But we also heard a commitment from the Department of the Interior that they will fix this process to make it more fair for the Indian tribes awaiting a decision on federal recognition.”

After last week’s announcement about the Little Shell Tribe, Tester and Senator Max Baucus immediately responded by introducing legislation to override the decision.

The Little Shell Tribe is made up of approximately 4,300 members, most of whom live in the Great Falls area.  Montana’s congressional delegation supports recognition, as do all other Montana tribes.