Tester presses Interior Secretary on Little Shell recognition

Secretary Salazar agrees 31 years is ‘too long’ for decision to be made

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester wants to know why it’s taking the federal government so long to formally recognize Montana’s Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians.

During Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s first hearing in front of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee today, Tester said the federal government’s system for formally recognizing Indian tribes is “broken.”

The Little Shell Tribe is made up of approximately 4,300 members, most of whom live in the Great Falls area.  The State of Montana recognized the tribe in 2000.

Originally passed in 1978, Congress created a law that allows the U.S. Department of Interior to evaluate applications for federal tribal recognition based on history, culture and science.  However, Congress can also recognize tribes.  The Little Shell Tribe has sought recognition for over 30 years, without a decision.  In 2007, Tester introduced legislation—his first as a U.S. Senator—that would have granted the tribe the recognition.

Today, Salazar agreed 31 years is “too long” and said the process needs to be streamlined.

“It’s time to fulfill a long-overdue promise to the thousands of Montanans who belong to the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians,” Tester said.  “It’s time for the system to get fixed so the tribe can finally be recognized.  And I’m confident Secretary Salazar will get the job done.”

Senator Max Baucus has also sponsored legislation to recognize the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians.

“It’s been a long road for the Little Shell and it’s time for the for the U.S. government to step up and grant this request,” Baucus said.  “Jon and I are committed to sticking with them every step of the way—until they get the recognition and the support they deserve.”

Salazar today also renewed his commitment to visit Montana at Tester’s request.