Tester Highlights Indian Country Priorities for New Administration

Senator Pushes Secretary Zinke to Take Action on Little Shell and Water Compacts

(U.S. Senate)-During his first Senate Committee hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today shared his priorities for Indian Country with the new Administration.

Tester sought a commitment from Secretary Zinke that the Interior Department will prioritize the federal recognition of Montana’s Little Shell Tribe. Tester expressed to Zinke that the best way for the Little Shell to secure federal recognition is through an administrative process at the Interior Department.

“I think federal recognition should go through the Interior Department,” Tester told Zinke. “If you show a little extra attention, that is all it takes.”

Tester is sponsoring bipartisan legislation with Senator Steve Daines that grants the Little Shell Tribe federal recognition. Native American Tribes must be recognized as sovereign nations by the federal government to exercise full self-governance.

Tribes can be recognized by the federal government through Congressional legislation, or an administrative process through the U.S. Interior Department.

Tester also pushed Zinke to work with the Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai (CSKT) Tribes to secure the funding needed to finalize their water compacts.

“Authorization of these water compacts is nice, but without money these important infrastructure investments cannot happen,” Tester added.

Tester helped pass legislation to authorize the Blackfeet Water Compact last year, but the compact’s funding must be appropriated before critical water infrastructure projects can begin construction on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Tester will once again sponsor the CSKT Water Compact this Congress, and help facilitate negotiations between the tribe and Interior Department.

Tribal Water Compacts must be ratified by the state legislature, passed by Congress, and signed into law by the President before they are finalized.