As Federal Recognition Enters Final Sprint, Tester Sits Down with Little Shell Chairman

Senator and Chairman Gerald Gray talk progress on passage of Little Shell recognition

After working together to change the Tribe’s federal status for more than a decade, U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairman Gerald Gray met today to discuss the final hurdles to the Tribe receiving its long-overdue federal recognition.

“We’re at the 1-yard line, and I’m hopeful the next time Chairman Gray and I get together, it’ll be to celebrate,” Tester said. “Little Shell recognition is the first bill I introduced when I got to the United States Senate back in 2007, and after decades of hard work from the Little Shell Tribe, we’re close to seeing it signed into law. It’s past time that the Tribe’s rightful history and Tribal sovereignty are properly recognized.”

The Little Shell Tribe is headquartered in Great Falls and has more than 5,400 members across Montana. They have sought federal recognition for over a century and were recognized by the State of Montana in 2000.

Tester’s first bill introduction as a U.S. Senator sought federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe, and he has reintroduced the same legislation every Congress since. Earlier this year, he pushed to include recognition of the Tribe in an amendment to the Senate’s must-pass defense bill: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA, along with Tester’s amendment, passed the Senate in June and will enter reconciliation with a version passed by the House of Representatives. Tester sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees this week requesting that they include language recognizing the Little Shell Tribe in the final version of the legislation.

Native American Tribes must be recognized as sovereign nations by the federal government to exercise full self-governance. This nation-to-nation relationship allows them to access critical resources for economic development, health care, education, and regulate affairs on tribal lands on terms that are socially and culturally appropriate.