Little Shell Tribal Recognition on Track to Become Law After More Than a Decade of Tester-Led Efforts

Following Tester push, Little Shell Recognition included in annual defense bill Tester’s first bill introduction as a Senator in 2007 sought federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe

Clearing the way for U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s Little Shell tribal recognition bill to become law, the U.S. House of Representatives last night unveiled their final legislative text for the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the Little Shell legislation. The House is expected to pass the bill Wednesday and send it to the Senate where it is also expected to pass.

The bill was the first bill Tester introduced when he arrived in the Senate in 2007.

“When I got to the Senate in 2007, federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe was the very first bill I introduced,” Tester said. “But my 12 years working to get this bill signed into law is nothing compared to the century-long fight the Tribe has waged to be recognized as a sovereign nation. So this is a monumental day—long-overdue federal recognition for the Tribe’s more than 5,000 Montana members is headed to the President’s desk.”

Tester’s first bill introduction as a U.S. Senator in 2007 sought federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe, and he has reintroduced the same legislation every Congress since. Earlier this year, he successfully pushed to include recognition of the Tribe as an amendment to the Senate’s must-pass defense bill: the National Defense Authorization Act. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to include Little Shell recognition only if the amendment was led by a Republican, so Tester joined with Senator Steve Daines to help the Tribe get the bill across the finish line.

The NDAA passed the Senate in June, but Tester kept the pressure on throughout the bill’s reconciliation process with the 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 requesting that they include language recognizing the Little Shell Tribe in any final version of the legislation.

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

Tester’s bill granting federal recognition to the Tribe was set to pass the Senate in the closing days of the 115th Congress until Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked the legislation from receiving a vote.

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.

A copy of Senator Tester’s 2007 Little Shell bill can be found HERE.