Havre Daily News
Representatives of the Little Shell Indian Tribe asked the Hill County Commission on Monday to sign a resolution supporting the tribe's effort to get federal recognition that might also mean the acquisition of land for a small reservation in Hill County. The commissioners said Monday they need to review the resolution.
The commissioners agreed that if the Little Shell are federally recognized, the county may have no say over whether land is taken off the county tax rolls and given to the now-landless tribe, but they said their policy is to oppose the loss of any taxable property.
“That's been our stance with the Chippewa Cree Tribe,” Hill County Commission chair Kathy Bessette said. The issue has come up when residents of Box Elder have tried to have their homes annexed to the reservation, she said.
“We support your quest,” Bessette added.
The Little Shell tribal council has prepared similar resolutions for five counties to help pave the way for federal legislation, tribal chairman John Sinclair said today. The legislation is to be introduced this year by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., Sinclair said. The resolution before the Hill County Commission was proposed by Rehberg's office, Sinclair said.
“They wanted to be sure they're not stepping on anybody's toes,” he said.
Cascade, Hill, Blaine, Fergus and Glacier counties have each signed resolutions supporting federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe, but Rehberg's office wanted to be sure the counties know that if the tribe receives recognition, it could mean a loss of tax base in the county where a reservation is established.
The Cascade County Commission has indicated that it will support the resolution, Sinclair said. The Cascade County Attorney's Office is drafting a resolution based on what the tribe submitted, he said.
The proposal is for 200 acres as a land base where the tribe could have a hospital and other services, vice chair James Parker Shield said today. He said the tribe would hope the land would come from federal land such as U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, so no county would lose funds.
If the Hill County commissioners don't agree to the proposal, it's not likely to harm the effort to get land and recognition, Sinclair said.
“We'll still go on. We'll have the Cascade resolution. We'll hopefully soon have Glacier and Blaine. We'll just have to bypass Hill County, which would be a shame,” he said.
Sinclair said the tribe's ideal is to have a base in Cascade County and satellite offices, including trust land, in four other counties. What actually is established would be determined by the legislation.
If Hill County decided not to agree to support the possible loss of taxable property, it might consider writing a resolution that reiterates the county's support for the tribe's effort at recognition.
“The most important item, of course, is to keep our support that we do have among the counties for the federal recognition,” Parker Shield said.
The Little Shell are also trying to be recognized through an administrative process of the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Federal Acknowledgment.
“We're going (the legislative) way, one, to speed it up, and. two, if (the Office of Federal Acknowledgment) comes back with a negative result,” the tribe has another way to be recognized, Sinclair said.
If the tribe is recognized through Interior, counties would have less control over how a reservation is established than if it's done through legislation sponsored by the state's own congressional delegation, Sinclair said.
He said he hopes to hear back from the Hill County Commission soon and “allay their concerns, hopefully.”
“I can see Hill County's point. If they are opposing adding Chippewa Cree land into trust, they are trying to be consistent,” Sinclair said. “The ball is in their court and we're waiting for them to come back for us.”