Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
John Sinclair, president of the Li t t le Shel l Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, was in Washington D.C. Wednesday to testify before the U. S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on an issue related to something the Tribe has sought for more than 100 years the federal government recognition of the Little Shell as an independent tribe. “This was more or less to preserve the whole legislative process (to grant recognition). It was not for our legislation,” Sinclair said in a telephone interview from Washington, adding that he hopes the testimony will help legislation pending in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would grant recognition to the Little Shell. Mo n t a n a Re p . De n ny Rehberg in the House and Montana Sens. Jon Tester, a member of the Committee on Indian Affairs, and cosponsor Max Baucus in the Senate have introduced bills that would recognize the Little Shell, which has more than 4,500 members scattered throughout the state, Sinclair said. Sinclair said that another process, a petition for recogniton that has been before the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Federal Acknowledgement since 1978, has also seen some major movement: in August, the petition came under active consideration, meaning the Office of Acknowledgement will begin act ively invest igat ing the request next month. Until now, it has been the responsibility of the Little Shell Tribe to supply information to the BIA. Sinclair said he is hopefull that if the legislation before Congress does not pass, the other attempt will succeed in gaining the Tribe recognition. Montana and all seven recognized tribes in the state have officially recognized the Little Shell as a tribe, he said. This month the state even began sale of a specialty license plate for the Little Shell, designed primarily by Sinclair’s son, Skye Sinclair, and Lee Houle. Part of the proceeds from the sales will go the Little Shell’s general fund. Sinclair joined representatives of other unrecognized tribes including the Muscogee Nation of Florida and the Grand River Bands of Ottowa Indians as well as the recently recognized Lumbee Tribe of Florida to testify before the committee. All said they have waited years and submitted stacks of paperwo r k t o t h e I n t e r i o r Departmentseeking recognition. Tribal members have died waiting for better health care, the tribes' representatives said. Tester said after the hearing that The Little Shell have been waiting too long for recognition. “That recognition shouldn’t require an act of Congress,” he said. “This is a broken process that needs to be repaired.” Rehberg said he was glad Sinclair had the chance to speak on the need to streamline the recognition process. “No one understands the problems of the process better than the Little Shell and this was a great chance for their case to be heard on the national level,” Rehberg said. He said he is continuing to work with his colleagues on his bill, “in hopes that we can cut through the bureaucratic red tape and bring the Little Shell the recognition they have deserverd for more than 100 years.” Sinclair said he told the committee that his Tribe is trying different avenues to gain recognition because something needs to be done quickly. "Every day that passes has concrete impacts on the tribe," he told the senators. "We have been trapped in the BIA's bureaucracy for over 30 years and we have nothing but expense and frustration to show for it," said Ann D. Tucker, a tribal chairwoman for the Muscogee Nation. The U.S. House voted to give federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe earlier this year. R. Lee Fleming, director of the Interior Department's O f f i c e o f F e d e r a l Acknowledgment, said the Bureau of Indian Affairs will attempt to expedite the process by trying to eliminate paperwork and layers of bureaucracy that have stalled some tribes' efforts. The department is also considering hiring additional staff to work on the recognition process and establishing firmer timelines so that petitions move along. "Our goal is to improve the process so that all groups seeking acknowledgment can be processed and completed within a set time frame," Fleming said. Dur ing hi s t e s t imony, Sinclair told the story of a Little Shell girl who died after being abused while in foster care. Because the Tribe was not recognized, it could not pursue that issue under avenues available to recognized tribes, he said during the interview. Sinclair said the Little Shell have already received government recognition: the assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior gave them recognition in 2000, but until the Office of Recognition gives approval, the tribe is not officially recognized. The Tribe has been seeking recognition since it signed the Pembina Treaty of 1863, ceding a large area of land in what is now North Dakota to the United States, Sinclair said. Other signatories included the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa of North Dakota, and the Chippewa now part of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, both of which have been recognized by the federal government. The Little Shell attempted to achieve recognition in the 1930s and 1940s after the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Bureau of Indian Affairs stated the Tribe was eligible, but due to a lack of funds during and following the Great Depression, the Bureau could not purchase land for a reservation and the Tribe was denied the opportunity to reorganize. The legi s lat ion before Congress does not ask for a reservation for the Little Shell. It specifies that recognition would be granted without regard to a reservation, and the service area of the tribe would be area comprising Hill, Blaine, Glacier and Cascade counties. Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.