Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
After success in a 10-year effort to create a new Indian reservation area for a Farm Service Agency county committee member, the Hill County FSA Office is facing a new struggle finding the eligible members of the district. “We’re having difficulty getting the names and addresses of (Chippewa Cree Tribal) members who have turned 18,” said Hill County FSA Executive Director Mike Zook. The FSA county committees help administer on the local level the federal agricultural programs FSA deals with. The committee provides input on and helps administer programs including commodity price support loans and payments; conservation programs; incentive, indemnity and disaster payments for some commodities; emergency programs, and setting rates and yields for the local areas. Zook said that about 10 years ago, the Hill County FSA Committee started asking for permission to create a new Local Administrative Area, or LAA, primarily containing Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, in order to give members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe better representation on the FSA county committee. Initially, that request was denied because the county office primarily represents only one county, which allows only three committee members, Zook said. This year, the FSA on the federal level approved the request, which details that the county office includes all of the reservation including part of Chouteau County. While members of the Tribe have previously been elected to the committee, its representation has generally been through an appointed ex officio member, who provides input but is not elected and could not vote. Zook said the county committee tried to add a new area because it believed that voting representation was justified. The input from the Rocky Boy advisor, who was a paid member of the committee just as the elected members are, was always sought and used in making decisions on every issue, but they could not vote on the Issue. “That is really the only way they have differed from any other member of the committee ,” Zook said. “They were not elected and they didn’t have a vote. “We decided if we were really going to recognize this group, why not give them a vote?” he said. The issue is becoming more important as more people are starting agricultural operations on the reservation, he said. While all of the land at Rocky Boy is part of a trust, Tribal members can be assigned use of 160-acre parcels for use, often used in agricultural operations. Zook said the number of land assignments on the reservation has increased in the last 10 years, from about 120 to about 160. The FSA programs can be especially helpful, he added, because of the difficulty producers have in financing startup operations on such a relatively small parcel of land. Zook added that because the appointed advisor has always been a paid position, electing a fourth paid committee member will not increase the expense of the committee. Now that the fourth LAA has been created, splitting the previous LAA 3 which ran from the Gildford High Grade south of the Milk River to the Beaver Creek Highway, into two districts with U.S. Highway 87 being the dividing line, the new committee member has to be elected. That is creating the difficulty, Zook said. The Hill County FSA office has about two weeks from today to update the list of eligible voters so ballots can be mailed out later this year. Zook said all members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe are eligible to vote in the new LAA, even if they don’t live in Hill County or even in Montana. But the Tribal government at Rocky Boy will not release the names and addresses of enrolled members, citing concern about a breech of confidentiality, he said. Representatives of the Chippewa Cree Tribe’s enrollment office could not be reached for comment by this morning. For more information, people can call the Hill County FSA Office at 265-6792, ext. 2. Zook said his office is asking people to give the office staff names and addresses of Tribal members so the list of eligible voters can be updated and all can have a voice in the election. The splitting of the LAA will create three elections to the committee the remaining portion of the third LAA will also hold an election, and the position for LAA 2, which includes Hill County north of the Milk River and the eastern section of the county east of Beaver Creek Highway was up for election in the normal rotation. Zook added that his office is also trying to update its list of eligible voters in all of the LAAs, especially for the elections in LAAs 2 and 3. In those areas, FSA is trying to add any eligible voters who are not on the list, and also to remove producers who have died or ended their operations. The Hill County FSA Office is also seeking nominations for the committee members in those districts. Nomination forms can be picked up at the Hill County FSA Office or online at www.fsa.usda.gov/mt on the “Forms” button, with “Farm Service Agency” selected as the Agency Name and “Committee Elections” selected as the Program Name in the “Browse Form” section. The nomination forms must be submitted, including the approval of the person nominated, by Aug. 1. Ballots will be mailed to eligible voters starting Nov. 3. Ballots must be returned with a postmark no later than Dec. 1.