By Tim Leeds
A group of Chippewa people claim the government of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation has been invalid since 1916 and should be thrown out.
The group held a meeting in Great Falls last weekend to begin planning to set up a new reservation and to negotiate a gaming compact with the state of New York.
"(The meeting) went great," Dorothy Gopher said today. "The round dance went good and the meeting went good. I'm happy with the way it turned out."
About 100 people attended the meeting, including people from Washington, Utah and Canada, said Gopher, who traces her lineage directly to Chief Asiniweyin, the Chippewa chief for whom Rocky Boy reservation is name.
Mary Gopher, Dorothy's daughter, said Cree people and metis people of mixed Canadian and Native American heritage usurped the government of the Rocky Boy reservation shortly after it was founded. Those people had no right to the reservation and destroyed the lives of those who should be there Rocky Boy's followers and their descendants, she said.
"They, along with the Department of Interior, have committed genocide on our people. They took our property, they took our rights, they even took our identity," she said.
The group's claims are denied by the federal government and by Rocky Boy residents.
Ed Lone Fight of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Rocky Mountain Region office in Billings said the reservation was created for both Rocky Boy's and Little Bear's bands.
"It was a joint thing," he said.
Russell Standing Rock of Rocky Boy said he is a direct descendant of both Chief Rocky Boy of the Chippewa and of Chief Little Bear of the Cree, the two chiefs who negotiated the creation of the reservation.
"There's Chippewa people here. I'm one of them, and, by golly, they're going to have to retract their statements," Standing Rock said last week.
The meeting in Expo Park in Great Falls had several agenda items, including an appeal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to monitor the progress of the Great Falls group's requests and the actions of federal authorities.
The group also wants to ask the federal courts to strike down the Chippewa Cree tribal constitution, restore the status of descendants of Rocky Boy's band who are not enrolled at Rocky Boy, and call for congressional hearings on the problems the band has had since the reservation was formed.
Gopher said the reservation was established for Rocky Boy and his followers. His clan was about to take a vote on whether to include the Cree when he was assassinated by some of the Cree, she said. There is no record of the vote being taken, she added.
Very few people who live on the reservation are descendants of Rocky Boy's clan, according to Gopher.
Standing Rock said the reservation was originally negotiated by both Chief Little Bear and Chief Rocky Boy.
Standing Rock is spokesman of the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People, an organization on the reservation that protested a recent election to amend the tribe's constitution. He said if Gopher's group has a complaint with the constitution, it should have joined the Grassroots People.
The reason the reservation is named after Rocky Boy is that Little Bear's name was associated with the Riel Rebellion in Canada in the 1880s, Lone Fight said. Because of a stigma from that association, he relinquished some of his leadership and joined with Chief Rocky Boy, Lone Fight said.
The original bill to create the reservation was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Henry Myers of Montana and passed by the Senate a couple of weeks after Rocky Boy's death in April 1916. It says the reservation was created for the Chippewa, but gave the Secretary of the Interior discretion in placing other landless tribes on the reservation. Congress passed the bill on Sept. 7, 1916.
Mary Gopher said her group's hope is to receive permission to build a gambling casino in New York after gaining federal recognition and a new reservation in Montana.
The Racing and Wagering Board of New York State has not made any agreements with the Gopher's group, said Sheila Osterhout of the board.
"It also has no intention of having a conversation with any Montana tribes," she added.