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By Alex Ross 

Daines, Tester introduce Little Shell recognition bill

 

January 10, 2017



Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines have introduced legislation that would designate the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians a federal tribe, both lawmakers said in a joint press release Friday.

Tester, a Democrat and Daines, a Republican, introduced the Little Shell Recognition Act less than a week into the 115th Congress.

Both senators said in the release that the Little Shell, have been pushing for federal recognition for almost 40 years, and it is time to make it a reality.

“These folks have been waiting long enough for what they deserve, and we won’t stop until we get this bill across the finish line,” Tester, who first introduced similar legislation when he first arrived in the senate in 2007, said.  

“The Little Shell Tribe has waited far too long and jumped through too many bureaucratic hoops to secure federal recognition,” Daines said.

Gordon Gray, tribal chairman of the Little Shell, said the tribe is excited about the development and hopes the bill can make it to the Senate floor for a vote.  

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says on its website that tribes can be granted federal recognition either through an act of Congress, through the U.S. Department of the Interior or by way of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.   

As a federally recognized, sovereign tribe, the Little Shell would have treaty rights that would include full self-governance, a nation-to-nation relations with the U.S. government and access to health care, education and housing.

The Little Shell, which has 4,500 enrolled members, was recognized as a tribe by the state of Montana since 2000. The tribe’s official website said their members are scattered throughout Montana, including populations in Butte, Chinook. Great Falls, Havre, Hays, Helena and Wolf Point, as well as other locations throughout Montana and the U.S.

Dave Kuntz, a spokesperson for Tester, said there is scant, if any, opposition to Little Shell recognition in the U.S. Senate. Last year, a similar bill passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, of which Tester was then vice-chair and Daines was recently made a member.

Because it is so specific to Montana though, Kuntz said, it has been difficult to get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the bill to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.  

Last fall, the move for federal recognition reached a new milestone. In the House, Rep. Ryan Zinke led an effort in the House that passed for the first time similar legislation out of the House Natural Resources Committee 23-13, Katie Waldman, press secretary for Daines said in an email Monday.

Gray said that after Little Shell recognition passed the committee in the House it was attached to another bill. The two needed to be separated and addressed individually, but Zinke did not have time to do so in the last Congress, Gray said.

Waldman said there is no companion legislation in the House to the Senate bill.

Zinke’s office did not respond to questions before print deadline Tuesday.

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