Little Shell closes Great Falls offices, moves to Havre
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The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has, at least temporarily, closed its offices in Great Falls, moving all operations to its location in Havre over the weekend.
John Sinclair, who was elected chair of the Tribal Council in 2009, said this morning that the move primarily was done because of security concerns.
"The state is withholding our funds so we can't keep anybody in the office," he said.
John Gilbert, who was elected chair of a second Tribal Council in March, said he believes the move came because of differences in the factions of the Tribe and he hopes to resolve those differences and get an office back in Great Falls soon.
"I say it's very unfortunate that we have lost the Little Shell Tribal office up here. We have a lot of members here," he said.
Gilbert added that he is working out a proposal to try to resolve the differences between the two councils in the next week or two.
The last two years have been tumultuous for the 4,300-member Tribe. The counci l elect ion scheduled for November 2008 was delayed until March 2009, leading Gilbert and others — a group calling itself the Little Shell Chippewa Alliance spearheaded the effort — to first hold a constitutional referendum, then, when that passed, a new council election.
Gilbert was elected chair in that election, and the new council has declared the first council invalid. Delaying the election until 2009 violated the Tribe's constitution and laws, the group said.
Sinclair has said the new council is what is invalid. The 2008 election was delayed to give people who had been excluded from the election time to have a hearing, and that election was valid. The group that held the constitutional referendum and the new election had no authority to do so, he said.
That happened after the Department of the Interior denied a more-than-30-year-old request by the Tribe — the latest in a series of requests over the years — to be federally recognized as a Tribe.
Montana officially recognized the Little Shell in 2000.
The members of Montana's congressional delegation sponsored legislation in both the House and Senate that would provide recognition of the Tribe.
Both of those bills are awaiting votes in committees.
Then, after an audit of the Tribe found irregularities in the Tribe's accounting procedures that could, potentially, lead to abuse, the state withheld grant money that had been allocated to the Tribe. The money was shifted to help offset the state's projected revenue shortfalls instead.
Sinclair said that was the reason the Great Falls office was closed. With no money to pay staff and no one in the office, security was a concern, he said.
Sinclair said he is working with Gov. Brian Schweitzer to try to find a way to get the Great Falls office reopened as soon as possible.
He said a person has been hired to staff the Havre offices, at the District IV Human Resources Development Council offices at 2229 5th Ave. Exact hours the office will be open will be announced soon, he said.
Gilbert said he believes reconciling the differences between the two groups will be key to reopening the office.
"We have to figure out how to resolve the differences between our councils," he said.