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Tester, Daines reintroduce bill recognizing Little Shell

Rep. Gianforte reintroducting his bill in the House today


January 9, 2019

Staff and wire report

Montana’s U.S. senators are again starting the process to try to achieve federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Monte’s U.S. Sens Jon Tester and Steve Daines are re-introducing bipartisan legislation to grant the tribe federal recognition.

The Little Shell Tribe has sought federal recognition for nearly four decades, and has been recognized by the State of Montana since 2000.

“The Little Shell deserve to have their sovereignty recognized,” Tester said in a press release. “It’s time for the federal government to do right by the Little Shell.  After years of fighting, I’m hopeful we can get it done this Congress.”

“The Little Shell Tribe has waited far too long and jumped through too many bureaucratic hurdles to secure federal recognition. We can no longer keep kicking the can down the road,” Daines said in the release. “Last month we were close to getting this across the finish line, and I won’t give up the fight now. I look forward to working with Senator Tester and my colleagues to get this important bill signed into law so the Little Shell Tribe receives the recognition they greatly deserve.” 

  A bill recognizing the Little Shell was set to pass the Senate in the closing days of the 115th Congress, until Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, blocked the bill from receiving a Senate vote.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., to recognize the tribe had passed the House, the first time such a bill had passed in that body.

Gianforte’s office said this morning that he is reintroducing the bill this afternoon

Native American Tribes must be recognized as sovereign nations by the federal government to exercise full self-governance. Under this nation-to-nation relationship, Tribes can access critical resources for economic development, health care and education resources, and regulate affairs on tribal lands on terms socially and culturally appropriate.

Federal recognition can be granted via Congressional legislation, a U.S. Court decision, or an administrative process through the U.S. Interior Department.  

Tester first introduced legislation to federally recognize the Little Shell Tribe in 2007. It was the first bill he introduced as a U.S. senator.

The Little Shell, a tribe with 4,500 or more members concentrated in the Great Falls area but spread throughout central and northern Montana and across the nation, have been formally trying to gain federal recognition since at least the 1930s.

Montana’s members of Congress have repeatedly sponsored bills to have Congress recognize the tribe.

The tribe has been without a recognized homeland since the late 1800s, when Chief Little Shell and his followers in North Dakota broke off treaty negotiations with the U.S. government. Tribe members later settled in Montana and southern Canada.

Tribal historians trace the tribe’s other attempts to gain recognition back to the 1860s, when the Pembina Band of Chippewa signed a treaty with the U.S. government.

In 1978, the Little Shell petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for recognition through the Bureau‘s Federal Acknowledgement Process. Despite a favorable report by the Department of the Interior in 2000 and recognition of the tribe by the Montana government that same year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the tribe recognition in 2009 and again in 2013.


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