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Little Shell recognition could become a reality

Char-Koosta News

The long wandering sojourn of the Montana-based Little Shell Tribe may soon be coming to its wished-for destination as a federally-recognized tribal nation. That could provide its 6,000 citizens with a land base and access to some federal benefits like healthcare.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee recently voted unanimously in favor on a recognition bill that also could give the Little Shell 200 acres of land in central Montana if passed by the full U.S. Congress.

This is not a new story. The Little Shell Tribe has been petitioning for recognition through the Department of Interior since 1978 but has been stymied for various reasons at each turn.

The State of Montana officially recognized the Little Shell Tribe as a tribal nation in 2000.

This latest effort has been pushed by the Montana U.S. Congressional congregation that includes, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines, as well as former Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke who has since been appointed head of the Department of Interior.

The Little Shell Tribe recognition bill is sponsored by Tester and Daines.

The Little Shell evolved from a group of mixed-blood French and Indian hunters affiliated with the historical Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians.

They have not had 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, later settling in Montana and southern Canada. Members are scattered across the U.S. Northern Plains states and central Canada, with most living in Montana.

Little Shell Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray said he is cautiously optimistic his people’s hopes could soon be realized.

Sen. Daines praised the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ unanimous passage of the bill to provide long-overdue federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe.

“I’m thrilled the committee is considering the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act here today,” Daines said last week. “I’m glad we’re passing this legislation early on this Congress and remain committed to its enactment into law.”

Sen. Tester first introduced legislation granting the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe federal recognition in 2007.

“The Little Shell have been waiting far too long for the recognition they deserve, and we will continue to push until we get this bill across the finish line,” Tester said. “Federal recognition for the Little Shell is key to delivering on our promise, righting historical wrongs, and ensuring tribal sovereignty.”

There are two paths toward recognition for the Little Shell.

 First, the Interior Department has the power to recognize tribes based on history, culture, and science. Last year, the Interior Department announced that the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe is eligible to be reconsidered for federal recognition through the administrative process. They had previously been granted an initial positive determination, but that was reversed in 2009 for unknown reasons. The Tribe is currently appealing that final decision.

Additionally, Tester is pushing for recognition through Congressional legislation while the Tribe awaits decisions on their administrative appeal.
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