Environment | Law | National | Politics

Blackfeet Nation water deal on agenda as Congress returns to work






Leaders of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana. Photo by Chairman Harry Barnes

Lawmakers are back in Washington, D.C., after an extended election break and time is running out for Indian Country to advance its agenda.

With just a few weeks left in the 114th Congress, only a handful of hearings and markups are expected between now and the end of the year so tribes are facing a big deadline on their priorities. A water settlement for the Blackfeet Nation of Montana is one of those items.

The tribe has been lobbying Congress for years to ratify a deal that was approved at the state level more than six years ago. The effort might finally see success during the 2016 lame duck session.

The House Committee on Natural Resources, the panel with jurisdiction over Indian issues, is expected to approve H.R.5633, the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act, at a markup this week. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), who easily defeated Democrat Denise Juneau, a descendant of the Blackfeet Nation, at the polls on November 8.

"I spent the past two years working hard in the House to advance important legislation to rebuild our infrastructure, conserve our public land, deliver tax cuts for families, tribes and small businesses, and get our economy going again. But there’s still more work to be done," Zinke, who first won election in 2014, said in a press release.


Kings Road Media on Vimeo: Our Last Refuge Trailer

Approval of H.R.563 puts it closer to final action in the House and helps make the case for its inclusion in a national water bill or in another legislative package. On the Senate side, the settlement has already been added to S.2848, the Water Resources Development Act.

The markup starts on Tuesday afternoon at 4pm and concludes on Wednesday morning at 10am. The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act is one of four items on the agenda.

Several Blackfeet leaders, including Chairman Harry Barnes and Chief Earl Old Person, are in D.C. this week for the markup and for a screening of the film Our Last Refuge: The Badger-Two Medicine Story. The documentary details the tribe's efforts to protect the sacred Badger-Two Medicine Area from energy development.

The screening and a discussion will take place at the National Museum of the American Indian on Thursday afternoon.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notices:
Full Committee Markup (November 15, 2016)
Full Committee Markup (November 16, 2016)

Related Stories:
Energy firm still seeking to drill on sacred Blackfeet Nation land (10/05)
Oklahoma lawmakers push for approval of tribal water rights deal (09/29)
Senate passes water bill but fails to include #NoDAPL amendment (09/15)
Blackfeet Nation swears in leaders and looks to a new future (07/22)
Blackfeet Nation welcomes movement on water rights settlement (02/05)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee passes two water bills at meeting (02/03)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee reschedules business meeting (01/25)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee schedules business meeting for two water rights bills (01/22)
Senate committee delays action on Blackfeet Nation water rights (12/02)
Senate committee to take up land-into-trust reform legislation (12/01)