Native News 2018 / University of Montana School of Journalism: Being Little Shell
Little Shell Chippewa Tribe sees progress on federal recognition bill
A bill to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians is taking an important step forward on Capitol Hill this week.

H.R.3764, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, is scheduled for a markup session in the House Committee on Natural Resources on Wednesday. Action there means the bill can be considered on the floor of the House for passage.

"The Little Shell Tribe has been consistently wronged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs despite the fact they are deserving of federal recognition and struggled to receive such confirmation for over 100 years," Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana), the sponsor of H.R. 3764, wrote in a letter to key lawmakers in March.

The Little Shell Elders and Veterans Traditional Powwow takes place August 25, 2018, at First Peoples Buffalo Jump in Ulm, Montana. Image: Montana Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians

The bill was the second one Gianforte introduced after joining Congress last summer. He succeeded former Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), who now serves as Secretary of the Interior in the Trump administration.

"My position on Little Shell has been supportive," Zinke said during a March 2017 appearance on Capitol Hill. The first bill he had introduced when he served in Congress was to recognize the tribe.

Legislative recognition would resolve a confusing situation. During the Clinton administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe's federal recognition petition only for the agency to change course several years later during the Obama era.

After the tribe questioned the reversal, Zinke's predecessor, Sally Jewell, ordered the BIA to reconsider the petition. That was back in 2013 and there's been no decision since.

"I hope the Congress does it," Zinke said of the need for the legislative branch to take action.

Then-Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) is seen with the flag of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Zinke now serves as the Secretary of the Interior. Photo: Office of Ryan Zinke

Historically, Congress has been reluctant to do just that, with the last stand-alone recognition bills becoming law in the mid-1990s, when Democrats were in control on Capitol Hill. Two additional tribes gained recognition in 2000 but only after they were included in a larger omnibus package.

But the landscape has changed significantly in the last few years. Instead of opposing legislative recognition, Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate, have emerged as the primary champions of bills like H.R.3764.

"They've waited far too long to be formally acknowledged by the federal government," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) said of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe. "We need to correct this injustice."


In January, the GOP-controlled Congress broke the 18-year logjam on legislative recognition and gave final passage to H.R.984, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act. A Republican president -- Donald Trump, that is -- signed the bill into law, extending recognition to six tribes in Virginia.

The Little Shell Chippewa Tribe has a few more hurdles to overcome to get to the same place. The House would still need to pass H.R.3764 while the Senate has yet to take action on S.39, a companion version of the bill.

Wednesday's markup before the House Committee on Natural Resources takes place at 10:15 am in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. H.R.3764 is the only Indian bill on the agenda.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Full Committee Markup (July 11, 2018)

Native News 2018:
Being Little Shell: Finding Tribal Identity While Miles Apart (University of Montana School of Journalism)

Its Flag Day!!!!!! What flag do you have in your office? We have a Little Shell flag in ours! Lets see yours!

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Federal recognition bill for six tribes in Virginia inches another step forward (September 13, 2017)
Little Shell Chippewa Tribe sees brighter future with Ryan Zinke at Interior Department (March 9, 2017)
Little Shell Chippewa Tribe continues long journey for federal status (02/09)
Clara Caufield: Ryan Zinke brings tribal record to table at Interior (01/04)
Gabriel Furshong: Little Shell Chippewa Tribe still waiting for federal recognition (12/20)
Republican lawmaker with a better tribal record tapped for Interior Secretary (12/15)
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