Leaders of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians came to Capitol Hill at the end of the 115th Congress to lobby for their federal recognition bill but it didn't pass. They are optimistic about success in the current session. Photo: Rep. Greg Gianforte

'One step closer': Little Shell Chippewa Tribe optimistic on federal recognition

The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians is "one step closer" to securing federal recognition, Chairman Gerald Gray said on Wednesday.

A bill to restore the tribe's status already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It's now being included in a "must pass legislative vehicle" in the U.S. Senate, Gray said.

"We still have work to do and we are not over the finish line yet. Tribal Council remains focused on the task at hand and will continue to push until we are over that finish line," Gray said in a statement on social media.

The "must pass" bill is S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. An amendment to recognize the tribe is being included in the package, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) said.

S.Amdt.733 to S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, contains the text of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act.

“Great news today for Montana’s Little Shell Tribe,” Daines said in a press release. “After decades of fighting for the federal recognition they deserved, we’re one step closer to making it a reality. I’m honored to have worked to get this included in the must-pass NDAA, and will continue to work until it’s signed into law.”

“This is the very first bill I introduced when I got to the Senate, and I’ve fought ever since for us to do right by the Little Shell Tribe and pass it into law,” said Tester. “That day is now closer than ever for the Tribe—long-overdue recognition of their rightful history and tribal sovereignty.”

The amendment to S.1790 is S.Amdt.733. It's basically the text of H.R.297, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, which passed the House on March 26.

"This is another important step for the Little Shell Tribe in their quest for federal recognition. After successfully guiding the bill through the House last September, and again in March, I am thankful the Senate is taking up their worthy cause," said Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana) , the sponsor of the measure. "I appreciate the dedication and determination of Chairman Gray and the Little Shell people throughout this process, and I will continue to push for the recognition they deserve."

Daines and Tester are sponsors of S.51, the Senate version of the bill. Both serve on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which approved the bill on January 29.

The Senate is on track to pass the National Defense Authorization Act before the end of the month. A separate version is under consideration in the House so any differences will have to be reconciled before a final package can be approved and be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The tribe's status has been in limbo for more than a century following failed treaty negotiations in the late 1800s. An attempt to gain recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been marked by uncertainty through three presidential administrations, Republican and Democrat.

The tribe's federal recognition petition is still being considered by the BIA.

Read More on the Story
Senators optimistic Little Shell bill will pass soon (The Great Falls Tribune June 19, 2019)
Daines, Tester advance bill in Senate to federally recognize Little Shell Tribe (MTN News June 19, 2019)

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