Native News 2018 / University of Montana School of Journalism: Being Little Shell

'A proud day': Little Shell Chippewa Tribe moves closer to federal recognition

For the first time in more than a decade, legislation to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has cleared both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted 88-8 on Thursday to pass S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020. A federal recognition amendment was included in the must-pass package thanks to the efforts of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana).

"This is a big day: after more than 12 years, our legislation to federally recognize the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has finally passed the United States Senate," Tester said in a press release. "This bill will help correct a historical injustice perpetrated against the Little Shell Tribe, who have fought for generations to be recognized. It was the very first bill I introduced when I got to the Senate in 2007 and it's time the federal government acknowledge what the tribes of Montana, the state of Montana, and most importantly, the Little Shell members themselves know to be true."

"Today is a historic day for Montana's Little Shell Tribe," Daines said. "For the first time in history, our bill to federally recognize the Tribe passed the Senate. This is a major milestone for the Little Shell Tribe, and I'll continue pushing until we get this done once and for all."

Chairman Gray gave me this can as a symbol of Congress “kicking the can down the road” with federal recognition of the...

Posted by Senator Steve Daines on Thursday, June 27, 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.297, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, on March 26. So the action in the Senate marks the first time a recognition bill has cleared both chambers in some form.

"This is a proud day for our tribe and our allies," Chairman Gerald Gray said in astatement on social media.

The House has not yet passed H.R.2500, its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but it is being scheduled for consideration by the Democratic leadership. A vote is expected next month, Gray said.

Once that happens, any differences between the two versions will have to be reconciled before the final package can be approved by Congress and sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. Gray was optimistic that will happen in the next couple of months.

"Our bill will need to survive that reconciliation process in order to become law," Gray said. "The timing of final passage will depend on how long that process takes but will likely be late July or after the August recess."

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.

As a result, the tribe's federal recognition petition is still being considered by the BIA.

The tribe enjoys support from all of the other Indian nations in Montana, along with Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

"As a state recognized tribe, we know in Montana that the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe’s history and culture are part of the fabric of our state," Bullock said in a statement to NBC News. "For decades, the tribe has pursued federal recognition and has long been denied the treaty rights available to Montana’s American Indian tribes. Montana continues to support this effort and our ongoing relationship with the tribe as they reach this monumental and well-deserved recognition.

Since the start of the Trump era in 2017, Congress has passed one other federal recognition bill. The Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Tribe - Eastern Division, the Monacan Nation, the Nansemond Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe gained recognition in January 2018.

Read More on the Story
Senate Approves Federal Recognition of Little Shell Tribe After Years-Long Push by Tester & Daines (The Char-Koosta News June 27, 2019)
Little Shell bill clears big hurdle in Senate (The Great Falls Tribune June 27, 2019)
Montana's Little Shell closer than ever to federal recognition (The Billings Gazette June 27, 2019)
Little Shell Recognition Added As Amendment To National Defense Bill (MTPR June 20, 2019)
'We're getting it done': Montana's Little Shell tribe close to federal recognition (The Billings Gazette June 20, 2019)
Tester, Daines help bill pass Senate federally recognizing Little Shell Tribe (NBC Montana June 27, 2019)

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