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

'A long journey for our people': Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians on cusp of federal recognition

After more than a century of efforts, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians is on the cusp of federal recognition.

In a series of votes this week, Congress gave final passage to S.1790, the National Defense Authorization Act. A provision buried deep in the 3,488-page bill extends federal recognition to Montana-based Little Shell Tribe, whose federal status has been in limbo ever since failed treaty negotiations in the late 1800s.

"The bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature and upon that signature the Little Shell Tribe will become the 574th federally recognized tribe," Chairman Gerald Gray said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This has been a long journey for our people and I am proud that it is finally over," Gray added. "We have worked tirelessly in this fight and the United States has finally reaffirmed our existence. This fight has always been about the dignity, identity, and culture of our people."

The Little Shell Tribal Council is excited to share that the Senate just passed the NDAA and with it the Little Shell...

Posted by Montana Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians on Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Chairman Gray credited bipartisan support for its federal recognition. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana) helped push for passage of the legislation that eventually made its way into the national defense bill.

“Today is a historic day for the Little Shell Tribe and the State of Montana,” Daines, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release. “For far too long, Congress kicked the can down the road and failed to federally recognize Little Shell. That’s why I made it my top priority to help get federal recognition across the finish line. I look forward to President Trump signing this huge victory for the Little Shell Tribe into law!”

“We’re at the finish line: the Little Shell Tribe has fought for more than a century to claim their rightful place as a sovereign nation, and for the last 12 years I’ve been honored to work alongside them to get it done,” Tester, a former chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release. “This is a historic day for the Tribe and for Montana, and now it’s finally time for the President to sign this bill into law and officially recognize the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.”

“Today marks an important day for the Little Shell Tribe. They’ve waited for more than eight decades for federal recognition, which is now one step closer to reality. I appreciate the hard work and dedication of Chairman Gray and the Little Shell people who have been strong advocates for their worthy cause,” said Gianforte, who is running for governor of Montana after spending just one term in Congress.. “I’m proud to have stood with them and to work in the House to deliver on their long-overdue federal recognition.”

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law, marking another instance in which Congress has sent him a legislative recognition bill. In 2018, he signed legislation to extend federal recognition to six tribes based in Virginia.

The U.S. Senate first passed S.1790 by a vote of 86 to 8 on June 27. it later went to the U.S. House of Representatives, where it was approved without objection on September 17.

But before that happened, Democrats in the House had been pushing H.R.2500, a different version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Republicans raised numerous objections to the measure.

The two chambers eventually came together and agreed to a compromise package . The conference committee's report was approved in the House by a vote of 377 to 48 on December 11 and in the Senate by a vote of 86 to 8 on December 17.

An artist's depiction of Chief Little Shell, who was a leader of the Little Shell people in the 1800s. Photo: Montana Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Gianforte introduced H.R.297, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, in one of first actions as a new member of Congress. His bill passed by the House by a vote of 403 to 21 on March 26.

The Senate version of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act is S.51, supported by Daines and Tester. It was included in the National Defense Authorization Act.

The tribe has been attempting to gain federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs bu its efforts have 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.

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