Bill Would Allow Non-Tribal Members To Hunt On Private Lands On Reservations
Correction: A previous version of this story identified the speaker interrupting Passieri as Wildlife Committee Chair Republican Ross H. Fitzgerald. Seth Berglee, another Republican on the committee, was the one speaking. YPR News regrets the error.
Montana lawmakers heard impassioned testimony this week on a bill that would allow non-tribal members to hunt on privately owned lands within Native American reservations.
The hearing for House Bill 241, which would require the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to allow big game hunting on fee land owned by non-tribal members, went on for nearly two and a half hours Tuesday.
Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Joe Read from Ronan said the bill is not meant to infringe on the rights of tribal nations.
"It's truly just a private property ownership bill," Read said.
Opponents of the bill disagreed.
"It's not a private property bill. It's a bill that clearly infringes on tribal sovereignty, violates the Montana Constitution and state law. And I urge you to vote no on HB 241," said Majel Russell, an attorney who represents the Crow and Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.
Over 30 representatives from all eight tribal nations in Montana opposed the bill.
Tribal nation chairs and presidents along with attorneys and tribal members said the bill violates treaty rights and previous state and federal legal precedents, and ignores the sovereignty of tribal nations to govern themselves.
Chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Shelly Fyant said the bill was dangerous.
"It's simply not worth destroying what has been working for decades for all other Montanans and our tribal people on our treaty-reserved homelands in order to benefit a few landowners who choose to live on an Indian reservation," Fyant said.
Other groups, including Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Montana Wildlife Federation, also opposed the bill, saying tribal governments already have effective management and permitting systems in place, that this bill would create a jurisdictional nightmare and would harm state and tribal relations.
Proponents of the bill, primarily from the Flathead-area, spoke about owning land within the Flathead Reservation and wishing to legally hunt and manage large game coming onto their land.
Lawmakers again shut down public comment that mentioned racism, when David Allen Passieri, a real estate agent and proponent of the bill, began discussing Native American tribes in discriminating terms. He was interrupted by Republican Seth Berglee.
"I don't think that racism is appropriate for proponents or opponents to be brought up. This isn't about race. It's about land ownership," Berglee said.
Comments mentioning white supremacy in arguments against a bill to ban sanctuary cities were shut down in a House committee and on the House Floor earlier this session.
House Bill 241 has not yet been voted on.
Montana lawmakers are considering a number of other bills related to state-tribal relations.
Republican Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson is backing a bill that would no longer exempt tribes from paying property taxes on lands in consideration for trust status. Opponents have said this bill supports an unprecedented situation in which one government taxes another.
Meanwhile, Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy, a Democrat from Crow Agency, is sponsoring a bill to establish a missing persons review commission to combat the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People crisis.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report For America Indigenous affairs reporter.