The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians on Saturday will celebrate something generations have fought for and that 400 other North American tribes are without: federal recognition.
The event to celebrate the Little Shell’s federal recognition will culminate in a pow wow dance and live fiddle music. State politicians like Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox are expected to speak at a ceremony this Saturday night in Great Falls.
Before the tribe gained acknowledgement last month, Little Shell Chairman Gerald Gray told Yellowstone Public Radio that he didn’t want to get his hopes up by planning a celebration.
"I’ve been planning it in my mind. But you don’t want to ever put the cart before the horse," he said.
The tribe had been fighting for federal recognition since treaty talks over a hundred years ago. Montana’s Congressional delegation had tried, and failed, to pass Little Shell federal recognition bills for over a decade. It passed last month as a rider in the national defense bill.
"The dignity was always kind of been in question," Gray said. "You know, are you really an Indian? Well yeah, we always knew we were but other tribes and Indians looked at us like, ‘Well, you’re not federally recognized.’”
Now the Montana tribe can gain a 200-acre land base and be eligible for federal dollars from agencies like the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education.
Chairman Gray, who has no health insurance, says he looks forward to coverage by the Indian Health Service but told Yellowstone Public Radio last month that this was about more than the federal benefits. It’s about the validation.
The celebration is expected to start at 5 P.M. Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Great Falls.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.