Montana’s Little Shell Tribe is closer than it’s ever been to becoming recognized by the federal government following a vote in the U.S. Senate Thursday.
Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester recently nestled the Little Shell’s recognition as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual military funding package the Senate passed Thursday.
On a press call shortly after the vote, Democratic Senator Tester said he’s pushed for the tribe’s recognition since his first year in Congress.
“I fought hard to get Senate leadership to include our bill in the NDAA and when Senator McConnell told us he would allow it, Senator Daines got first billing, look, we'll get 'er done. I was all for it.,” says Tester.
Federal recognition would establish a government-to-government relationship between the U.S. and the tribe, allow the Little Shell to access federal funding for health care, education and economic development, and secure 200 acres as a tribal landbase. The tribe is headquartered in Great Falls and counts 5,400 members.
The Little Shell first petitioned the federal government for recognition under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and sought recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs beginning in 1978. That process is on-going.
Republican Senator Steve Daines says recognition processes have changed at the expense of the tribe.
“This has been an injustice for the people, the Little Shell. This is bureaucrats moving the goalposts. It's a process that's broken on tribal recognition and I'm just proud we have a united delegation here. It’s a historic day,” says Daines.
Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte introduced a stand-alone recognition bill the U.S. House passed in March.
The House and Senate bills still need to be reconciled, but Tester and Daines are both optimistic the Little Tribe’s bill will land on President Trump’s desk next month.