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Will The Little Shell Land Base Include Hill 57?

The Little Shell Tribal Seal, with yellow bordering and a buffalo center.
Little Shell Tribe
The tribal seal for the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The U.S. House passed the National Defense Authorization Act today. That means the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana is halfway to federal recognition. But will the tribe’s land base include Hill 57?

Montana Republican Greg Gianforte voted yea on the defense bill, passing a version of Little Shell recognition bill he’s introduced in the U.S. House twice.

Assuming the bill passes the Senate, which is expected to vote early next week, the Little Shell will be recognized after generations of struggle. But it could take years to figure out the details.

The bill guarantees a land base within Blaine, Cascade, Glacier and Hill counties. Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray says the next step will be to meet with the U.S. Department of the Interior to see what acres are available.

When asked if the land base will include Hill 57, Gray said, “No I don’t. I don’t even know what’s available there.”

Hill 57 is an area a few miles west of Great Falls that served as a nexus for the Little Shell community until the 1990s.

“To be honest with you, I’ve never looked into it,” he said. “I’ve never been that presumptuous to say, ‘This is where we’re going to be.’”

Other things to be determined include how much federal funding the tribe will receive education, healthcare and economic development. A Department of Interior spokesperson says that depends on how many tribal members it has. For reference, a tribe with less than 3,000 members usually gets $320,000. The Little Shell Tribe has 5,400 members.

The defense bill is expected to pass before the congressional session ends next week. Assuming it does, the tribe will have a year before funding kicks in. It can request supplemental funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs before then but the spokesperson says there are no guarantees. If D.C. defies expectations and the defense bill doesn’t pass until January, it’ll be two years until the tribe receives full funding.

President Donald Trump says he’ll sign the bill “immediately,” as soon as it reaches his desk.

Then the Little Shell will no longer be one of the more than four hundred unrecognized tribes in the U.S.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.