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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Secretary Zinke: Congress, Not Interior, Should Recognize Little Shell Tribe

Little Shell Chippewa Tribe

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may not be able to provide the slam dunk for Montana’s Little Shell Tribe that some had hoped he would. At least not right away.

Montana’s Little Shell Tribe has spent nearly four decades fighting for federal recognition. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicated Wednesday they might have to wait just a bit longer than they hoped.

Little Shell Chairman Gerald Gray told Montana Public Radio back in February that he hoped Ryan Zinke would be quickly confirmed as the next Interior Secretary:

"He could recognize us on his own," Gray said.

But appearing before the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Zinke, Montana’s former congressman, told Montana Senator Jon Tester that while he fully supports the Little Shell:

"Now as the Secretary I have to make sure that process is fair, transparent and [won’t] unduly influence that process. I've been following [Tester’s] bill very closely. I hope the House picks up similar and I hope Congress does it," Zinke said.

"I am one that thinks it should be the [Interior] Department, to be honest with you, because you will de-politicize it," said Senator Tester. "We [Congress] will politicize it. If you could show it just a little extra attention that’s all it takes."

"I’m making sure that all recognition goes through as smoothly and expeditiously as absolutely possible," Zinke said.

Zinke, Montana’s congressman until he was confirmed as Interior Secretary on March 1 has long championed federal recognition for the Little Shell. He sponsored a bill last year to do just that.

Tester, a Democrat, and Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines are also co-sponsoring legislation to recognize the Little Shell. Such designations formally recognize tribes as sovereign nations and provide federal resources like housing, medical care and education.

Tester and Daines' bill would give the Little Shell 200-acres to use as a land base.

Little Shell Chair Gerald Gray could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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