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Federal Recognition For Little Shell Tribe Fails In Senate

Little Shell Chippewa Tribe.

A bill that would have granted federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe in Montana failed in the U.S. Senate Thursday.

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, objected to fast-tracking the bill’s passage in the Senate.

It is unlikely the bill will come up for a vote before the end of the congressional session, and will therefore need to be reintroduced next year.

In his singular objection to a call to bypass debate and pass the bill, Senator Lee pointed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs denial of the Little Shell’s petition for federal recognition in 2009.

"I'm aware of no legal analysis indicating that the conclusion of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2009 was inadequate or flawed. For that reason, I object," Lee said.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill to recognize six tribes in Virginia by the same process known as unanimous consent.

Little Shell Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray issued a statement calling Thursday’s events a, “disheartening outcome” and thanking Montana’s Representative Greg Gianforte and Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester for carrying the Tribe’s recognition legislation. Gray could not be reached for comment before deadline.

Speaking ahead of the Senate vote Thursday, Daines, a Republican, reiterated the bill’s bipartisan support.

"The Little Shell Tribe has waited for lifetimes. They should not have to wait another year to get this done."

In a statement following the vote, Daines said he won’t stop fighting for the Tribe’s recognition.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester demanded that Lee lift his objection and provide the Little Shell access to their homeland and resources they rightfully deserve.

The Tribe counts about 5,400 enrolled members and is based in Great Falls.

Federal recognition would create a government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Little Shell Tribe, allow the tribe to purchase 200 acres as a landbase and make Tribal members eligible for certain benefits.

The state of Montana recognized the Tribe’s sovereignty in 2000.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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