Montana delegates back Fort Belknap Reservation water rights bill in Congress
Montana’s entire congressional delegation is backing a new attempt to ratify water rights for the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes on the Fort Belknap Reservation in northern Montana.
Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines introduced the policy in the U.S. Senate last week. It would provide $1.3 billion to the Fort Belknap Indian Community for infrastructure improvements, including ongoing irrigation work on the Milk River. The act would also return more than 37,000 acres of land to the tribes.
The tribes’ government passed an initial version of the compact in 2001, and the policy has lingered in Congress for more than a decade. Fort Belknap Indian Community Council President Jeffrey Stiffarm said he’s betting bipartisan support this time will get it across the finish line.
“So, this is very historical for us that we’re going to be able to actually use our water for what it was meant to be,” Stiffarm said.
Congress will need to approve the compact for it to move forward. Reps. Matt Rosendale and Ryan Zinke and Gov. Greg Gianforte also said they support the policy. The Fort Belknap Reservation is the last in Montana without a water rights agreement.