The Little Shell Tribe saw their highest voter turnout yet for tribal elections. YPR News’ Kaitlyn Nicholas spoke with reelected Chairman Gerald Gray about his previous term and his future goals for the tribe.
On Nov. 8, members of the Montana Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians reelected all incumbent council members and executive board officials, including Chairman Gerald Gray to his third four year term appointment.
Gray says securing federal recognition was his biggest focus during his last term as Chairman.
"We've only been recognized for about 10 and a half months. So I'm excited to continue this work on behalf of the membership, and look forward to really making the tribe as successful as we can make it...at least in the next four years," Gray said.
The tribe was federally recognized Dec. 20, 2019, opening access to many resources including from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service (IHS) and the ability to purchase tribal land.
To provide tribal members with health services, Chairman Gray says the tribe bought a small clinic in Great Falls in July.
"We have to renovate to meet the guidelines of IHS. Because Indian Health Service will operate our clinic for us, I think at a minimum of three years, and then we can slowly start to operate it ourselves after that," Gray said.
Gray says it’s important the tribe eventually offers its own health care, independent of IHS, as he wants a holistic health care system for the tribe, modeled after a system used by Native tribes in Alaska, rather than IHS, which Gray says is chronically underfunded and offers limited services.
Despite rumors the tribe would purchase 200 acres for a reservation, Gray says it’s unlikely they’d find a single tract encompassing the tribe’s defined service area of Glacier, Cascade, Hill and Blaine counties.
"Don't get me wrong, under our economic development, we will buy land and we will put up elder, veterans housing on those pieces of land that we do purchase," Gray said.
The Chairman says the tribe is planning to buy some land in the next month and a half in Cascade County.
Chairman Gray says his overall priority is to find new ways to strengthen the Little Shell Tribe’s economy.