The Montana Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has sought federal recognition for almost 4 decades and tribal officials say they’re now the closest they’ve ever been to that elusive goal.
The House Natural Resources Committee yesterday passed legislation that includes federal recognition of the Little Shell tribe.
That’s the first time it’s ever made it out of a House committee.
Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray describes its passage as a groundbreaking milestone.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s really important and simple; for us it really, truly is about dignity and about the federal government acknowledging a government relationship with my tribe.”
Federal designations formally recognize tribes as sovereign nations and provide federal resources like housing, medical care and education.
Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke sponsored the bill in the House. He says he’ll continue to support it as a stand-alone provision.
If it passes the full House, it will join a companion bill that’s already passed out of a Senate committee.
Little Shell chair Gerald Gray says, “We’re very optimistic right now because they’re bipartisan.”
For all their ideological differences, Representative Zinke and his Democratic challenger Denise Juneau agree on the Little Shell issue. Both say the tribe deserves federal recognition, as do Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines.
The state of Montana recognized the Little Shell tribe in 2000.