(U.S. Senate) – Following more than a century of efforts by Tribal members and dedicated efforts by U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, federal recognition of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians passed the U.S. Senate today 86-8 as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“We’re at the finish line: the Little Shell Tribe has fought for more than a century to claim their rightful place as a sovereign nation, and for the last 12 years I’ve been honored to work alongside them to get it done,” said Tester. “This is a historic day for the Tribe and for Montana, and now it’s finally time for the President to sign this bill into law and officially recognize the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.”
“Today is a historic day for the Little Shell Tribe and the State of Montana,” Daines said. “For far too long, Congress kicked the can down the road and failed to federally recognize Little Shell. That’s why I made it my top priority to help get federal recognition across the finish line. I look forward to President Trump signing this huge victory for the Little Shell Tribe into law!”
“This is a momentous day,” Little Shell Chairman Gerald Gray said. “Today is the day that Chief Little Shell fought so hard to make a reality. Our ancestors are smiling today because this fight is over. The Little Shell Tribe can now continue forward in ensuring that our future generations will thrive and that our traditions and cultural values never disappear.”
Tester’s first bill introduction as a U.S. Senator in 2007 sought federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe, and he has reintroduced the same legislation every Congress since. Daines signed on to the legislation when he got to Congress and both Senators successfully pushed to include the bill as an amendment to the NDAA, a must-pass defense bill, which the Senate passed in June.
After the U.S House passed Congressman Greg Gianforte’s Little Shell recognition in March 2019, Tester kept the pressure on with a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees requesting that they include recognition language in any final version of the NDAA. Last week, the House unveiled final text of NDAA, which included the Little Shell provision, and passed the bill.
The Little Shell Tribe is headquartered in Great Falls and has more than 5,400 members across Montana. They were recognized by the State of Montana in 2000 but have sought federal recognition for more than a century.
Native American Tribes must be recognized as sovereign nations by the federal government to exercise full self-governance. This nation-to-nation relationship allows them to access critical resources for economic development, health care, education, and regulate affairs on tribal lands on terms that are socially and culturally appropriate.