HELENA (AP) -- Gov. Brian Schweitzer has signed a bill that offers the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe control of a two-story brick building and a few acres at the Morony Dam site as part of a legislative effort to help the tribe gain federal recognition.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Shannon Augare, D-Browning, would give the tribe control of the historic Morony apartment building for the next decade.
Roger Semler, regional parks manager for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Great Falls, said the tribe also would control six or seven acres. The state agency supervises the Morony park.
"We thought that if the Little Shell had a land base, maybe Congress would grant them recognition a little quicker," said Sen. Joe Tropila, D-Great Falls, the bill's co-sponsor. Greater acreage has been discussed, he said.
For 115 years, the Little Shell have sought federal recognition, which would enable the tribe and its members to qualify for government services and aid such as education and health-care funding.
Under the new law, the tribe could renovate the brick building and use it for offices and cultural activities. The bill does not provide any state funding.
"Obviously, it would be quite a costly endeavor to restore that building to its historic design," Semler said. "It could be well over a million dollars would be my guess."
After a decade, the tribe could renew its lease, or the state could permanently transfer the building and surrounding acreage to the tribe.
Details still need to be worked out, said Russell Boham, the tribal executive officer.
"All of it, as far as the tribe is concerned, merely provides the impetus for negotiations," he said. "And until negotiations begin, everything is up in the air.
"However, we're pleased that the legislation has been passed and signed, and we consider it a great opportunity."
Negotiations over the bill led to the resignation of Little Shell Vice Chairman James Parker Shield earlier this year. Tribal President John Sinclair said at the time that he was unaware of Shield's negotiations with the state until "way late in the game."
The Little Shell have offices in a Great Falls shopping center.