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Little Shell Chippewa Tribe

Chairman Gerald Grey of the Little Shell Chippewa tribe gives the State of Tribal Nations address in 2015.

Montana’s congressional delegates have renewed their efforts to gain federal recognition for the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Cree Indians.

Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, reintroduced a bill this week to grant the Little Shell recognition necessary for securing the services and benefits provided to other Native Americans. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, introduced the same legislation Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Acquiring recognition for the Little Shell is a decadeslong fight to for tribal sovereignty and the basic support offered only to federally recognized tribes. The latest proposal would provide the Little Shell 200 acres of land for a reservation and make the Little Shell eligible for health care benefits, education support and federal economic development programs. The tribe has several thousand members.

“This Congress should provide the Little Shell tribe with the federal recognition it deserves, particularly after eight decades of dedicated efforts,” Gianforte said on the House floor Wednesday.

The quest for recognition nearly came to an end in 2018. Gianforte managed to get the House to sign off on Little Shell recognition, something that has never happened before. But in the Senate, the Daines and Tester bill stalled on the objection of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

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The chances of getting tribal recognition in the Senate are likely more favorable under regular rules, which prevent senators from putting a hold on voting.

“The Little Shell deserve to have their sovereignty recognized,” Tester said in a joint press release with Daines. “It’s time for the federal government to do right by the Little Shell. After years of fighting, I’m hopeful we can get it done this Congress.”

Tester has introduced several bills seeking recognition for the Little Shell since first taking office 12 years ago.

“Last month we were close to getting this across the finish line, and I won’t give up the fight now,” Daines said. “I look forward to working with Sen. Tester and my colleagues to get this important bill signed into law so the Little Shell Tribe receives the recognition they greatly deserve.”

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