On Friday, Little Shell Tribe Became the 574th Federally Recognized Tribe

Ayabe-Way-We-Tung became the third Little Shell chief in 1872 and quickly began pushing the U.S. government for a reservation that would be his people’s homeland. On Friday, his tribe won federal recognition. (National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution)

Published December 22, 2019

WASHINGTON  — The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, with some 5,400 tribal citizens, became the 574th federally recognized tribe in the United States. The moment took place when President Donald Trump signed the $738 billion defense bill.

“It’s really about dignity, because we’ve been fighting for so long,” said tribal Chairman Gerald Gray. “It’s righting a wrong.”

The tribe is based in Great Falls, Montana.

“This has been a long journey for our people and I am proud that it is finally over. We have worked tirelessly in this fight and the United States has finally reaffirmed our existence. This fight has always been about the dignity, identity, and culture of our people. The Little Shelll Tribe and its people have, and will always, persist and thrive,” commented Gray after the measure passed the U.S. Senate last Tuesday.

The Little Shell Tribe has waged a two-front war to obtain recognition—one front in Congress and one in the administrative process.  For decades, the Native American Relief Fund (NARF) has represented the Tribe in the administrative process and gathered crucial information used in the Congressional effort, which was led by Josh Clause (Clause Law P.L.L.C.). The two efforts complemented each other, and we are thrilled that we were able to support the Tribe’s ultimate success.

In 1978, the Department of the Interior established regulations governing the federal recognition of Indian tribes. The Little Shell Tribe sent a letter in 1978 indicating an intent to proceed under the regulations. The process required extensive historical, genealogical, and anthropological evidence of a tribe’s continuous existence as a governing body over time. Little Shell submitted over 60,000 pages of documentation in support of its recognition. NARF represented the tribe throughout these years’ of effort. Thousands of attorney hours were invested in fulfilling the regulations and  experts were hired to collect and confirm the required anthropological evidence.

With the collected evidence in-hand, the Tribe received a favorable preliminary finding in support of its federal recognition. However, subsequently, that finding was reversed—even though no adverse evidence had been presented. To accommodate a convoluted and broken administrative process, extensive revisions were made to the recognition regulations. The tribe worked to resubmit under the new regulations.

The tribe now has rights of other federally recognized tribes.

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