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Montana tribe’s quest for recognition advances in Congress

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Congress is on the cusp of approving legislation to recognize the state’s Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Montana’s congressional delegation said.

The proposal is included in the final language of a defense spending bill released Monday night by the U.S. House.

The measure would provide the Little Shell 200 acres (81 hectares) for a reservation and make its members eligible for health care benefits, education support and federal economic development programs.

Final votes on the measure by the House and Senate are expected in the near future.

The Little Shell tribe has around 5,400 enrolled members and was recognized by the state of Montana in 2000.

It members have fought for decades to be recognized by the federal government and given the basic treaty rights offered to other American Indian tribes.

The Little Shell evolved from a group of Indian and French hunters and trappers affiliated with the historical Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians.

The tribe has been without a recognized homeland since the late 1800’s, when Chief Little Shell and his followers in North Dakota broke off treaty negotiations with the U.S. government. Tribe members later settled in Montana and southern Canada.

Tribal leaders first petitioned for recognition through the Interior Department in 1978.

The Interior Department gave preliminary approval to recognizing the Little Shell in 2000 but rescinded the move in 2009. The agency denied recognition for the Little Shell again in 2013.

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