Native Americans have routinely fought for land rights across the U.S. This past December, one small tribe won a land autonomy milestone, as Congress officially recognized the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
The tribe has about 5,300 members and, after 125 years of waiting, they now officially hold a federally protected status as a Native American tribe. Initially, the tribe claimed 10 million acres of land in North Dakota, but their land claim was signed on their behalf by another tribe which then took over the land.
Today, most of the tribe has dispersed throughout Montana. Through a collaboration between Little Shell’s chairman, Gerald Gray, Gov. Steve Bullock, and Senator Steve Daines, the tribe received recognition by the National Defense Authorization Act.
The new status gives the tribe federal assistance and the ability to hold land. It also gives members access to federally funded medical care. The tribe says it plans to fundraise to buy land and build a tribal headquarters, a clinic, a trade school and college, and perhaps housing for older residents. While many other tribes are still awaiting the same recognition, this is a victory for the Little Shell Tribe and their fight for dignity, recognition, and autonomy.