Homeless for Over a Century, a Tribe Awaits U.S. Redemption
The 112 families led by Chief Little Shell lost their North Dakota homeland to the government in 1892 when a chief of the Pembina Chippewa signed away their rights to it, without their authority and in their absence. The Little Shell had left home, in the Turtle Mountain area, to go hunting, and an Indian agent forced the other Chippewa to accept the Ten Cent Treaty - so called by Indians because it bought about 10 million acres of Chippewa land, including that of the Little Shell, for a million dollars.
Ever since, the Little Shell have known only diaspora.
Most came to Montana, where they lived near dumps and on the streets of Great Falls, Helena and other towns. In 1896, angry whites asked the government to do something about them, and the Army rounded them up at gunpoint, put them on boxcars and shipped them to Canada. "Most of them made their way back," said Mr. Shield, the vice president of the tribal council, which Mr. Boham serves as assistant.
The three other surviving Chippewa tribes from the Turtle Mountain area - the Turtle Mountain, the White Earth and the Rocky Boy - were all less scattered and received federal recognition over time; they now have reservations. But the 4,500 or so Little Shell still await official recognition from the Office of Federal Acknowledgment at the Interior Department, a quest for which they have gained the support not only of other tribes in Montana but also of the Montana governor's office, the State Legislature and Cascade County, which includes Great Falls.
The recognition process was created by the government in 1978 to make reparations to tribes that had been forced to move from place to place throughout American history. There are now 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States.
Roughly 220 others have expressed interest in recognition, but such efforts are often strongly opposed. Some of that opposition comes from tribes, already recognized, that are eager to protect their vast casino gambling income, and from states that do not want recognized tribes within their borders, because a bid for recognition is occasionally a ploy of relatively few Indians with dubious historical ties simply to open a new casino.
"We're running into the ripple effects of gaming
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