Northern Cheyenne Lands Act Looks to Right a Century Old Wrong
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Montana) has introduced a bill that he hopes will correct a federal error that has hurt the Northern Cheyenne Tribe for more than a century.
The Northern Cheyenne Lands Act (H.R. 4350) would allow the tribe more control over their lands, minerals and trust funds, while strengthening tribal sovereignty for the tribe and increasing the tribe’s ability to serve its people according to a press release from Daines’ office.
“The Northern Cheyenne Lands Act provides the Northern Cheyenne Tribe with a long-overdue resolution to the federal government’s breach of trust with the tribe and empowers the Northern Cheyenne people to control their land and their resources,” Daines stated. “The Northern Cheyenne people have long struggled to secure and maintain a land-based homeland, and this legislation will ensure that the tribe is better able to use their land and protect the sites most sacred to them. I’m proud to have worked hand in hand with the Northern Cheyenne people to find a solution that secures the tribe’s land and protects the tribe’s heritage for future generations.”
The bill states among its Congress findings that the tribe is dependent on its lands and land-based resources to support its way of life since time immemorial and addresses the suffering currently seen on the reservation – “social and economic challenges, including a lack of employment opportunities.”
The Northern Cheyenne Lands Act focuses on 5,000 subsurface acres within the reservation that the tribe does not currently own due to an error by the United States in 1900. This Act is the result of a 2002 settlement by the tribe to dismiss its lawsuit against the U.S. in return for assistance in securing tribal ownership of those subsurface rights.
Daines’ bill also states, that if the actions within the Act are completed, “the tribe would waive all legal claims against the United States arising out of the longstanding loss of the subsurface rights and arising out of the United States’ management of the Northern Cheyenne Trust Fund.”
Protecting the tribe’s right to control their land and minerals has been key to the Act.
“Our tribe has been seeking this kind of greatly-needed relief from Congress for many years, reaching back to my first administration in the early 1990s and prior to that,” Northern Cheyenne Tribal President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher stated. “This legislation is a number one priority of the tribe, as it involves our reservation lands and subsurface which we made many historic sacrifices to restore and preserve, and also our permanent fund. If the bill is passed, our control over our reservation will be solidified and our economic development opportunities will be substantially enhanced. We thank Representative Daines for his work on this.”
Coinciding with the land transfer in the Act, the Secretary of the Interior is being asked to transfer the funds currently in the Northern Cheyenne Trust Fund to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe Permanent Fund, the latter being within the tribe’s control. This request is consistent with the American Indian Trust Reform Act of 1994.
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