Today at 1 pm at the State Capitol, CSKT Tribal Chairman Dr. Vernon Finley will deliver this year’s State of the Tribal Nations Address to members of both chambers of the state legislature, as well as top state officials. This occasion provides us with a great reason to review the meaningful developments in the relationship between tribal nations and the state of Montana.*
1951 - Montana Legislature creates the Coordinator of Indian Affairs position in recognition of the need for American Indians to communicate with state government.
1972 – Montana Constitution is revised in its entirety and includes the addition of Article 10, Section 1(2), which states that “the state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.”
1981 - Montana Legislature enacts the State-Tribal Cooperative Agreements Act, authorizing public agencies to enter into cooperative agreements with tribal governments.
1989 - Montana Legislature establishes the Committee on Indian Affairs, now called the State Tribal Relations Interim Committee to act as a liaison with tribal governments, encourage state-tribal and local-tribal cooperation, propose legislation, conduct interim studies and report its findings and make recommendations to the legislature.
1995 – State Tribal Relations Interim Committee publishes The Tribal Nations of Montana: A Handbook for Legislators to educate legislators about tribal culture, sovereignty, and government policies related to American Indians in Montana.
1995 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 544, sponsored by Representative Carley Tuss and codified as MCA 20-25-428, to appropriate $1.4 million to go towards reimbursing tribal colleges for educational services provided to resident non-Indian students. This would later become known as the Tribal College Assistance Program.
1997 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Senator Greg Jergeson, to make permanent the Tribal College Assistance Program, though the funding distribution remains contingent upon a line item appropriation.
1999 – Montana Legislature passes the Native American Economic Development Act, launching the State Tribal Economic Development (STED) Commission. The commission is comprised of eleven representatives from the eight tribal governments in Montana is responsible for assisting, promoting, developing, and proposing recommendations for accelerating on-reservation economic development.
2003 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 608, sponsored by Representative Jonathan Windy Boy and codified as MCA 2-15-142, 143. HB 608 creates mechanisms for holding the state accountable to Indian tribes and formulates the principles that should guide the state-tribal governmental relationship.
2005 – Governor Brian Schweitzer creates - via his first executive order - the Governor’s American Indian Nations Council (GAIN) to ensure that all activities conducted between tribal nations and the state are conducted in a government-to-government manner and that state agency activities with tribes include tribal consultation.
2005 - Governor Brian Schweitzer’s administration creates the GAIN database to track the extent of the state’s involvement with tribal governments.
2005 – Governor Brian Schweitzer convenes the first-ever state-sponsored meeting of tribal leaders, regional directors of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, and key members of his staff and state agencies to begin creating innovative solutions to some of the issues identified as priorities by tribal nations in Montana.
2005 - Montana Legislature approves Governor Brian Schweitzer's executive budget request for $3.2 million for fulfilling the state constitutional mandate articulated in Article 10, Section 1(2), today known as Indian Education for All.
2005 – Montana Legislature approves Governor Brian Schweitzer’s executive budget request of $1 million for Indian Country economic development to support tribal nations in taking advantage of existing and potential economic opportunities on their reservations. The program has since been expanded and is now called the Indian Country Economic Development (ICED) program and remains contingent upon a line item appropriation.
2006 – Governor Brian Schweitzer grants official state recognition to the Little Shell Tribe, a declaration that honored the 2003 landmark Montana Supreme Court ruling in Koke v. Little Shell Tribe.
2007 – Montana Legislature makes permanent the State Tribal Economic Development (STED) Commission.
2009 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 158, sponsored by Representative Shannon Augare, to allow tribal governments the ability to access all economic development grants and loans available under the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund, originally created in 2005.
2009 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 193, sponsored by Representative Shannon Augare and codified as MCA 2-15-102, to change the title of the Coordinator of Indian Affairs to Director of Indian Affairs, making the position commensurate with other positions in the Governor’s cabinet.
2010 – Governor Brian Schweitzer hosts the first Tribal Leaders Summit, now held annually, to encourage state-tribal dialogue and to strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the state and tribes.
2013 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Senator Jonathan Windy Boy and codified as MCA 20-9-537, to provide $2 million for the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program, to preserve and perpetuate tribal languages and creating a historic partnership between the state, tribal educators, organizations and governments.
2014 – Governor Steve Bullock launches his Main Street Montana in Indian Country initiative to work with tribal governments to increase educational and workforce development opportunities, develop reservation infrastructure, increase access to capital, and promote economic growth on reservations.
2015 – Montana Legislature passes House Bill 559, sponsored by Representative George Kipp, III, which appropriates an additional $1.5 million to continue the accomplishments of the Montana Indian Language Program into the 2017 biennium.
2015 – Montana Legislature passes Senate Bill 307, sponsored by Senator Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, to require the state to recognize tribal business entities organized under the laws of a federally recognized tribe in Montana.
2016 - Governor Steve Bullock creates the Office of American Indian Health to work in close collaboration with tribes to address health disparities among the American Indian population in Montana and bring about health equity.
The relationship between the state and the eight tribal governments in Montana continues to progress. Although this relationship can be contentious at times, we are at the forefront in terms of tribes and states working together to advance their common goals of meeting the basic needs of their shared citizens and strengthening their shared economies. Tune in today for Chairman Finley’s address at 1:00pm in the House chambers or listen to it live here.
*Note: There are three criteria for inclusion on this timeline. The relationship development must: (1) impact all the tribes in Montana; (2) be new (versus a continuation of support for a previous development); and (3) concern tribes and not individual tribal members.
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