By B.L. Azure
Gov. Steve Bullock ceremonial signs a pair of Montana Legislature bills aimed at legal and economic issues on the Flathead Indian Reservation and in Montana Indian Country. Rep. George G. Kipp III, CSKT Tribal Council Chair Vernon Finley and Sen. Lea Whitford, buttress Bullock. (B.L. Azure photo)
PABLO — Last Wednesday (Aug. 17) Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock joined several members of the Montana Legislature’s American Indian Caucus, and governmental and administrative staff of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in the Tribal Council Chambers. The reason was the ceremonial signings of two Montana Legislature Senate bills, one that promotes tourism in Montana Indian Country and the other that lays the ground work for the CSKT to retrocede from the state of Montana’s criminal/felony jurisdiction over American Indians on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
“We are here today for the ceremonial signing of two pieces of legislation,” Bullock said, adding that when state, local and tribal governments work together positively the outcomes benefit the entire community.
Senate Bill 309, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Lea Whitford of the Indian Caucus, is an economic promotion bill aimed at boosting tourism in Montana Indian Country.
“When Montana’s tribal communities prosper, our whole state prospers,” Bullock said. “This is a great effort that will draw visitors to our tribal communities through history, culture and remarkable landscapes, and will ensure all of Montana is on a path to greater economic growth, prosperity, and enhanced tourism.”
SB 309 allows for monetary resources generated by the Montana bed tax on lodging to be used to focus on increasing tourism in Montana Indian Country, read reservations. It also adds a tribal member representative from the private sector to serve on the Tourism Advisory Council, as well as directs the State Tribal Economic Development Commission to promote tourist activities on the reservations.
State and tribal government and administrative staffers gathered for a group photo for the ceremonial signing by Gov. Bullock and Chair Finley of two bills related to Indian Country. (B.L. Azure photo)
Tourism was a common priority identified through Governor Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project and for each of the tribal governments to encourage economic and job growth and business development.
Senate Bill 310, also sponsored by Sen. Whitford, authorizes the withdrawal of consent by the CSKT of State criminal jurisdiction over American Indians on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The State got that consent from the CSKT in the mid-1950s, during the Termination Era.
In the early-1990s the CSKT were successful in its battle for retrocession the State’s misdemeanor jurisdiction over American Indians on the Flathead Reservation. This latest jurisdictional battle that focused on the withdrawal of the State’s legal authority for felonies committed by American Indians on the Flathead was at the behest of the Lake County Board of Commissioners. They maintain that Lake County can no longer afford to continue to prosecute felony crimes committed by American Indians and house them in its overcrowded county jail.
CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Vernon Finley (left) and Rep. George G. Kipp, III, converse following the ceremonial signing. (B.L. Azure photo)
“The Termination Era is coming to a close as far as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are concerned,” said CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Vernon Finley. “More than 80 percent of the people in the Lake County jail are Indians. That means there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. Let’s look at all of the picture and address the issues for the betterment of the people in this area.”
Finley praised Sen. Whitford for her sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Rep. George G. Kipp, III, for shepherding it through the House as well as the Indian Caucus for their participation in getting the bills passed. He also thanked Republican Senator Daniel Salomon of Ronan for his assistance in getting the bills passed.
“It was an honor to bring these bills forward,” Whitford said, adding that PL 280, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act has resulted in self-confidence in Indian Country in the determination of their destinies. The passage of the two bills aimed at resolving or enhancing legal and tourism issues are a result of PL 280.
The CSKT must now draft an ordinance that puts the retrocession bill into action on the Flathead Reservation.
“State and local governments must work together... for what is best for sovereign tribal nations, local and state work on to enhance public safety for the region and country,” Bullock said. “The Tribes have been given the full authority they should have had.”
See SB 309 (Under Legal: Bills