December 10, 1999

For Further Information Contact: NARF, (303) 447-8760

 

CONGRESS PASSES HISTORICAL INDIAN WATER RIGHTS SETTLEMENT BILL

~ This is the first Indian water rights settlement that has the support of the Administration, a State and a Tribe ~

BOULDER, CO – On November 18, 1999, Congress passed an historical water settlement bill which quantifies the Chippewa Cree Tribe's (Montana) on-reservation water rights, establishes a water administration system designed to have minimal adverse impacts on downstream non-tribal water users, and calls for federal funding for the development of water projects to serve the present and future needs of the Tribe. The bill ratifies the Chippewa Cree/Montana Compact and is a textbook example of how tribal, state and federal governments can work together to resolve differences in a way that meets the concerns of all parties.

"This bill and the Compact signal a turning point in the Chippewa Cree's history for these documents set the foundation for the realization of the Tribe's vision of the Rocky Boy's Reservation as a self-sustaining homeland for the Chippewa Cree people," says Bruce Sunchild, Chair of the Tribe's Water Rights Negotiating Team. "The Tribe has been working toward this end since well before 1916 when the United States set aside the Rocky Boy's Reservation for the Chippewa Cree people."

Specific terms of the bill include a more efficient and effective utilization of Spring snowpack runoff through enlarged or new storage facilities on the Reservation, earmarking $25 million in funding from the Bureau of Reclamation for specified on-reservation water development projects, and funding for the administration of the Compact ($3 million) and for economic development ($3 million). In addition, the bill authorizes the initial steps of a more extensive process of obtaining a long-term drinking water supply for the Chippewa Cree Tribe - a process that is vital to the survival of the Tribe.

The Rocky Boy's Water Rights Settlement bill and the Chippewa Cree/Montana Compact are the culmination of several years of negotiations involving the Chippewa Cree Tribe, the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, and the Federal Negotiating Team for the Rocky Boy's Reservation. The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) represents the Chippewa Cree Tribe.

Yvonne Knight (Ponca-Creek), NARF lead counsel says, "This is quite an accomplishment in an area of Montana where there is such a scarce water supply. This settlement demonstrates how tribal and non-tribal water users working together in good faith and with respect for each other's needs can resolve long-standing issues." The Rocky Boy's Reservation is located in an arid region of Montana with an average annual precipitation of only twelve inches - a climate suitable for growing hay. The bill was introduced in the Senate as S. 438 on February 22, 1999, by Senator Conrad Burns (MT) and Senator Max Baucus (MT), and passed by the House of Representatives on October 18, 1999.