Recently, Montana state lawmaker Keith Regier filed a draft resolution urging Congress to investigate alternatives to the American Indian Reservation System. The draft has since been pulled by Regier, after it was met with backlash from Tribal leaders across Montana, and several legislators.
The now defunct resolution contained language many found to be stereotypical and offensive, including passages stating, “The Indian reservation system has produced the negative effects of drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, welfare dependence, poverty, resulting in a lack of future well-being and happiness,” and another stating, “The Indian reservation system has clearly failed to positively enhance the lives and well- being of most of the Indians or the other citizens of the State of Montana.”
“Did he have a thought of all of the language that was taken from the time that this land started dwindling down to reservations? Our ceremonies and our languages and our traditions, our culture, all of that just gone,” says Loni Taylor, a member of the Business Committee for the Chippewa-Cree. She perceives the resolution as a poorly-veiled attempt to assimilate Native Americans away from their cultural epicenters, an act which would further diminish already diminishing sacred customs.
“These people that say they're highly educated and they're out here for the people of Montana, they seem to forget those that have been here from day one. There’s ignorance in not coming or speaking to us. At fort Belknap, Rocky Boy, coming anywhere in Indian country to ask our opinion to see for himself firsthand what it is like to live on the Indian reservation,” says Jeff Stiffarm, president of the Fort Belknap Community Council. This is another resolution in a long line which fail to consult Native Americans on the subject matter.
“I think it would have been a much wiser decision. If you really want to do something like this, to bring the Native Americans in and say, hey, look, you know what? You know your problems better than anybody. And I think if you really were serious about getting this resolution done, you brought Native American folks in to be partners with you, not adversaries of you,” said U.S. Senator Jon Tester.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines said in a news release that he is "focused on representing all Montanans, including our state’s tribal members, in the U.S. Senate. This includes dealing with the missing and murdered indigenous people and protecting our communities from fentanyl.”
Though there are very real legislative issues to be tackled at both the tribal and state levels, Native American officials are frustrated that these sentiments must be re-visited, pulling attention away from consequential problems.
“You would hope in 2023 that we would be looking to move forward. There are greater legislation issues. I mean, there's the opioid crisis. Child care is an issue. Healthcare, those are issues that the tribe and the state both are facing. And we want a bigger, brighter future. And just seeing that attack, it's discouraging,” says Jessie Big Knife, Attorney General for the Chippewa-Cree.
“We shouldn’t feel like our tribal culture is something we should run from, but rather a culture we embrace. An identity we embrace and share.”
(JANUARY 8, 2023) Montana State Senator Keith Regier has come under fire the past week for a drafted resolution pertaining to the study of Native American reservations.
The resolution argues that reservations have failed to enhance the lives & well-being of Native Americans citing substance abuse, domestic violence, welfare dependence, and poverty, all of which have been deemed as stereotypical rhetoric by other parties.
Some Native American legislators are frustrated that the proposed resolution is yet another roadblock in addressing their own legislative concerns.
This drafted resolution has prompted several indigenous leaders to speak out against what they perceive to be gross misconceptions of plights experienced on federally-created reservations.
The resolution also states that, “Indian reservation system is a policy based solely on race, which is diametrically opposed to both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the state of Montana.”
The following statement is from Gerald Gray, tribal chairman for the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
The Little Shell Tribe was incredibly disturbed by the recently released draft Joint Resolution “Urging Congress to Investigate Alternatives to the American Indian Reservation System.” The Joint Resolution continues misconceptions of the challenges that reservation-based tribal nations face while totally ignoring the State of Montana’s and federal government’s roles in impeding growth on reservation lands. Primary among these obstacles is the dual taxation of economic activity on tribal lands that leaves tribal governments with little means to raise essential governmental revenues to support their people while also making it difficult to create on-reservation jobs.
Many people in Montana know the Little Shell Tribe as the “landless Indians” because we lack a reservation. However, we stand with our sister tribal nations that are reservation-based and support their views on this important issue. The Little Shell Tribe believes that an attack on tribal sovereignty anywhere is an affront on tribal sovereignty everywhere. It is our sincere hope that this situation can spur a conversation on how the State of Montana and tribal nations can work together in a positive manner to create meaningful impacts in all of our communities.
Here is the complete text of the draft legislation:
A JOINT RESOLUTION OF THE SENATE AND THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MONTANA URGING CONGRESS TO INVESTIGATE ALTERNATIVES TO THE AMERICAN INDIAN RESERVATION SYSTEM.
WHEREAS, the Indian reservation system was created in a different time and place and under circumstances that no longer exist and is therefore inadequate for the conditions that are present in our state (and nation) in today's world; and
WHEREAS, the Indian reservation system has clearly failed to positively enhance the lives and well-being of most of the Indians or the other citizens of the State of Montana; and
WHEREAS, for most of our Indian citizens, the Indian reservation system has produced the negative effects of drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, welfare dependence, poverty, and substandard educational achievements, resulting in lack of opportunity for their future well-being and happiness; and
WHEREAS, Indian tribes that do not individually own their property have the highest poverty rate of any ethnic group in America; and
WHEREAS, Indian tribes that do not individually own their property have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in America; and
WHEREAS, the Indian reservation system is a policy based entirely on race, which is diametrically opposed to both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Montana; and
WHEREAS, the Indian reservation system is a policy conferring "sovereign nation" status to individual tribes inside of the borders of the United States, a policy that is, again, diametrically opposed to the Constitution of the United States; and
WHEREAS, previous judicial decisions relative to the reservation system in Montana have produced confusion, acrimony, and animosity among the general population in the past and at present, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the foreseeable future; and
WHEREAS, the continuation of the reservation system is not in the best interests of either the Indians inside our borders or for our common Montana citizens; and
WHEREAS, we believe the investigation of alternative ways of approaching the reservation system can and will produce a new system that will enhance the lives, the happiness, and the opportunities for our Indian citizens while at the same time promoting peace, harmony, and stability for all.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE AND THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF MONTANA:
That the 68th Legislature of the State of Montana urges Congress to:
(1) investigate alternatives to the American Indian reservation system;
(2) undertake this investigation as soon as is reasonably possible; and
(3) communicate the progress of this investigation to legislative leadership in Montana and any state containing a reservation for American Indians.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Secretary of State send a copy of this resolution to each member of the United States House of Representatives, each member of the United States Senate, the Governor, and the tribal governments of each of the federally recognized Indian tribes in Montana.
Republicans maintain the resolution contains no discriminatory language. MTN News will continue to investigate this matter as the week progresses.
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