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Know the West

The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians celebrates federal recognition

The tribal nation in Montana is the 574th to be recognized by the United States.


The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians has been seeking federal recognition since the 1930s. In December 2019, the Little Shell became the 574th federally recognized tribe in the United States, and on Jan. 25, tribal citizens celebrated their victory and remembered those who helped pave the way for it. Federal recognition will give Little Shell members access to health care and social services. At the same time, however, it highlights the role the federal government and non-Indigenous policymakers play in deciding who is Indigenous. 


“We had to go through a system that the federal government put in place,” said Little Shell Tribal Chairman Gerald Gray. “The same government that tried to get rid of Indians. I don’t like it, but it’s the system we were forced to operate under — and we did it. They get to tell me I’m Indian now.” Ninety-three-year-old Theresa Juraskovich, the oldest living tribal member, said recognition made her feel like a person. “I felt like, without recognition, I wasn’t somebody,” said Jurskovich. “Today, I feel like I’m valued.” Other attendees came to represent Little Shell members who died before recognition was achieved. “I wept for three days when I found out we were getting the recognition,” said Scott Jenkin, 47, who carried a portrait of his grandmother, Alice LaTray Schnabel. “I wanted her here in spirit. It’s her blood that makes me Little Shell.”

Tailyr Irvine is a Salish and Kootenai journalist from Montana. Follow her @TailyrIrvine (Instagram and Twitter). Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.