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Land-based tribes move forward

BILLINGS, Mont. - The large, land-based tribes of the Great Plains were joined by the Navajo Nation as a member of a developing organization that will promote issues pertinent to those tribes.

The large, land-based tribes organized to have better input into the agendas of national organizations that better suit larger tribes. Smaller, wealthier tribes usually set agendas for the larger organizations, which tend to leave issues such as road improvements, school construction, health and infrastructure development, important to larger tribes, on the bottom of a wish list, tribal leaders said.

"This council will provide a national voice for the larger tribes who in the past have often been overlooked in the formation of national Indian policy," Navajo Nation Speaker Edward T. Begay said.

He added that national organizations set priorities that benefit smaller tribes, which may not have more than 40 acres of land and a membership of 37 people.

The organization held several meetings in its effort to create a charter that would bind the tribes. Two draft charters, the Billings Charter and the Rapid City Charter, were presented to the Navajo Nation at earlier meetings. The Navajo Intergovernmental Relations Committee proposed joining the group and the nation added amendments to the charter to give them the right to select a vice president and secretary, while the Rocky Mountain tribes will appoint the president and treasurer.

The organization will now be known as the Council of Large Land-Based Tribes.

The idea for the council came from the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council more than two years ago. Montana and Wyoming tribes began the process of writing a charter. Tribes from the Great Plains were present at the Rapid City meeting when the charter was further developed, but only the Rosebud and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes had representatives at the latest Billings meeting.

A meeting is scheduled with the tribes in the Aberdeen area April 12 to present the newest charter and ask for membership. Gordon Belcourt of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council said he was 90 percent sure Great Plains area tribes would join the large land-based council.

"When we are being overlooked as far as appropriations, as far as a lot of needs not being addressed in Indian country, there are initiatives saying there will be government-to-government process (but they don't) really address our need.

"A lot of times, with large land-based tribes, that's what happens and frustration starts to build up from tribal leaders in our area," said Jonathan Windy Boy, chairman of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council.

One of the benefits of an organization such as the new council would be the ability to negotiate and sign treaties between the tribes to provide cooperative agreement in the areas of trade and commerce and shared needs.