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New organization is meeting the needs of larger tribes

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RAPID CITY, S.D. - A new organization designed to lobby Congress, the Department of Interior and the BIA with issues related to larger and treaty tribes, is attracting the attention of more tribes.

The Council of Large Land Based Tribes (CLLBT) is designed to work in tandem with groups including the National Council of American Indians, said Allison Sage, president of the CLLBT, Northern Arapaho and council member of the Arapaho business council on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

The organization's goals are to represent the larger tribes and address issues that affect larger tribes specifically. Two years ago, leaders from tribes in the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain region met to discuss such an organization. They met with the Navajo Nation, which joined the group and the development process began.

Two years later the charter and by-laws have been written, and with the charter approved just recently, the organization boasts 10 members. The possibility of 30 members is achievable, Sage said. Currently the Rocky Mountain region, including Montana and Wyoming and the Navajo Nation are members, with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe most recently joining. The Oglala Sioux and Lower Brule tribes are expected to join in the future.

"When we lobby, Congress looks at all of us the same. We have a greater need for funding than the small rancherias. There are some issues we can't all align with," said Ervin Keeswood, council member of the Navajo Nation.

Before the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain tribes met with the Navajo, the Navajo Nation was not a member of any such organization, Keeswood said.

"We want this to be a good experience," he said.

The larger tribes must have acreage of at least 100,000 acres. The list of larger tribes that are eligible to join the elite council will make up more than 80 percent of all tribal land in the country, and includes the majority of the American Indian population.

Some of the major issues the council will address include transportation, BIA reorganization, health care, education, sovereignty, and government-to-government relations as well as working with local, state and international governments.

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"When the money is appropriated it's a one size fits all attitude in Congress," Keeswood said. "We suffer more."

The larger tribes have many land issues and additional matters that other tribes and reservations do not have, members of the CLLBT board said.

"We have allocations of grazing and farming, leasing and selling and Congress needs to help us to put pressure on the BIA," said William Talks About, CLLBT treasurer from the Blackfeet reservation. "For example for lease land there are four different agencies that we have to deal with, the local, region, Albuquerque and then the central office. We don't like that. We requested a one-stop shop to take place at the agency level."

The board members are emphatic when they point out that the new organization does not intend to cause dissention between other national or regional organizations. CLLBT will work with any organization, the group has stressed.

"We are here to advocate for our people. We are networking with other organizations," Sage said.

The CLLBT will eventually host a representative in Washington D.C. with a full-time staff. In that way the organization can provide an education component for members of Congress and also deal with court issues that directly affect the member tribes. It will also hire an executive director and open offices in Denver, a central location to the member tribes.

Congressional members and staff that do not have an American Indian population in their districts will be invited to visit the various tribes, where they will be educated on issues at a grass roots level.

Tribes in the Northwest have been contacted and it is expected that some of the tribes will join the CLLBT. That would make four regions and each region will select a member to serve on the board of directors.

The Navajo Nation regularly attends human rights meetings at the United Nations in Geneva, and the CLLBT will also participate in those meetings. What is discussed at the international level, Keeswood said, will eventually trickle down to the tribes in the United States in about 10 years. "It's a good feeling to be able to discuss the issues and have input at that level."