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Tribes lobby governor for more support

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Leaders of Montana’s eight American Indian nations met with Gov. Brian Schweitzer to discuss issues affecting their tribes as the 2009 Legislature began its work.

The Blackfeet Tribe is seeking more than the $4 million Schweitzer is proposing in his budget to help fund the Blackfeet Water Compact, an $87 million state, federal and tribal project to repair and enlarge a reservoir on the reservation.

“There’s only $4 million in your budget when the state said it would provide about $20 million,” said Blackfeet Tribal Councilman Roger Running Crane. “That’s a concern to us; is this going to get done in a timely manner?”

Tribal Planning Director Emorie Davis Bird said the tribe had to have at least another $3 million to get the project back on track.

Running Crane also asked Schweitzer to review the tribal gaming compact to allow the Blackfeet to increase the number of video gaming machines at its casino and increase the size of payouts.

Schweitzer listened to the tribes’ concerns Jan. 6, but did not comment on any specific issue.

“We’ve done our level best to create a workable government-to-government relationship with tribal governments,” Schweitzer said. “We try to listen as much as we talk.”

Blackfeet Tribal Councilman Rodney Gervais Sr., asked Schweitzer to support federal legislation by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., that would give tribes the authority to prosecute domestic violence charges levied against white husbands of American Indian women living on reservations.

Gervais also asked Schweitzer if the state could bring in a mediator to help relieve the “racial tension” between the Blackfeet Reservation and the neighboring town of Cut Bank.

Also Jan. 6, A.T. Stafne, chairman of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, gave the governor a letter from Patty McGeschick, director of the tribe’s Family Violence Resource Center. She wanted to know how state funds are used to support American Indian women who are victims of domestic violence.

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