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Lindeen to D.C.: Restore Northern Cheyenne Rights

Tribe lost mineral rights in mistake committed 114 years ago

April 16, 2014

HELENA – Monica J. Lindeen, a member of the Montana Land Board and the state's commissioner of securities and insurance, is urging lawmakers to fix a century-old mistake that has deprived the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of 117 million tons of coal lying beneath the tribe's southeastern Montana reservation.

Lindeen, who has worked with the Northern Cheyenne tribal government on health insurance issues, sent a letter this week to Northern Cheyenne Tribal President Llevando Fisher expressing her support of two pieces of pending federal legislation that would restore mineral rights denied to the tribe in 1900. That's when the U.S. government expanded the reservation boundaries – but failed to include mineral rights for resources under the surface. Lindeen also sent the letter to Montana's Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh, and Rep. Steve Daines. Both Daines and Walsh have sponsored legislation to fix the mistake. Similar federal efforts have failed in the past.

"The Northern Cheyenne people fought hard for their homeland and the fight continues," Lindeen said. "These lands belong to the Northern Cheyenne and no one else. It's high time we fix this mistake – which was committed under President McKinley. It's hard to believe we are even still having this conversation."

In the late 1870s, the Northern Cheyenne were forcibly removed from their ancestral home in Montana and moved to Oklahoma, where they were kept on the lands of their southern relatives, the Southern Cheyenne. There, the Northern Cheyenne encountered hardship and in 1878 the Northern Cheyenne escaped. Their exodus back to Montana was both daring and deadly, as they were pursued by federal troops and many died. In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur established the Montana reservation for the Northern Cheyenne by executive order and they were never forced to return to Oklahoma. In 1900, the boundary was extended, but that expansion did not include mineral rights.

The deal currently pending in Washington, D.C., is a three-way swap including the federal government and Great Northern Properties, of Houston. In it, the federal government would transfer approximately 112 million tons of coal now in public hands to Great Northern. The company would then turn over the 117 million tons of coal it owns beneath the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to the tribe.