Tester’s Priorities for SCIA Chairmanship: target wasteful spending, improve educational opportunities and promote job development on reservations and make some “technical fixes to VAWA”


CROW AGENCY — U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh stopped in Crow Agency on Wednesday as part of their tour of Montana tribes.

Montana’s two senators met at a morning breakfast with the Crow tribal leadership. Then they stopped at Crow Agency Head Start.

They were to meet with leaders of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in the afternoon.

Head Start officials gave the two men a tour of the building that’s been in use since the 1960s and is in need of upgrades. They were shown the ancient boiler, a hand-me-down from a hospital.

The senators also joined in a round dance performed by the 160 3- to 5-year-olds and their teachers, accompanied on drums by members of Black Whistle and Chairman Darren Old Coyote.

After the dance, the two senators were each presented a colorful necktie.

Walsh, who was sworn in on Feb. 11 to replace former Sen. Max Baucus, is gathering information to aid him in his new post. He called the children the center of “our future.”

“So we need to do everything we can possibly do to encourage them to participate and stay involved,” Walsh said. “And early childhood education is very important.”

Tester recently was named chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In his new post, he said, immediate priorities include making some technical fixes to bills, such as the Violence Against Women Act, and moving them along.

“My goal is to get a majority of the people on the committee to work together, get a majority of votes to get some of these issues out and get them to the floor,” he said.

Another goal is to determine the priorities of tribal nations throughout the United States. That’s the impetus behind his tour.

“I started with the Montana tribes because I’m a Montanan,” Tester said. But we’ll be talking to all of the tribes around the country about what their priorities are.”

A former teacher, and from a family of teachers, Tester talked about the critical need for education to boost a person’s chance to better himself economically.

“And early childhood education is a no-brainer,” he said. “It pays for itself over and over again.”

Tester, who also recently co-sponsored a bill regarding language immersion, said that’s another critical element to education for all of the tribes.

“As part of Native American culture that they be connected to the past to be able to move into the future,” he said. “I think language is one of those ways that you can stay connected to your culture.  It’s very important.”

Tester said he recognized issues such as water, education, police protection, housing and health care all are issues of concern to the tribal nations. The tension remains figuring out how to tackle the nation’s deficit while also meeting the government’s trust responsibility to the tribes.

In talking about how to meet the many needs of the tribes, Tester invoked the name of former tribal Chairman Carl Venne.

“The bottom line is you’ve got to empower tribes, then things are going to happen,” he said. “That’s what Carl Venne said seven or eight years ago when I came down here, and that’s what I believe. Empower the tribes and let them utilize their sovereignty to find solutions.”

Tester said he’s already been in conversations with the Obama administration to boost funding for some of the chronically underfunded programs in Indian Country. An economy that’s continuing to turn around will make that more possible, he said.

“We’ll do our best to advocate for what we know, based on fact, and go from there,” Tester said.

One of the issues Tester and Walsh spoke to tribal leaders about is coal development. The tribe sees coal and its export to Asia as a major driver for its economy.

Debate continues over development of a terminal in Washington state to export the coal. Tribes in Montana and outside it come down on both sides of the issue, and Tester said that adds difficulty to the equation.

“The bottom line is I cannot go and tell another tribe we’re going to respect Crow sovereignty but we’re not going to respect their sovereignty,” he said.

Tester said his goal is to make sure the decision process on the terminal be accurate, fair and timely.

Walsh said he would do all that he could for the tribe “because we know how important natural resource development is for them.”

But he stressed the need to make sure natural resource development is done right. Walsh, born and raised in Butte, said no one wants another Berkeley Pit in their backyard.

“People don’t come to Montana to see the Berkeley Pit, so we need to make sure that when we are developing our natural resources, we do it responsibly,” he said.



Tester pledges to use Indian Affairs chairmanship to target wasteful spending

Roger Other Medicine, left, shows a problematic boiler to Sen. John Walsh, top left, Sen. Jon Tester, center, and tribal chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, right, during a tour of the Head Start center on the Crow Indian Reservation in Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Tester is the new chairman of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee and says he’ll use his new role as chairman to target wasteful spending, improve educational opportunities and promote job development on reservations. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)


February 19, 2014 1:15 pm  •  By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press

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CROW AGENCY – The new chairman of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee said Wednesday he plans to use the post to target wasteful spending, improve educational opportunities for Native Americans and promote job development on reservations.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester outlined his agenda for the committee that oversees relations with the nation’s 566 recognized tribes during a visit to the Crow Indian Reservation with fellow Democratic Sen. John Walsh.

After a breakfast meeting with tribal leaders, the pair toured a Head Start education center and later danced with preschoolers around a drum circle.

Crow leaders showed the lawmakers cracks in the ceiling at the preschool and took them to the furnace room where a boiler dating to the 1960s was held together with vise grips to keep it running.

Tester said he was determined to address decades of dysfunction in how the government deals with tribes. He said excessive administrative costs incurred by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and other agencies have drained money from crucial programs including health care and education.

“This is about making sure those dollars that are allocated go to the intended purpose. If there’s waste, eliminate it. And if it means eliminating jobs, then eliminate the jobs,” he said.

Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said problems with the government’s treatment of tribes stem largely from outdated laws and regulations that make Native Americans subservient to federal agencies.

That started to change in recent years – with rules giving tribes more power over their land and property – but further improvements are needed, Cladoosby said.

Tester said too many bureaucratic roadblocks hinder tribes’ attempts to become self-reliant, such as the Crow tribe’s efforts to expand coal mining on the southeastern Montana reservation.

However, Tester added that he would tread carefully to avoid infringing on the sovereignty of West Coast tribes opposed to coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon.

The proposed terminals are key to the coal industry’s aspirations to ship more of the fuel overseas from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, in part to make up for flagging domestic demand. Tribes on the West Coast have raised concerns about potential environmental impacts of the shipping.

“I cannot go in and tell another tribe that we’re going to respect the Crow’s sovereignty but we’re not going to respect your sovereignty,” Tester said. “That’s a very dangerous position to put yourself in.”

Despite limits on what the senator can deliver for his home state, Crow leaders said they were pleased to have someone familiar with their concerns assume the influential post of committee chairman.

Crow Secretary A.J. Not Afraid said tribes in Montana and elsewhere on the Great Plains have different needs than tribes in other parts of the country that are closer to population centers and able to bring in significant revenue through gambling.

Those opportunities don’t exist for the Crow, Not Afraid said.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said Tester understands the differences.

“He gets it,” Old Coyote said. “He understands our plight and what we’re fighting for.”

Secretary of Interior to visit state in March

Feb. 20, 2014   |


WOLF POINT — U.S Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell will visit the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Glacier National Park and other areas of the state next month, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said.

Tester made the announcement Thursday while meeting with Fort Peck tribal leaders during a listening session in Wolf Point, where he also met later with veterans groups from Wolf Point, Poplar and Glasgow.

Jewell will be in the state March 14-16. Her visit in Poplar with Tester will be March 15.

Jewell wants to visit the tribes’ Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water System (ASRWS), which is primarily funded by federal dollars, Tester said.

Once complete, the water system and its 3,200 miles of pipeline will be able to serve more than 10,000 people on the reservation and throughout northeastern Montana. The city of Poplar and the community of Fort Kipp currently are receiving water from the tribal system.

Parts of the water project have been slowed or stalled due because of the decrease in federal funding the past two years.

In January, Tester said those delays were the result of sequestration and the government shutdown and encouraged the president to live up to the government’s obligations and help complete the ASRWS and other water projects in the West.

In 2012, Tester’s office helped secure nearly $13 million in funding for the Fort Peck project and the Rocky Boy/North Central Water systems project.

“There’s an opportunity here for her (Jewell) to see the money in action and see what more is left to do,” Tester said of the visit.

While in Montana, Jewell will also visit Glacier National Park and the North Fork of the Flathead River in northwest Montana, Tester said. She’ll also discuss public land issues during her visit.

“We’ve been working on getting her out here for a year to see the water project. You’ve done a damn fine job with it,” Tester told the Fort Peck tribal council members.

Tester, the recently named chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and newly appointed Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., are on a listening tour with Montana’s tribal nations and veterans groups this week. He will visit the Rocky Boy’s Reservation on Friday and continue on to western Montana.

Jewell, the 51st Secretary of the Interior, was sworn into office April 12. Part of her role with the department is overseeing public lands and Indian reservations and to uphold trust responsibilities to the nation’s 566 Indian tribes.

She is the former president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., more commonly known as REI, one of the country’s largest outdoor supply companies.