The Little Shell Chippewa Tribe is looking to lease land in eastern Montana.
“It’s an economic driver for the tribe,” Little Shell Tribe chairman Gerald Gray said.
The tribe sent a letter of intent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the tribe intends to lease and operate the Hell Creek Recreation Area property located 25 miles north of Jordan on the Hell Creek Arm of Fort Peck Lake.
“The real positive thing out of this is we are looking for economic avenues to be a successful standalone tribe in terms of our own economic success. This is one of them where the opportunity is there. We’re not asking the government for any money. We’re going to do this on our own. I think that shows our drive and willingness to become a self-sustained tribe,” Gray said.
Gray says the opportunity fell into his lap when he was fishing in a walleye tournament in the Hell Creek area. He says he learned Montana State Parks were not going to renew their lease as of April 30, 2021.
“I was like, 'Well, wait a minute. Why can’t the tribe pick it up?'” Gray said.
If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the intent, the tribe will begin operation on May 1, 2021. The letter of intent proposed a 30-year lease.
“It was one of those things that we really want to promote and enhance the existing park with its amenities that they already have there. We want to open it up, well it already is, but continue opening it up and keeping it open to all Montanans and anyone across the country who wants to come there to camp and boat,” Gray said.
Gray says he sees a real potential for the park.
“We want to promote our own culture and history because in that area there are still teepee rings. You find a lot of arrowheads. If we are able to get this park, I want to build an interpretive center that will provide a unique site for tribal gatherings, as well as a place to foster all child development through camps and other events. We have big plans,” Gray said.
The tribe is waiting for the president to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, which will officially make the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe federally recognized.
“We're way, way farther along. We’re in a pretty positive place right now,” Gray said.
There are roughly 5,400 members of the tribe who mostly reside in the Great Falls area.