MONTANA- After a decade long battle, Secretary Ryan Zinke and Blackfoot Nation Chairman Harry Barnes joined together to sign documents implementing the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement. The Tribe’s conflict with its neighbors and the government will now be resolved.
The settlement will increase economic development through water-related construction projects, and give tribal water right to more than 750,000 acre feet of surface water and ground water on the reservation.
Blackfeet Tribe Chairman, Harry Barnes explained that the journey for justice, empowerment, and respect for the Blackfeet people and their resources has taken over a century and a half.
“Now, we start on a new path to realizing what our ancestors had always valued: the preservation of our culture, our people, and our opportunities to make real the treaty promise of a homeland for the Blackfeet people and our right to control our destiny,” said Barnes.
Secretary Ryan Zinke expressed why he signed the documents.
“The Blackfeet have given up so much during this long process. Water is more than a drinking source to the Blackfeet, it’s their life source and we must respect and honor their culture and rights. I’m grateful for the work of many tireless officials and public servants over the years from the Tribe, State, Congress, and Federal government who have made this day a reality," said Zinke.
The Blackfeet Tribe’s waters rights and jurisdiction over its water was provided more than $470 million-$422 million from the federal government, and $49 million from the state.
Secretary Zinke signed the first authorization of funds on March 9, 2018.
So far, $800,000 was transferred to the Blackfeet Settlement Trust Fund set up under the act.
The funds will be used to:
- $230,000: Establish Water Compact Implementation Oversight Committee
- $250,000: Hire staff
- $120,000: Hire an engineering consultant
- $200,000: Contract for legal services