BILLINGS AND CROW AGENCY, MT -- At two events with tribal leaders in Montana today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other top Interior officials took what he called “the latest steps to implement President Obama's pledge for reconciliation and empowerment for American Indian nations.”
In Billings this morning, Secretary Salazar and Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes hosted nation-to-nation consultations with tribal leaders from the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains region to discuss the land consolidation component of the $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement. Sen. Jon Tester also participated.
Later in the day, Secretary Salazar and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor visited the Crow Indian Reservation to participate with a crowd of 200 celebrating the recently approved Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement. The water settlement will bring more than $460 million to the Crow Nation to ensure safe drinking water for the reservation and rehabilitate the irrigation project.
“Today's events in Montana signal a new era in the U.S. government's relationship with Indian Country nationwide,” Secretary Salazar said. “The Billings meeting and upcoming meetings with tribal leaders in other regions are just part of the Obama Administration's commitment to re-invigorating nation-to-nation relationships with tribes. And this afternoon's celebration in Crow Agency made me especially proud of our Administration's support for water rights settlements that will deliver much-needed water to Indian communities such as the Crow Reservation.”
The land consolidation meeting in Billings today was the first in a series of six regional meetings. Additional tribal consultations will be scheduled through Oct. 15, 2011 in Seattle, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Oklahoma City. Today's participants included leaders and representatives of a number of tribes. Joining Secretary Salazar and Deputy Secretary Hayes from the Interior Department were Associate Deputy Secretary Meghan Conklin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Jodi Gillette and Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Mike Black.
At Crow Agency, Secretary Salazar and Commissioner Connor outlined how the water settlement will create jobs on the reservation while improving the Crow Irrigation Project; developing a municipal, rural and industrial water system; and supporting development of Crow Nation energy resources. Of the $460 million, Salazar announced that, at the request of Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle, the first $500,000 of the settlement funds appropriated by Congress was released to the tribe on July 8 and that $4.9 million in early funding for the settlement has been made available for future disbursement to the tribe.
The Secretary thanked Crow Chairman Black Eagle, Vice-Chairman Coolidge Jefferson, and Secretary Scott Russell and Interior's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Del Laverdure, also a member of the Crow Nation, for welcoming Interior officials to their homeland. He thanked Letty Belin, Counselor to the Deputy Secretary, and Pamela Williams, Director of the Secretary's Indian Water Rights Office, for their leadership in the Department of the Interior in reaching the settlement.