Youth Perspective on Federal Recognition of Little Shell Tribe

A band of landless Indians, Seeking federal recognition since 1892. Myself along with 5400 Little Shell awaited federal recognition, and on December 20th, 2019 the time finally came. 

Gaining our recognition was a little light at the end of a dark tunnel, that “kill the Indian and save the man” was unsuccessful in destroying culture. That our land is not ours, and never will be again. That an Indian is an Indian is an Indian, until the white man decides the Indian is white enough that their Indian blood is meaningless. 

In 4th grade, we did an art project with face masks on historic figures and Native Americans figures were prohibited to do. That is what the education taught me; my people no longer existed, Native American’s were swallowed up by European refinement. That our culture is summed up in a paragraph in a history textbook. No one in my school taught me about the history on why my tribe is landless. Other students and I struggled with pride within ourselves. We get asked, “Why are you landless?” 

In 1880, Chief Little Shell moved his tribe from Canada to Turtle Mountain in North Dakota. Due to constant food shortages, he and his band hunted buffalo as far away as Montana. When they returned back to Turtle Mountain in 1890, they faced many events for the deportation of the Little Shells from the Dakotas.

Chief Little Shell offered to sell the land for $1 an acre. The United States government declined it. When Chief Little Shell went on a hunting trip, he came back and the U.S. had offered $0.10 an acre and the chief of the Pembina Chippewa signed away their rights to it, without their authority and in their absence. The Little Shell Band was then thrown out of the Turtle Mountain and made their way to Great Falls, Montana and settled. 

As soon as I heard the news, it was surreal. It was the first time for my family and I to be recognized as a “real” Native American’s. Some people think that gaining federal recognition comes with benefits for the tribe, but for me it brings a sense of pride, a land base to practice tradition and cultural events, and a place to connect with other Little Shell.

The Little Shell tribe has a rich culture, whether it is found in language, culture, or ceremonies. Though cultures have struggled to survive the ever changing relationship between self-determination and self-preservation, they remain as vibrant and resilient as ever. Having this celebration, was a time to come together and celebrate the event of our recognition.

Mitchell and her family pose for a picture
Photo courtesy of Rylee Mitchell

I feel proud to be apart of it, proud to be Native American.  I have to thank everyone who fought for years before, and everyone who fought for it in the present. I have to thank my great grandfather, Modes Azure, for his resiliency and his fight for our recognition.

He told my mom to never stop fighting for the injustices that was served, that he may never see it in his lifetime, but you’ll hopefully see it in yours. His resiliency and his fight have been carried throughout three generations, he taught us to never give up for things we want to happen. We are here to celebrate for everyone who couldn’t.

Rylee Mitchell (Little Shell & Anishinaabe) is a high school student at C.M. Russell High School.