“The bill will ratify a settlement quantifying the water rights of the Tribe and providing for their development in a manner that avoids harm to their neighbors It provides Federal funds necessary for water supply facilities and Tribal economic development, and defines the Federal role in implementing the settlement. This Settlement bill has the full support of the Tribe, the State of Montana, the Administration and the water users who farm and ranch on streams shared with the Reservation. The bill will effectuate a settlement that is a textbook example of how State, Tribal, and Federal governments can work together to resolve differences in a way that meets the concerns of all. It is also a settlement that reflects the effectiveness of Tribal and non-Tribal water users in working together in good will and good faith and with respect for each other’s needs and concerns.”
Sound familiar? This is a quote from The Honorable Rick Hill in the Congressional Record for Feb. 23, 1999 on introduction of the Chippewa Cree Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act.
Upon introduction of the Rocky Boy Settlement and Compact in the Senate in 1999, Conrad Burns announced the Congressional findings:
By reaching an out of court settlement, the parties will – once this package is implemented – go to the state water court and ask that all pending litigation involving claims by the Tribe, and by the United States on behalf of the Tribe, be dropped. The quantification of the Tribe’s water right will also clearly benefit upstream and downstream users of water in the effected drainage, including the Big Sandy and Beaver Creek as well as the Milk River. These other users will be able to plan for their future because they will know precisely how much water the Chippewa Cree Tribe is entitled to.
Then Governor Marc Racicot praised the Rocky Boy Compact saying:
The settlement of reserved water rights claims within the State of Montana is of utmost importance to the State… The Rocky Boy’s Compact provides for the development of much needed water resources on the Reservation, while at the same time protecting existing water development, adjacent to, and downstream from the Reservation. The federal funding for development will help alleviate some of the very dire needs of Montana citizens who are Tribal members living on the Reservation.
This week in a opinion piece published in several Montana newspapers, former Governor Racicot again reiterated his support for negotiated settlement as the best way to resolve tribal reserved water rights issues including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact.
As a former governor and attorney general, I know that the process of settling tribal water rights is difficult and challenging. But, I also have no doubt that failing to do so will not only be exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes. It will also continue to be a source of stress and strain to our communities and relationships as well. I strongly and respectfully encourage our legislators to approve the water compact between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state of Montana.
The CSKT Compact is the last of seven water rights settlements for Indian tribes in Montana to be negotiated between the Tribes, the State and the Federal Government. All of those agreements provided state and federal funds to improve water delivery infrastructure on the reservations. All of the agreements involved, to some extent, off-reservation and downstream water. Since the CSKT Reservation contains, by far the most water of any Montana reservation the current agreement may be a bit further reaching, but it is also, by far, the best deal for the State of Montana, the Federal Government and for the CSKT. Failure of this final negotiated agreement due to bigotry and fear will certainly be “exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes.”