A majority of Blackfeet Nation voters Thursday approved a water rights agreement with Montana and the United States, settling more than a decade’s worth of negotiations.
An unofficial count had 75 percent of the votes in favor, approving the Blackfeet Water Compact and Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act.
The compact quantifies the tribe’s water rights and also confirms its jurisdiction over those rights on the reservation.
The compact also will provide the Tribe with $422 million in federal funding and $49 million in state funding for water-related infrastructure projects on the Reservation. The money will be available to the Tribe over a number of years and will support projects such as new or improved irrigation systems, development of community water systems, development and management of fisheries, and land acquisition.
“This is a historic day for the Blackfeet people,” Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, stated in a press release. “All of the time and effort by Blackfeet staff and leaders over the past four decades was well worth it. The benefits of the water compact will be seen for generations to come.”
“My faith in the wisdom of the people’s vote has come to reality,” Barnes added.
The Tribe’s approval was the final element needed for the compact to become effective. Montana ratified it in 2009 and Congress provided federal approval in December.
“I’m proud to be a part of an agreement that’s going to have long-lasting benefits for the Tribe and the Blackfeet people,” Jerry Lunak, water resources director of the Blackfeet Nation, stated.
The Blackfeet Nation will now work to fully implement the settlement, including development of a community-based plan for infrastructure projects and future development in communities with input from its tribal members.