Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe, Zinke Put Water Deal Into Effect

Decades in the making, compact was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016

By Tristan Scott
Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes laughs with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after a ceremony with members of the Blackfeet in West Glacier on March 10, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

BILLINGS — Leaders of the Blackfeet Nation and U.S. Interior Department have put into effect a $471 million settlement of water rights claims for the northwestern Montana tribe that was decades in the making.

Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed documents Tuesday in Washington D.C. implementing the agreement. Negotiations on the deal began in the 1980s.

Barnes said in a statement that the settlement will empower the tribe and help preserve its culture.

It calls for irrigation system improvements, the development of a community water system and land acquisition.

It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016 and approved by tribal members last year.

A lawsuit from a group of tribal members challenging the settlement is pending before a federal judge in Montana.

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