In an effort to raise awareness among tribal members of the impacts and benefits of the Blackfeet Water Compact, the Blackfeet Nation is launching an educational campaign. The Tribe will hold a series of community meetings on the Reservation, as well as distribute informational materials in the months leading up to the vote.
On April 20, Blackfeet Nation tribal members will cast their ballots to approve or deny the Blackfeet Water Compact and the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act. If approved, it would implement a water agreement between the Tribe, the state of Montana and the United States.
Approval will require a majority vote of those voting in the referendum election.
“After decades of negotiations, the Water Compact was approved by the State of Montana in 2009 and recently by the Federal Government in December 2016 through the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act,” said Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. “Now the decision to implement the water agreement is up to us, the Blackfeet tribal members.”
The Blackfeet Water Compact would confirm and quantify the Tribe’s water rights and confirm its jurisdiction over those rights on the Reservation. The Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act authorized $422 million in federal funding in addition to $49 million approved by the State for water related projects on the Reservation. The funding will support projects such as new irrigation systems and improvements to existing systems, development of community water systems, development and management of a Tribal fishery and land acquisition.
“Confirming Blackfeet’s water rights on the Reservation would further protect the Tribe’s sovereignty over its historic lands and waterways,” said Joe McKay, member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. “This vote will give us an opportunity to advocate for our Tribe and protect the waters sacred to our people.”
If the compact is rejected, Blackfeet water rights will be decided in the Montana Water Court, and the Tribe will not receive $471 million in additional funding from Montana or the Federal Government.
In the months leading up to the April 20 vote, tribal members will begin to see informational materials about the compact by mail and in newspapers. The series of informational community meetings will be held towards the end of March in Heart Butte, Starr School, Babb, Seville, East Glacier and Browning. Dates, times and locations will be announced soon.
For further information, follow the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council on Facebook and visit blackfeetnation.com/watercompact. Questions can also be directed to the Water Resources Department at 406-338-7522.