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Zinke visits Browning and Heart Butte to present funding for Blackfeet Water Compact

Posted: Mar 09, 2018 3:25 PM Updated:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was in Montana on Friday to visit Browning and Heart Butte.

Before touring Heart Butte, Zinke visited Browning to present and sign for the implementation money for the Blackfeet Water Compact.

Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Council, said the money will be used first toward deferred maintenance, then the community will get to prioritize what other projects will be worked on.

The authorization transfers $800,000 to the Blackfeet Settlement Trust Fund where it will then be decided what projects the money will be spent on.

According to a press release from Zinke's office, the money will be used for the following purposes:

  • Budget Item 1 - $230,000: Establish Water Compact Implementation Oversight Committee
  • Budget Item 2 - $250,000: Hire Staff
  • Budget Item 3 - $120,000: Hire an Engineering Consultant
  • Budget Item 4 - $200,000: Contract for Legal Services

“The Blackfeet are one of Montana's great warrior nations, and like true warriors, they fought every step of the way for their people to get this settlement over the finish line. I was proud to stand by them as a state senator, Congressman, and now Secretary of the Interior,” said Zinke. “The Blackfeet have given up so much during this long process. Water is more than a drinking source to the Blackfeet, it’s their life source and we must respect and honor their culture and rights."

Barnes also asked Zinke to help producers in the Blackfeet Nation.

“We obviously have a deep concern for our cattle producers and we’re asking the secretary to use his influence with Secretary Perdue to get a national declaration to get some relief for our cattle producers, which are not covered under our emergency plan. It’s for life and limb, but not of cows,” said Barnes.


(APRIL 21, 2017) A majority of Blackfeet Nation voters on Thursday voted to approve a water rights agreement with Montana and the United States.

An unofficial early count had 75% of the more than 2,100 votes in favor of approving the Blackfeet Water Compact and Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act.

The Tribe’s approval was the final element needed for the compact to become effective. 

The agreement was passed by Congress several months ago and signed by President Obama in December after more than 40 years of negotiations.

It will also give the Blackfeet Nation water rights for all six drainages on the reservation.

Tribal leaders held a press conference at the Holiday Inn in Great Falls on Friday morning.

Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said in a press release, "This is a historic day for the Blackfeet people. 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."

The compact will provide the tribe with $422 million in federal funding and $49 million in state funding for water-related infrastructure projects on the Blackfeet Reservation. The money will fund new and/or improved irrigation systems, development of community water systems, development and management of fisheries, and land acquisition.

Negotiations on the agreement began more than 30 years ago. The compact passed the Montana Legislature in 2009 and received Congressional approval late last year. The compact includes $471 million for water-related projects including new or improved irrigation systems, the development of community water systems and land acquisition.

A study by the U.S. Department of Interior projects that the settlement act could create up to 500 short-term jobs and up to 200 long- term jobs.

Blackfeet leaders will now begin working to implement the settlement, including the development of a community-based plan by soliciting input from tribal members.

PREVIOUSLYBlackfeet tribal members prepare for water compact vote

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