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Blackfeet tribal members prepare for water compact vote - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Blackfeet tribal members prepare for water compact vote

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GREAT FALLS -

After years of negotiations, Blackfeet tribal members will vote on the Blackfeet Water Compact and the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act on April 20.

“This is one of the most important and historical votes in the Tribe’s history,” said Harry Barnes, Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. “The compact would provide tremendous opportunities for the Blackfeet people, so we strongly encourage all eligible voters to vote.”

If the agreement passes it would confirm and quantify the Tribe’s water rights and confirm its jurisdiction over those rights on the Reservation.

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.

“After the bill passed through Congress in December, we have been doing our best to educate tribal members about something that has taken decades to put together,” said Jerry Lunak, Water Resources Director for the Blackfeet Nation. “If there is anything that I wanted folks to take away, it’s that with this vote, we have the opportunity to positively impact our people for generations to come.”

Voters can cast their ballots only at polling locations. Mail ballot options will not be available.

Polling locations include: 

  • Browning District – Blackfeet Community College (A-Z)
  • Browning District – Blackfeet Community College (Off Reservation)
  • Browning District – Starr School Head Start
  • Browning District – Babb Head Start
  • Heart Butte District – Heart Butte Head Start
  • Seville District – Seville Head Start
  • Old Agency District – East Glacier Head Start

The Blackfeet website has more information, including this overview: 

WHAT DOES A “YES” VOTE MEAN?

  • Blackfeet’s water rights on the Reservation will be confirmed and quantified.
  • Blackfeet’s jurisdiction and authority over those water rights will be confirmed.
  • Blackfeet will receive $471 million in state and federal funding for water related projects.

WHAT DOES A “NO” VOTE MEAN?

  • The water compact will not be implemented.
  • Blackfeet’s water rights will be determined in the Montana Water Court where only the quantity of water will be determined.
  • Blackfeet will not receive $471 million in state and federal funding for water related projects.
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