Blackfeet tribal members to hold vote on water compact

April 18, 2017 GMT

The Blackfeet Tribe will hold a historic referendum Thursday seeking ratification of its water-rights compact with the state of Montana and the federal government.

The negotiated settlement requires ratification by all three parties to pass into law.

After decades of negotiations, the agreement was first ratified by the state in 2009 and secured passage in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 2016. Former President Barack Obama signed it into federal law in December.

“This is one of the most important and historical votes in the tribe’s history,” Harry Barnes,

Chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, stated in a press release Tuesday. “The compact would provide tremendous opportunities for the Blackfeet people, so we strongly encourage all eligible voters to vote.”

If a majority of the voting tribal members approve the compact, it will officially quantify the tribe’s water rights and confirm its jurisdiction over those rights on the reservation. It would also provide the tribe with $471 million for water-related projects including new irrigation systems, improvements to existing systems, development of community water systems and land acquisition.

“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,” Jerry Lunak, the tribe’s water resources director, stated in the release. “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.”

Tribal members will be able to cast their ballots at the following polling locations:

• 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

For more information about the water compact and referendum, visit blackfeetnation.com/watercompact/vote, or call the Water Resources Department at 406-338-7522.