Published on October 12, 2013 by Amy
The Chippewa-Cree Tribe is a federally recognized tribe on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana who are descendants of Cree who migrated south from Canada and Chippewa (Ojibwe) who moved west from the Turtle Mountains in North Dakota in the late nineteenth century. The two different peoples spoke related but distinct Anishinaabe languages, a branch of Algonquian languages.
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Rocky Boy Indian Reservation is located in Hill and Chouteau counties in northeastern Montana, about 40 miles (64 km) from the Canadian border. It has a total land area of 171.4 square miles (443.9 km2), which includes extensive off-reservation trust lands. The population was 3,323 at the 2010 census. The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Labor Force Report of 2005 reported 5,656 enrolled members of the tribe.
The Chief Asiniiwin (Chippewa) (English translation Stone Child, misnomer Rocky Boy, which conveys an incorrect meaning) and Chief Little Bear (Cree) and their bands were the founders of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in north central Montana. At the time, Chippewa-Cree lived throughout present-day Montana, on the Blackfeet and reservations, as well as the new towns developed by European-American settlers and immigrants. In January 1902 Asiniiwin petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt for a closed reservation so the landless Chippewa-Cree could settle and get an education. The members were counted in a 1909 census conducted by Thralls B. Wheat, a land allotment agent of the Department of the Interior. This census was certified by the agency in April 1909.
Reflecting the social turmoil of the time, many of Asiniiwin’s people left the reservation within a decade; others had never relocated there, and their descendants live in towns throughout the Pacific Northwest. For instance, many bought plots of land on Hill 57, outside Great Falls, Montana. They were not included among the names of residents on the reservation in the government’s May 1917 census. Congress passed legislation on September 7, 1916, (39 Stat. 739) creating the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.
In May 1917 the Interior Department made another list of residents on the reservation. By then additional Native Americans had migrated there and others had left. Fewer than 45 of the 451 names listed on the “Tentative Roll of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation” (1917) were Chippewa from the earlier 1909 roll. Many were Cree, descendants of Little Bear’s (Imasees) band, and Métis, descendants of the Louis Riel band from the Red River of the North area. According to tribal traditions of absorbing war captives and all children of tribal women in the matrilineal system, if residents identified as Cree or Chippewa, they were counted as Native American, regardless of whether they had other ancestry. The 1917 roll was approved by the Department of the Interior in July 1917; it has since been the basis for tribal membership rolls and allotments.
The Cree and Métis migrants and their descendants have lived on the Rocky Boy Reservation under self-declared “adopted” status. They and their descendants provided for such “adopted” status in the Chippewa Cree Tribal Constitution, which they wrote in 1934-1935 and which was certified by the Department of the Interior in 1935 under the Indian Reorganization Act. The constitution provided that members of the tribe who were absent from the reservation for 10 years or more (a ten-year absentee provision) lost their tribal status and were no longer qualified for benefits and membership.
The Chippewa Cree Business Committee, the government of the tribe, recently repealed this provision of the Constitution. As the tribe’s government, the Committee retains the authority to address “abandonment of tribal membership” and establish other membership issues. The Cree and Métis make up more than 90% of the enrolled members of the tribe.
As part of its economic development, the tribe started a business “Plain Green Loans,” for online lending to Native Americans who are underserved by the lack of banks on many reservations. Critics such as Delvin Cree (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), a reporter with the The Tribal Independent, wrote in an Opinion piece on Indianz.com that the tribe’s practices of high-interest, short-term lending are generally classified as predatory lending. Such loans can result in annualized interest rates as high as 360 percent. Because the Chippewa Cree Tribe is a sovereign nation which enjoys tribal immunity, it is not subject to state laws which seek to prevent usury by regulating high-interest lending.