HELENA – A state lawmaker is sponsoring a bill to require Montana to publicly post all state-controlled funds transferred to Indian tribes, saying tribal members should be able to easily track the amounts.
“We should treat tribal members with the same rights as all citizens, with the right to know,” says Rep. Bruce Meyers, R-Box Elder. “It’s putting that amount of money (online), so citizens will know how much money is coming into the tribal departments.”
Meyers, a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe on the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation, notes that the state of Montana already posts general budget information online for citizens to inspect.
His House Bill 562 would do the same for funds that go to the state’s seven tribal governments and reservations.
The bill, introduced last week, will be heard Monday morning before the House State Administration Committee.
Under HB562, all state agencies would report to the governor’s budget office the money they transfer to tribal governments in Montana. The office would compile the information, which would be posted on the website of the governor’s office of Indian affairs.
Tribes receive several types of funds from state government, including economic development and education money, but some of the largest amounts are welfare programs that include federal money.
Four of the seven tribes in Montana administer these programs themselves and distribute the money to individual tribal members, rather than having the payments go directly from the state to individual tribal members.
Meyers said under his bill, the information would not identify tribal members receiving the funds, but rather just list the amounts of money distributed from the state to each tribal government.
“There is a lack of knowledge (about the money),” he said. “A lot of tribal leaders don’t even know the amount, so it’s a win-win situation. They would know the amount of money, and the tribal members would know, too.”
He also said the bill is not an attempt to audit how the money is spent.
Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, also a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe, said Saturday he’d also like to know what services the state provides to tribes when it takes a cut of the money transferred to tribes that administer welfare programs.