HELENA — The U.S. Interior secretary has asked an agency board to reconsider its decision denying the request for federal recognition by the Little Shell Tribes of Chippewa Indians.

In a Sept. 16 memo, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell directed the Interior Board of Indian Appeals reconsider its decision turning down the tribe’s request for recognition. Jewell cited concerns over due process and said she was exercising her discretion to request that the board reconsider its decision.

The Little Shell are a landless tribe of about 4,300 members living mostly in Montana.

A tribal leader couldn’t be reached for comment.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox released the Interior Department’s memo late Wednesday. Fox, who earlier had urged the Interior Department to reconsider its ruling, praised Jewell’s decision.

“This is great news for the Little Shell band,” Fox said in a press release. “The state of Montana has recognized the Little Shell band of the Chippewa Tribe since 2003, and federal recognition is far overdue.”

The Interior Department in 2009 denied the tribe’s petition for federal recognition.

Pending legislation by Montana’s congressional delegation would mandate that the federal government recognize the tribe and direct the Interior Department to set aside 200 acres for the Little Shell.

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