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GREAT FALLS – A district judge has denied a request by a member of a feuding family to take a 200-year-old, 13-star American flag out of Montana.

The Great Falls Tribune reports that District Judge Thomas McKittrick made the ruling Thursday involving the flag that was once part of a treaty agreement.

Since the death of Dorothy Gopher in 2008, her children have been fighting over which of her two sons, Glen Gopher or Mike Gopher, should become the flag’s caretaker.

McKittrick ordered last year that Dorothy Gopher’s estate, including the flag, be administered by Cascade County Public Administrator Jerry Boland. The flag is being kept in a bank’s safety deposit box in Great Falls.

Glen Gopher, the oldest sibling and who wanted to take the flag to Michigan, contends the flag was given to ancestors of the Gopher family and it should remain with the family.

Mike Gopher said the flag was given to the entire Ojibwe band and is a common heritage of those who claim membership. The group is not recognized as a tribe by the federal government.

Both brothers said they want the flag to be put on display at a Great Falls museum where it can be preserved. But each brother and their backers are suspicious of what might happen should one brother become sole caretaker of the valuable artifact.

Glen Gopher on Thursday asked to take the flag to Michigan for a three-day Native American celebration and have the flag back in the safety deposit box no later than Aug. 7. A letter from the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe filed with the court said Glen Gopher had been given a check to repay him for travel and food, as well as a $1,000 speaker fee.

McKittrick said he knew of the request before the hearing. But Mike Gopher’s attorney, Neal DuBois, and administrator Boland said they were not made aware of the plan.

“We’ve been deprived of our right to do our proper diligence and investigate what it is they’re asking,” DuBois said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

McKittrick, in denying the motion, cited an incident last year when McKittrick said Glen Gopher mishandled the flag when it was taken out of the safety deposit box. McKittrick said Glen Gopher could take a replica of the flag to Michigan.

The next court date is for an evidentiary hearing set for Aug. 16 to determine rightful guardianship of the flag.

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