Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, also known as the Little Shell Band of Landless Chippewa Indians of Montana, is an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) tribe recognized by the State of Montana and seeking federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe is named after Chief Esens, known as "Little Shell."----The Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians is an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) tribe, first recorded by European settlers in documents from the Hudson's Bay Company, Fort Garry (Winnipeg) in the early 1700s. These logs and diaries show ownership of approximately 63 million acres (250,000 km²) of land throughout what is now South Dakota, North Dakota and Canada by this band. By the early 1800s many Frenchmen had married into the tribe establishing a naturalization program by 1802.
The Louisiana Purchase was the next historical event surrounding the Little Shell Band when several records were made by the Emperor Napoleon excluding the tribe's land from his original quit-claim-deed, selling Louisiana to the United States. Historically this was more than likely caused by the relationship between the Hudson's Bay Company and their French Canadian traders who Napoleon could ill afford to offend. Thus, the tribal claims to this territory antedate and continued forward their sovereignty as an independent nation.
In the early 1850s diplomatic delegations from the United States began meeting with the Little Shell and other Pembina Bands. It was railroad interests in the Red River Valley who pressured Congress into these negotiations. Chief Little Shell at the time rebuffed the negotiators because of the U.S. position that his tribe was all mixed-blood and therefore should not be dealt with as a tribe. An agreement was reached by 1856 however allowing the United States to enforce law along the Red River providing that the United States recognize the tribe and a $50,000,000 dollar bond accruing 5% interest over the next 75 years was paid. This bond was known as “The Christian Pembina Bond,” the United States stopped payments on this bond after 2 years and refused to make all records relating to the bond public. This treaty, known as the Treaty of Old Crossing (1863) was ratified by the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.------Chief Esens (Little Shell) walked out of further negotiations in 1864 refusing to amend the original treaty. In 1892 the Chief sent word to Washington D.C. that he would exchange 52 million acres (210,000 km²) of land and the treaty rights of 1863 for a large reservation, to include the entire Turtle Mountain area, and $1.00 per acre of land. Washington sent Senator McCumber to meet with the Pembina Band of Chippewa Indians and during the first meeting, Senator McCumber was not present, his agent Waugh made an offer of $0.10 per acre. The Pembina walked out of the meeting in disgust, knowing that the US had paid $1.00 per acre for less valuable land near Fort Berthold. Agent Waugh then brought in 32 other Indians from Canada and had them sign the treaty, known as The McCumber Agreement or the Ten Cent Treaty. John Burke, state attorney for Rolette County, after hearing of the fraud agreed to represent Chief Little Shell before the US Senate. Senator McCumber agreed with John Burke that the treaty was a fraud, and the US Senate waited until after his death in 1905 to ratify the fraudulent treaty. The Little Shell people were told to either sign the treaty or be starved to death forcing the tribe to become nomadic with members moving around the world (several tribal members moved to France).
In the 1960’s lineal descendant Thomas Little Shell (Ayabiwewidang) died leaving no heirs and the tribal counsel then chose a great grandson of Accoquay to take over the tribe, Accoquay was also a signer of the 1863 treaty. The elected grandson was Louie Delorme and until recently the Delorme family still headed the tribe.
The Delorme family then began several court battles and by 1974 the United States Claims Court agreed with the tribe that the United States had never paid, even the $0.10 per acre, they agreed to and it said yes to the more important question that the tribe did still exist (see 203 Ct Cl 426 ). It is important to note at this point that the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Indians were recognized as being separate by the court (and several other courts). While there may be members of the Little Shell Band within that reservation tribe, the whole of the tribe and its leadership (under the Little Shell Band name) does not exist on that reservation, and has no relation to that band. It was common among Indian tribes to ‘expatriate’ (change tribes) and any Little Shell members that joined the Turtle Mountain tribe became a member of that tribe, thereby giving up membership in the Little Shell Band.