Helena, MT -

Leaders of an American Indian tribe in Montana awaiting federal recognition say they are closer than ever to that goal.

The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Council Chairman Gerald Gray spoke with Gov. Steve Bullock last week. Gray says recently proposed rule changes for recognizing American Indian tribes would put a nod from the U.S. government within their reach.

Federal officials say the proposed rule changes are in the midst of a months-long finalization process.

The landless tribe has been recognized by the state of Montana since 2000. With about 4,500 members loosely centered in Great Falls, federal recognition could bring the tribe land, along with housing and education assistance.

Gray, Bullock and others met as part of the annual Tribal Leaders Summit at the State Capitol in Helena.