Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
Let’s visualize Montana and do some math. Look at the map. Notice eleven icons each representing a Native American candidate running for the legislature. Then add to that the yellow icon for Sen. Lea Whitford (who was re-elected in 2014). And one more green pin for Denise Juneau’s congressional bid.
We’ll call them: The Montana Dozen.
Tuesday’s primary ballot is better than a map because each pin says so much about Montana. Each icon represents thousands of Native voices from reservations and urban areas. Each pin is a testimony to the value and power of the Native vote. Montana currently has eight Native Americans in the legislature; 5 in the House and 3 in the Senate.
Plus Juneau already has a statewide constituency and her campaign for Congress has “historic” anchored to any sentence. She would be the first Native American woman in Congress. She would be the second woman to ever represent Montana (after Montana sent the very first woman to Congress, Jeannette Rankin). And she has already won statewide office as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Twice.
The Nation magazine profiled Juneau and her team’’s education efforts last week with a program called Schools of Promise. “Montana leads the country in innovations to help reservation high schools turn around, but is it enough?” The Nation asked.
Then, later, it answered. “Yet, even with all the caveats, the Schools of Promise program is likely the best program the country currently has for turning around native schools.”
The Nation also pointed out that the Montana Legislature failed to get enough votes to continue investing in these innovations.
And much of the legislative support for the Schools of Promise program was from the Native American Caucus in the legislature. The bill passed the House, but died in the House Appropriations Committee.
So that’s exactly why more Native American legislators are needed. A couple of more votes could have made a difference.
Then again not every American Indian politician thinks or votes the same.
Two state Senate candidates from Indian Country are running as Republicans. G. Bruce Meyers, who is Chippewa-Cree, said after his House victory two years ago that Native Americans are more conservative than people think. He told The Missoulian newspaper that many things Republicans represent, “strong family values, respect for life, responsibly developing natural resources and the economy – are things most Indians value as well.”
And a Northern Cheyenne candidate, Jason Small, is running to revive coal mining. Small was the guest of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, at January’s State of the Union where he said: “Coal supports good-paying jobs for union workers and tribal members in eastern Montana and is a critical driver of our state’s economy. But Washington, D.C.’s out of touch regulations are hurting Montana families. It’s important that we send a strong message to President Obama that these job-killing regulations need to be stopped.”
Most of the Native American candidates are running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary election.
However in a Missoula House race, Shane Morigeau faces Curtis Bridges.
Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a former prosecutor and tribal attorney. He says he is running because “I know that our great state can and should be a place of opportunity for all Montanans. We have accomplished a great deal, but there is much more work to be done. It is time for us to fully achieve equality for women, minorities, and low-income families. It is time for us to candidly face our issues in addiction, mental health, homelessness, and student debt. As an attorney who has assisted in passing legislation in 2013 and 2015, I have the skills and working relationships to hit the ground running as your state legislator in 2017.”
In Arlee, Joey Jayne, an attorney and tribal judge for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a former legislator, and a member of the Navajo Nation. She faces Tom France in the Democratic primary.
And in Senate District 16 — one of the more unusual looking districts — there are four Native American candidates, Republican Myers, as well as three Democrats, Bobbi Favel, LeAnn Montes and Frank Smith. (The current senator Jonathan Windy Boy who because of term limits is running for the House.) The district stretches across much of northern Montana and will represent tribal communities from Rocky Boy to Fort Peck.
Favel is Chippewa Cree Tribe from Rocky Boy and has a background in economic development. Smith is from the other side of the district (and state) and is a member of the Assiniboine-Sioux Tribes at Fort Peck. And Montes is a tribal member and the attorney general for the Chippewa Cree.
After this election, Montana’s Native people could actually have representation equal to, or even greater, than the population. As I have written before: Indian Country has much better representation in state legislatures than Congress, about one percent compared to one-third of one percent in Congress. And in Montana, depending on the outcome of the election Tuesday (and again in November) that percentage could top the seven percent that is the Native population of the state. Add to that the potential for Juneau to represent the entire state of Montana in Congress. That’s representation. (Previous: Say Montana .)
The math is inspiring because The Montana Dozen is not an actual number, but a powerful idea.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
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Please credit: Mark Trahant / Trahantreports.com