Interior secretary pick has a record of listening to tribes

Rep. Ryan Zinke in Frazer, Montana, last summer. (Trahant photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

HELENA, Montana — Just about a week ago it was clear that Cathy McMorris Rodger was headed to the Interior Department. Nope. It was a headfake. President-elect Donald Trump has instead picked Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for the post.

This is a  much better appointment for Indian Country. Zinke is no less conservative than Rodgers, but since his days in the Montana legislature he has had an open door. He has reached out to tribes in a number of ways. He introduced and championed the Blackfeet water compact and he has supported federal recognition for the Little Shell Band of Chippewa Cree.

“The truth is Ryan does know the value of public lands, he does know, to an extent, I don’t know how deep, the issues of Indian Country,” said Sen. Jon Tester at the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s Legislative Summit Wednesday. He said the Senate confirmation hearing process will be useful in getting Rep. Zinke on record explaining his views on such things as the government’s Trust Responsibility to tribal nations.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, speaking at the Montana Budget and Policy Center Legislative Summit in Helena. (Trahant photo)

 “It’s a big deal for the state of Montana,” Tester said. “He has a chance to do some really good stuff. Compare him to some of the people nominated before, AKA Sarah Palin, we will take him in a heartbeat.”

At a congressional debate in Frazer, on the Assiniboine Sioux Tribal Nation, Zinke said he had been adopted as an Assiniboine. He said he supports tribes and sovereignty. “I don’t think anyone has worked harder trying to get Blackfeet Water Compact done … I have been out here not because I am your congressman, but because I care.” He said he has been to people’s homes, met with tribal councils, and visited powwows.

Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation, told The Helena Independent, that the appointment is “a great day for Montana” and that “Montana tribes will have an ear in the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Montana Republicans, many Western Republicans, are eager for an Interior Secretary who will open up more federal lands to oil and gas development. And on this score, Zinke will not disappoint. “I’m excited that the Trump administration plans to unleash the economic power of the resources of the nation,” Jeff Eisman, chair of the Montana Republican Party, told Montana Public Radio. “The federal government does control a lot of resources, especially in our end of the country.”

And it’s not likely tribes will often agree with Zinke. This is a Trump administration and Zinke was one of his early supporters. And Zinke has voted against tribes on other issues, such as the Violence Against Women Act,  a law that expanded tribal authority on domestic violence. 

If Zinke is confirmed by the Senate there would be a special election for his House seat.  (Previous: Juneau for President?)

And Denise Juneau?  She said Wednesday night: “I am looking forward to doors opening, figuring out if I want to take advantage of that, and bringing people with me.” That’s a far better answer than a yes or no. 

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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Juneau for president? As Trump interviews administration candidates

Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, is a potential candidate for President of the University of Montana.


Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The period between an election and a new presidential administration is nothing short of frantic. There is just not enough time to fill all the positions that open up on Jan. 20, 2017, some 8,000 posts that are political in nature. About 1,200 of those jobs require Senate confirmation. President-elect Donald Trump is interviewing a lot of people, moving fast to staff his administration.

The extraordinary thing is that this huge federal hiring spree opens up prospects up and down the line.

At every newspaper I have worked at over the years there were always those December stories about prospective appointments from back home to DC. North Dakota, for example, has several candidates ranging from Rep. Kevin Cramer to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Sen. Heitkamp makes sense as Energy Secretary in a Trump administration because she’s supported the oil and gas industry, including the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Let’s be clear here: No one against pipelines or demanding a quicker transition to green fuels is going to get this job.) Her appointment would also mean one less Democrat in the Senate (and two years ahead of schedule).

Cramer has a lot of options. His side won. He can move up to the Senate. He can take a post in the administration. Or he can be the reliable voice for oil and gas in the House (as if that’s an underserved community). Any of the North Dakota seats that open up would be long-shot prospects for Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo or Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun. All three learned a lot during recent statewide campaigns. But a special election in a deep red state is especially difficult. Then again. Stranger things have happened.

Another potential Trump appointment is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, possibly as Interior Secretary. (She’s being considered as is Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.) A couple of points. First, McMorris Rodgers has shown little interest in Native American issues while in Congress. She almost always sides with opponents. On the other hand, a McMorris Rodgers appointment opens up the House seat. And former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas already has an organization and name identification. In this case, a special election could be an advantage. Fallin, however, would have the ear of many Oklahoma tribes who have worked with her in the past. If she were to head Interior, many of the appointments in Indian Affairs would be familiar names.

And one potential job shift that’s outside of politics: Yesterday Royce Engstrom, the president of the University of Montana, resigned. The Board of Regents has appointed an interim leader and a search committee will begin looking for a spring hire. But one name is already surfacing: Denise Juneau. She will soon end her time as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. A petition from calls Juneau “a rising star” who is well suited to reform the university and taking on the challenges of declining enrollment, budgets being slashed, and students not being able to take the courses required for graduation.

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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#NativeVote16 – Driving turnout, early votes from Alaska to North Dakota

Selfies: A get out the vote rally in New Town, North Dakota. Facebook photo via North Segment of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Across Indian Country there are rallies, phone banks, forums, and social media pitches that are repeating one message, vote. Native American voters can make the difference in key states from the presidential race to county commissions.

And what does it matter? In a paragraph: One presidential candidate, Donald Trump, favors completion of the the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as resurrecting the Keystone XL Pipeline. He would support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that includes increased funding for the Indian Health System as well as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Clinton, on the other hand, would be more of the same. She generally supports President Obama’s policies on energy, climate, and on federal-tribal relations. (Previous: Native Vote tips the Electoral College.)

And this election there are so many talented Native American candidates whose very presence makes this country better. This is why we need to vote. This is why we vote.

Denise Juneau’s Montana get out the vote tour started on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation. (Photo via Twitter)

In Montana, Democrats, including congressional candidate Denise Juneau, include tribal nations in that last minute push. The five-day, statewide tour stretched from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation to across the state to Wolf Point and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes. Juneau told Montana Public Radio: “We are on this swing around the state, 17 communities we’ll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.”


Juneau also picked up another newspaper endorsement, The Missoulian. “Montanans need a strong voice in the U.S. House who is focused on serving her constituents,” the paper said. “Let’s see what Denise Juneau can do for Montana – for our economy, our public lands and our access to health care – as our U.S. representative.”

Elections were once about turnout on at the polls. But in this era most people will vote early and that changes the focus. Juneau said she already voted and is encouraging everyone in the state to vote early. “You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.”

Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes (and Blackfeet). The Three Affiliated Tribes have a lot going on this election with candidates running across the country. Another tribal member, Laurel Deegan-Fricke, is in a tight state senate race in North Carolina. And closer to home, citizens Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for State Insurance Commissioner and Cesar Alvarez is a candidate for the state House of Representatives.

A Thursday rally in New Town included Buffalo, Alvarez, and a broad section of North Dakota candidates, including Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, as well as other candidates for state, regional and tribal offices.

The outreach to Native Voters in North Dakota also included stops at the United Tribes Technical College and Fort Yates. Iron Eyes and Hunte-Beaubrun are Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.

Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “I feel good about our campaign. I love being the underdog. North Dakota is about underdogs. We are all looked over and counted out. We all meet challenges head on. We all #FaceTheStorm. Only the strong survive. I ask for the strength to Walk Without Fear. We don’t win unless you vote! It’s that simple.”

The Native Vote is critical in Arizona both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race. Jamescita Peshlakai, who is running for the Arizona state Senate, posted on Facebook that “our next US Senator, Ann Kirkpatrick, is talking Navajo on KTNN. Wow. 2 years ago President Obama ended his campaign commercial with “Ahehee!” Our language can be learned by non-Navajos. If there is a will, there is a way.”

On Saturday the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is doing a phone bank with the goal of reaching 10,000 Native voters before the election.

There is also a Native Vote rally scheduled for Election Day starting at 11:30 am in Tempe on the campus of Arizona State University.

And in Alaska the early vote is breaking records. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that 22,114 early votes have already been cast, five days before Election Day. “Early in-person votes go right into the ballot box and are counted on Tuesday, along with ones turned in at the polls,” the Alaska Dispatch News said.”Since the ballots aren’t tallied until Tuesday, there’s no real way to tell how people are voting. And it’s not entirely clear what’s driving the increased early turnout.”

On the Facebook page, Get Out the Native Vote-Interior Alaska, there is this remarkable story posted by Wilmina Daisy Stevens: “When it comes to voting, I always have to think of my mother, Hannah Paul Solomon. On the very last day that she was with us, my sister told her that she had received her GwichyaaZhee Corporation ballot. She wanted to vote it and she did. She never told anyone how she voted but she knew how important it was to vote. My sister sealed the envelope and we watched for the mailman. Once the mailman came, I said ‘The mailman just picked up your ballot, Mom. Your vote is counted.’ She had a smile on her face. Three hours later, my mom passed away. I vote because my Mom showed me how important it is to vote whether its Tribal, Corporations, City, Village, School Boards, or National: Please exercise your rights to vote. Its the only way to voice your opinion. Mahsi’ Mahsi Choo Shalak Nai.”

Five days to go.

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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#NativeVote16 – Montana poll reflects a ‘normal’ election. That’s not the case.

Denise Juneau at the Frazer debate. She is running for Montana’s only seat in Congress. (Trahant photo)


Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A new poll in Montana shows Denise Juneau trailing Rep. Ryan Zinke by a wide margin. “Despite record fundraising and polling solid support among Democrats, Juneau, the current state Superintendent of Public Instruction, will need to make big moves in the final weeks of campaigning to close the gap with the freshman Republican, analysts said,” in The Missoulian. Lee Newspapers commissioned the survey. “Among registered and likely Montana voters polled, 40 percent said they’d cast their ballot for Juneau and 53 percent for Zinke. Only 6 percent reported being undecided in the race, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.”

I’m skeptical and here’s why: The best way to read polls is to look at a number of the surveys. The best data comes from several rounds of snapshots because you can throw out the high, ignore the low, and get a sense of the electorate. This is a single poll that seems to me to fit the outlier category. The 15-point gap is just too wide. Juneau’s own polling shows her trailing by 3 points. That’s probably an outlier, too. A Zinke poll shows an 11 point lead. (Previous: Juneau’s Debate Answer: First Get Elected.)

Who’s right? We might have to wait for election day to know that answer. But the good thing about any polls is that it tells candidates where they ought to spend more resources. And, according to Lee’s survey, that’s Independent voters. “The numbers on Independents parallel those in the presidential race, where Trump leads Hillary Clinton 50-28 among those voters. Another 13 percent said they would vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson.”

There are two other reasons why I am skeptical about this poll. The first is that the results so closely match the final result in 2014 when Zinke defeated John Lewis for the open House seat by a 55 to 40 percent margin. But that was an off-cycle election and only 373,831 people voted (or 55.44 percent of those registered to vote). This is a presidential election cycle. In 2012 the Montana turnout was 72.4 percent. According to the Lee newspapers, “The Mason-Dixon statewide poll included calls to landlines and cell phones Oct. 10 through 12. The results included 1,003 Montanans who reported they were both registered and likely to vote. The number of people polled in each county is proportionate to the historical voter turnout. The margin of error for statewide figures is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points but higher for numbers broken down by gender, region, or party.”

Ah. I would like to know more about that last sentence. Of course American Indian voters won’t be counted or statistically relevant. We live in the land of The Other. Damn it. And a poll of a thousand people cannot accurately reflect what Native Americans are thinking or if we will vote. But what if the statewide turnout remains near 72 percent and the turnout from Indian Country is 90 percent? That still would not be enough to overcome a 15 point gap.

But what about the numbers broken down by gender? Lee’s report implies that Juneau has a slight lead (the phrase used in the story:”48 percent of female voters said they support the Republican.”) There are two things here: First this survey doesn’t reflect the rising discontent with the Republican presidential ticket; and, more important, it doesn’t measure the intensity of women who will vote. In other words: What if women vote in higher percentages than men? Nationally that’s already the case. Women out vote men by nearly 4 percent. And that number is growing. What if in Montana that gap shoots up to 8, 9, or even more?

As the blog FiveThirtyEight reports: “Men are treating 2016 as a ‘normal’ election; women aren’t.” The post reports a huge gender gap in the presidential race. “We haven’t seen anything like Clinton’s 20-point lead over Trump among women in decades. The last time women favored either party’s nominee by more than 20 percentage points was in 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon crushed Democrat George McGovern among both sexes. The only Democrat ever to win women by more than 20 points was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — also in a blowout. Four years ago, President Obama carried women by only about 12 points. Even when he first won the White House, in 2008, by about double his 2012 margin, his margin among women was only 14 points.”

I also don’t think you can discount how a blowout election could impact states like Montana. Johnson in 1964 is a good example because he carried all of the Western states (except Arizona). A one-sided election often discourages the losing side, making it more difficult for other candidates from that same party.

My guess — and this certainly runs counter to the poll I’ve been citing — is that this election will be close. It’s Juneau’s history. She only won her last election by 2,231 votes (out of 468, 563). It also fits Montana’s history during a presidential election year. And one additional factor that’s impossible to poll: The number of people who’ve already voted (something that is especially critical in Indian Country).

This election is unlike any other in our generation. So the only poll that matters will be that November surprise.

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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#NativeVote16 – A Democratic House was a long shot … until last week


Photo post on Facebook by Stevens County Democrats. Incumbent Republicans have a new challenge: Rejecting Trump (and making their base mad) or sticking with Trump (making it that more difficult to build a majority margin.)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Early in the election cycle I made a prediction: I said if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee, the House would be in play for the Democrats. The reaction (and more than once) was 30 seats? Not likely. (Previous: Native candidates could help flip Congress).

Not likely are the words of the day. It’s a possibility now because Donald Trump’s war against Republicans has not only doomed his bid for the White House, but it’s making it more likely that Democrats will win the Senate and unlikely as it was, the House. The polling data backs up this idea (certainly good news for Denise Juneau, Joe Pakootas, and Chase Iron Eyes.)

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

A survey for the Democrats Congressional Campaign Committee shows a seven-point advantage for Democrats in the generic poll (49 to 42 percent). This is a question asked every cycle, basically would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican? It’s usually close. It usually favors Democrats, slightly. (Remember more people vote for Democrats for Congress. Republicans win because of the district system.) Two years ago before the election the same question showed Republicans with a two-tenths of one percent lead. The final result: Democrats 49.2 percent; Republicans 48 percent. (Previous: Will Republicans stand by Trump? Watch congressional races).

But it’s now seven points. That’s sweep territory. And the prospect of the House of Representatives shifting from Paul Ryan’s leadership to Nancy Pelosi.

The Trump campaign has created an impossible political dilemma for Republican candidates because he’s now attacking Republicans and forcing them to stand with him or against him.

That leaves Republicans with three choices. Hide. Denounce Trump. Or continue supporting Trump as a flawed candidate.

Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers picked door number three. In a statement on Spokane’s KXLY she said: “I have said all along that I absolutely disagree with some of Donald Trump’s statements – especially the video released on Friday. I will be voting for Mr. Trump because I believe that we must defeat Hillary Clinton who has a record of deliberately misleading the American people.”

Democrat Joe Pakootas  is relentless on this issue.

“Sexual assault remains a prevalent issue in our country. 1 out of 5 women and one out of 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. These estimates are likely very low because rape is one of the least reported crimes. Few are reported, even fewer are prosecuted, and even fewer find the rapist guilty,” Pakootas posted on his campaign web site and on Facebook. “First of all, we need to stop normalizing rape culture. This means not tolerating any talk that encourages sexual assault. We need to make sure the burden is on the perpetrator, not the victim. We need to teach individuals NOT to assault, as well as safety to victims.”

So what does Door Number Three look like politically?  According to the national survey, when Running against a Republican “who continues to endorse Donald Trump” the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 12-point advantage. Voters, especially mainstream voters, don’t like that approach.

The logic behind that spread is simple. To reach a majority, fifty percent plus one, a candidate needs consensus. A broad coalition of voters. So ignoring those who think Trump crossed the line will not accomplish that. And, at the same time, if you do denounce Trump, his hardcore supporters will not forgive you and stay home, vote Libertarian, or write in another name.

Who else is in this camp? Rep. Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, who is being challenged by Chase Iron Eyes.

In Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke also says he still prefers Trump over Clinton. He told Breitbart:  “What Mr. Trump said was wrong. There is no other way to say it. He should be ashamed. But, that doesn’t make Hillary any better a candidate. What we face everyday is a bureaucracy that’s grown out of control, a government that have become separated and is no longer held accountable to the people,” he said. “This is a unique election in the history of our country.”

Dozens of senior Republicans, including Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that choice doesn’t inspire voters either, according to the DCCC survey. “Even against a ‘Republican candidate who never formally endorsed Donald Trump and now says they won’t vote for him’ the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 10-point advantage.” The reason? The survey reports only 39 percent of voters say: “That these Republicans are showing character and integrity for finally standing up to Donald Trump.”

Update: Some of the Republicans who wanted Trump to withdraw have now changed their minds and are back as supporters. At least voters know where they stand. For the moment.

Republican Representatives Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole have so far been quiet, sticking with Door Number One. For now.

These are significant numbers. In a recent  Montana poll Denise Juneau trailed Zinke by three points and another by 11 points. So a 12-point swing would change everything. Same story in Washington state. And, if Iron Eyes can get his message out, even in North Dakota.

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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#NativeVote16 – Juneau’s debate answer: ‘Number one, get elected’


Denise Juneau marching in the University of Montana homecoming parade campaigning for votes. She is running for the state’s only congressional seat. (Photo via Denise Juneau’s Facebook page.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Denise Juneau had the perfect answer. At debate in Great Falls each of the congressional candidates were asked, what would you do to protect the rights of gay, bisexual and transgender individuals?

“Number one, get elected,” she said.

That’s right on so many levels. This country cannot be the country it wants to be, the one that it says it is, or the one that’s changing fast, without including more voices who are as diverse as the country.

Montana figured this out a century ago. Sort of. As Juneau pointed out Montana elected the first woman ever to Congress, Jeanette Rankin in 1906  as a Republican (who was on and off the state’s ballots through 1940. A pacifist, she was the only vote against both World War I and World War II. She was courageous to the end, campaigning late in life against the Vietnam War.)

And, no state has ever elected a Native American woman to Congress. “With me at the table, in Congress, the discourse changes,” Juneau said. “We make sure that everybody’s looked out for.”

Rankin won office before women had the right to vote. And, perhaps, that’s important to think about in a country where the demographics are rapidly changing faster than the Congress which remains 80 percent male and nearly 80 percent White in the House (and even more than that in the Senate).

Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and grew up on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. She also happens to be gay. And, as said in the debate, these are voices that are too often missing from our national conversations.

But then there’s Juneau’s answer ringing true: “Number one, get elected.”

Juneau’s fundraising and polling remain on track.

She raised more than $875,000 between July 1 and September 30 and her total has exceeded $2 million. That’s the more than any other Democrat who has ever run for Congress from Montana.

That money shows that Juneau is competitive against an incumbent, always an uphill climb.  A recent poll by Harstad Strategic Research of 403 likely Montana voters, showed that Juneau narrowed the gap between herself and Rep. Ryan Zinke to just 3 points (42-45), well within the margin of error of 4.9%. The Libertarian candidate drew 3 percent of the vote, with 9 percent of voters still undecided in this race. A Republican commissioned poll shows Zinke ahead by 11 point, 49 percent to Juneau’s 38 percent (with a margin of error of 5 percentage points).

What this tells me: This election will be about who can get their voters to the polls.

This should be especially daunting for Zinke because he has to convince disillusioned Trump supporters to turn out and then split the ticket, while at the same time, holding on to the folks who still like Trump. (Gary Johnson and the Libertarians could have been a factor, until, well Johnson failed the test of being presidential.)

Juneau needs strong turn out from the urban areas and from every Native community across the state.

You have to be tough to run for office in Montana because elections are often that close. Juneau won her last race earning 235,397 votes, a winning margin of four-tenths of one percent in a pool of 468,563 ballots.

Remember: “Number one, get elected.” Then the discourse can change for the better.

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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#NativeVote16 – Stick games with Republicans; hiding the Trump marker


Republican candidate for Gov. Greg Gianforte playing stick games at Arlee Celebration. “Great time at the pow-wow in Arlee … Thanks to CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley for the hospitality.” (Photo via the candidate’s Twitter feed.) 
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Make no mistake: The 2016 election is not routine. If you want proof, look no further than the weekend encampment at the Arlee Celebration. On Friday afternoon the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, showed up at the celebration with a GOP colleague and then proceeded to serve grilled burgers to all comers. Free food? At a powwow? Sure. Fire. Hit. Gianforte proceeded to play a round of stick games (a tradition that’s been practiced by several former Montana governors). 

Gianforte’s visit was friendly; he wasn’t exactly talking policy. But this is where a Republican gamble for Indian Country gets tricky. 

In any election it is smart for a Republican to try and peel off a few Native American votes. Montana Democrats have been successful reaching out to tribal communities for a long time, especially after the 2005 election of Gov. Brian Schweitzer. So it makes perfect sense for the GOP to pitch Native voters at a powwow.

But just a few miles from the camp is a visible reminder about how complex a simple idea can be.

Just as you enter the reservation, a billboard advertises against the water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as an assault against non-Indian property rights. Many of the complaints are focused on state officials, who critics say, gave the tribes everything in the negotiations. (The deal must still be approved by the federal government. The Interior Department said last week that it likes the structure of the compact but not its $2.3 billion price tag. Montana Sen. Jon Tester has introduced legislation to make it law.) Critics understand it’s bipartisan and blame the Republican Attorney General Tim Fox as well as Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

Again in normal times it would be easy to dismiss antics of what are essentially fringe groups. But the Confederated Tribes’ territory, where the annual July 4th celebration occurs, is the heart of Montana’s opposition to tribal treaty rights, tribal management of resources, and, well just about anything with a reference to a tribe in any phrase.

This is where the Republican fault line is visible. The same people who shout at their government for working with tribes to solve problems are the ones who formed the Tea Party. A report by the Montana Human Rights Network said: “Over the years, anti-Indian activists and organizations have tried to couch their opposition to treaty rights and tribal sovereignty under the banner of ‘civil rights’ for non-Indians … All of these comments are a smokescreen to try and distract from the reality that compact opponents are trying to deny legally-established rights guaranteed to CSKT by treaty.”

The GOP divide is present in many forms. The state’s Republican platform says it supports tribes and treaties (and, of course, tribal development of natural resources). But at the same time a party resolution calls for the transfer of federal lands to the state government. Not a word about how original land owners would fit into such a transfer or how treaty-protected activities on public lands would be protected. The party document even discounts the idea of federal law enforcement: “The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county. We support the requirement that a federal officer may not arrest, search or seize in Montana without the advanced, written permission of the elected county sheriff.”

What makes the GOP divide even more pronounced is Donald Trump. As the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party he is adding fuel to The Hateful Mix, a blend of racism and anti-government rhetoric.

And that’s a mixture that not every Republican can tolerate.

On Friday former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot wrote in The Washington Post: “It is inescapable that every decision made by every leader reflects the character of the man or woman making the decision. Character is the lens through which a leader perceives the path to be followed. It conceives and shapes every thought and is inextricably interwoven into every word spoken, every policy envisioned and every action taken.” And, as a result, Racicot said, he could not endorse nor vote for Trump.

On the other side of the divide: Rep. Ryan Zinke not only endorsed Trump but suggested he might make a good pick for vice president. (Denise Juneau is running against Zinke for Montana’s only House seat.)

This election is different because the internal debate within the Republican Party is so visible. There will always be policy differences, but this year there is more than that, because the logic of Trump requires buying into the premise of hating government so much that you must destroy it.

So every Republican candidate this election will play stick games. Look close: Which hand is hiding the bone marked Trump and which hand will be free?

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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#NativeVote16 – Little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down


Congressional candidate Victoria Steele leads in the Little Money race. What would it take to make that a competitive metric? (Campaign photo)


Measuring contributions of $25 or less

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s turn the world upside down.

A “normal” political story might examine finances for political candidates starting with who raised the most money, where it came from, and what that means for their prospects at the ballot. Money equals success.

I am not going to do that. Instead I am going to start by reporting who’s winning the battle for little dollars. Which one of the seven Native American candidates for Congress are getting money from people who might be giving up a dinner out. Then sending $25 or less to a candidate for Congress. And “sending” isn’t the right word. It’s investing.

Let’s measure how American Indians and Alaska Natives are investing in our our candidates, in our future, in ourselves.

We can’t control who gets the money from Political Action Committees, casinos, or even many tribes. But we can decide for ourselves who is worthy of our investment.

So who does well using this measure? Victoria Steele in Arizona. Of the seven active Native Americans running for Congress she has the most small donors, 86 to be precise, who invested $1,924.00 That’s not a lot of cash. But what if that idea could be expanded across Indian Country? What if our values, and then our actions, rewarded candidates with lots of little donors?

Of course this is exactly what happened on the presidential level. First, Barack Obama, and now Bernie Sanders, showed that you could raise tens of millions of dollars from small amounts.

Indian Country could do the same thing. If even a small fraction of American Indian and Alaska Native voters sent money to Native American candidates the total could be significant.

So, borrowing an idea from my manager days, I am going to start capturing this data. (You change what you measure.) Starting with the April 15 Federal Election Commission filing, I  am charting on a spreadsheet which Native candidates earn the most support at $25 or less.

For now I am just looking at the reports for congressional candidates, but the principle ought to be for every candidate for every office. Especially those running for state legislatures. (Previous: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.)

Over the years I have heard from so many candidates who said they did not get any financial support from the Democratic or Republican Party or even wealthy individuals who give to just about everybody. (The Washington Post recently reported that half of all Political Action Committee donations come from just 50 people.)

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can take that authority away from the parties, tribal enterprises, casinos, even fat cats, all by sending little dollars. (There are even easy third-party online tools to send money in small amounts, such as ActBlue for Democrats, or ActRight for Republicans.) As I have written before it would be great to see a Native American version of these kinds of groups that bundle, report, and pass along donations to candidates and causes.


Big money is important too

I don’t want to discount candidates who are raising serious money. Kudos to Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, who’s raised more than a million dollars, or MarkWayne Mullin in the same state. Both incumbents have primary challengers. Cole is Chickasaw and Mullin is Cherokee.

Montana’s Denise Juneau is breaking fundraising records for Democrats in her state. She has raised $626,741 as of March 31. Most of her money has come from Montanans and about a third has been in increments of less than $100. “From farmers and nurses to software engineers and teachers, the excitement and momentum for our campaign comes from every corner of Montana,” Juneau said. “Montanans are ready for a leader who puts them first, and they know I’ll be that leader in Congress.”

But Juneau is also resetting the bar higher in terms of donation from a wide cross-section of Indian Country. She has received donations from tribes and tribal enterprises, including from Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Lummi Indian Nation, Oneida Indian Nation, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Quinault Indian Tribe, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Squaxin Island Tribe, Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Suquamish Tribe, Swinomish Tribal Community, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington.

Arizona Republican Carlyle Begay has already raised $39, 906 in his bid for the first congressional district. He has few individual contributions, but his report shows contributions from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, Barona Band of Mission Indians, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Porch Band of Creek Indians.

One of the challenges for Native American candidates is that they need to reach a minimum level of funding before they will get financial help from the national political parties.

Joe Pakootas is the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington. He is now a candidate for Congress in Washington’s 5th District. He remembers when politicians would approach the tribe for donations. “We’d interview them and make sure they were going to support the issues that were important to us. That happened and we would throw some dollars at them,” Pakootas said. “Well, when I got into this race in 2014, I thought, this is going to be easy. I can go around and talk to all the tribes, I am Native American, and one of them, and maybe they will support me graciously, handsomely. I was completely wrong on that issue.”

Pakootas said he received about $39,000 from tribes. He said he thought it was a lot until he talked to some of the other candidates, non-Indians “who let me know he had received $80,000 from tribes. It was kind of disappointing.” He said this time around he hopes to change that, even if dollars aren’t flowing in just yet.

The national party has not helped the Pakootas campaign. He said when he started running he was told he would need to generate about $500,000 in revenue before the Democrat’s congressional committee would help him raise more money. (Previous: Six seats Natives can win to flip Congress.)

One of these days we will find a way to reduce the role of money in political campaigns. I have long thought we should come up with a better alternative, such as taxpayer-funded campaigns, that level the playing field. But that kind of reform is far off.

“It’s sad that money plays such a huge role in winning these races,” said Denise Juneau. “We have to raise money to make sure we get the message out about my record of accomplishment, my ideas for moving forward, how I am going to include everybody in the  path that goes to Congress.”

Juneau said you don’t always need a lot of money to win. Sometimes even selling t-shirts helps a campaign. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a significant difference. Because, just like votes .. we gather up every little vote in Montana and it comes in aggregate and we win.”

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant /




#NativeVote16 – Six seats Native candidates can win to flip Congress

Screenshot 2016-02-11 07.32.02
Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running for the House of Representatives in Washington’s 5th district. (Campaign photo)


Mark Trahant

Indian Country is a key voting bloc in the Democrat’s campaign to win more House seats. Sort of.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focusing on 19 seats that the party thinks it can win from Republicans, labeled as the “Red to Blue” campaign. Three of those seats have a signifiant number of Native American voters.

This is good news for Democrats who are competing in these districts because it should mean there will at least be seed money from a national network of donors. (Previous: Trahant Reports on the challenge of funding a congressional campaign.)

The most important seat on the Democrats’ list is Montana where Denise Juneau is challenging Rep. Ryan Zinke. Montana is an ideal state for a Democratic pickup. Montana’s demographics are changing and there will be a lot of ballot and fundraising chaos should the Republicans nominate Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. And, Native Americans already have a good turnout track record during presidential years.

Another House seat on this list is Nevada’s 4th district where former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, Walker River Paiute, is a candidate. (He still must win a primary.) This district is almost 15 percent Native American.

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat, told Politico that “House Democrats are on an offensive and will pick up these seats in 2016, and these effective, hardworking and diverse candidates are the foundation of our success this year.”

In a normal election cycle, a focus on two seats with Native candidates would be a good thing as part of a diversity foundation.

But this year I think Democrats could do more. A lot more. There are congressional districts that could get a huge boost from a strong Native American candidate. One of the best things that the Liberal Party did in its sweep of Canada’s election was recruit strong Aboriginal candidates. (If you want to see how powerful that was in one image, check Adam Scotti’s official picture of Justin Trudeau asking Jody Wilson-Raybould to be the nation’s Attorney General.)

Where this DCCC list most conflicts with the principle of diversity is Arizona 1st congressional district. (Even though it’s already represented by a Democrat, the seat is still a target because it’s expected to be so close). This district is the most Native in the country — more than 22 percent and growing — and it’s time for Native representation. One. Who. Can. Win. The Democrats should be recruiting star candidates from tribal government, academia, or business. In an election cycle where outsiders are being rewarded by voters, this is a “ya’ think?” moment.

Instead Democrats have chosen Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican legislator, turned Democrat. Wonderful. That should excite folks across Indian Country.

Two other districts with Native candidates are not on the list. Probably because they are considered long shots at this point. True. But this will not be a normal election year.

Those districts are Washington’s 5th district where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running again; and Arizona’s 2nd district where Victoria Steele, a Seneca, is polling well but lacks money. Both Steele and Pakootas face primary challengers.

I would add one more seat to any target list: Alaska. Rep. Don Young is vulnerable even if that doesn’t show up in polling. And, like Arizona 1st, it’s time for an Alaska Native to represent Alaska. Democrats should be relentless in their recruiting (and that actually should be easy) and make certain that any candidate has enough money to be competitive. There are so many talented Alaska Natives who could win. (Note to Democrats: Do I need to put a list together for you? Or will you do your homework yourself?) It’s time.

The DCCC says this is only the first list. There will be more down the road. The sooner the better.

In case you are counting: There is a total of six seats where American Indian and Alaska Native voters could make a difference. When the goal is to win 30 seats, that’s not bad.

There has never been an election with more opportunity for Indian Country. Why? Because we are the ultimate outsiders. And in 2016 that’s the winning hand.


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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant /










#NativeVote16 Denise Juneau’s 54 generations, first in Congress

Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes, and Montana’s two-term Superintendent of Public Instruction, is running for Congress. She’ll face incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke.

One of her first pitches is fantastic: “Denise’s Montana roots run deep. Her family’s ancestry traces back to before Montana was even a state, possibly 54 generations on this soil.”

She has many good issues to raise, including jobs. As schools’ chief, Juneau’s “Graduation Matters Montana” increased the state’s graduate rate reached its highest level ever recorded.

That’s the news.

But here is why this race is so important: Juneau can win. Think about what it will mean to have her voice in Congress. She is the first Native American woman in history to win a statewide election — and could be the first to serve in Congress.

Now the nitty-gritty. Juneau can win because she’s already earned more votes from many Montanans, 235,397 four years ago when she was re-elected schools’ chief. To put that number in perspective: The winning Montana Senate candidate only had 213,709 votes. (The huge difference is because the first number was during the 2012 election year; that’s when Juneau’s  best voters will turnout.)

Interactive chart from Brookings looking at the population of the country.
Interactive chart from Brookings looking at the population of the country.

What’s more: Montana is changing. The population is only about 6 percent American Indian now, but if you look at the schools (where Juneau spent her days) and that number is more than double.

William Frey, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of the Diversity Explosion, has posted an interactive map that shows the changing nature of America. Wolf Point, and, Roosevelt County, Montana, shows the demographic shift as well as anywhere. This is home to the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. For people who are old, say, 80 years old, the population is 78.5 percent white. That number drops to 63.3 percent for 65 to 79; and becomes a minority at 50 years to 64 years old. The county itself is now 57 percent American Indian — and is a majority of voters. That, plus the growth of cities in Bozeman and Missoula, make Montana much more open to voting for Democrats.

Juneau’s first challenge is money. Her opponent has already raised more than $800,000. But if Montana is seen as a “pick up” opportunity, then national money will be sure to follow. It will also be interesting to see how much money is raised from Indian Country to further Juneau’s campaign.

I think there is one more possibility: this could be a wave election. If the Republicans nominate an outsider for president — Donald Trump or Ben Carson — there will be little support for candidates across the border. And by support I mean less money and less organization.

Not only that, no matter who wins the Republican nomination, there will be a significant block of voters who see the winner as “not their kind of Republican.” The Republican Party is divided three ways. There are Tea Party folks, establishment Republicans, and Libertarians. No matter who wins the nomination, someone will be on the losing side.

I think this could be a national trend. But it’s even more likely in Montana. A 2010 study by the Cato Institute called Montana “the state with the highest Libertarian constituency in the nation.”

Democrats, on the other hand, will be united behind Juneau.

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