Montanans have long recognized the importance of the Native vote. Speaking at the National Congress of American Indians in September 1956, U.S. Rep. Lee Metcalf called political participation Native people’s best hope because “Indians are their own best spokesmen, their own best diplomats, but they can only exercise these roles effectively only in proportion to their … combined strength and their concerted voice.”
In other words: The more Native folks who vote, the more power and say we will have over our future.
Montana is an a great example of that promise. And, there is a long list of success stories: The elections of Sen. Jon Tester, Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes, as well as Governors Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock (who’s in office now).
You can even argue that because of that success at the ballot, Montana produced the best relationship between tribes and a state government, in well, possibly forever.
As former Gov. Schweitzer once said, “Indians have played a major role in my Administration from day one. They lead departments, provide sound policy advice, run programs, and work tirelessly on my behalf to stay connected to tribal leaders, members, and communities throughout Montana.”
Former Sen. Carol Juneau recently wrote in Char-Koosta News about the state’s leadership role. “We now have three Indian majority senate districts and six Indian majority house districts in Montana that give Indian country a real voice in the direction of our state,” she said. “We have a much stronger state-tribal relationship being built because of this political power.”
Think about the significance of Native Montanans strength and voice. America Indians make up less than seven percent of the state’s population, but have have a say, even determining election winners.
So that’s how it ought to be. Only it’s not always that way — even in Montana. (more…)