Denise Juneau, running for re-election as Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, campaigns on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

Elections 2012: Montana Democratic Candidates Tell Indian Country – We Need Your Vote

Mark Trahant
11/1/12

FORT BELKNAP AGENCY, MONTANA – Montana’s Democratic candidates are on a 1,700 mile road trip across the state’s seven Indian reservations. On Halloween night the tour stopped at the home of Gros Ventre and Assiniboine people meeting people at the Red Whip Recreation Center. The tour included U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Steve Bullock who’s running for governor, Montana attorney general candidate Pam Bucy, congressional candidate Kim Gillan, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. Tester said he was elected six years ago with the help of American Indian voters. He said this election will be close and that the votes of Indian country could make the difference. He said he was running again to support tribal sovereignty in the Senate. He cited many legislative accomplishments from Indian country, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and the unfinished Violence Against Women Act. Bullock said as the incumbent attorney general he made sure to meet with tribal government in their own seat of power, not at the state capitol, a clear recognition of the government-to-government relationship. He said looking out at the people packed into a gym on Halloween night, it was clear that there was enthusiasm in Indian country, a recognition of tribal power at the ballot box. “We want you to know that power,” he said. Juneau was introduced as a relative. The state schools’ chief is a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes and grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. Four years ago she was elected the state's superintendent of public instruction, the only American Indian to serve as a constitutional officer – governor, attorney general, or school superintendent – anywhere in the United States. She is also the first Native American woman in history to win a statewide election. And now she’s running for re-election. Imagine that, she said, the honor of being the only Native American representing all the people. She said in Montana when American Indians vote, Democrats win. But the message from Fort Belknap wasn’t one way, from politicians to the people, it was two-way. Community leaders reported that 92 percent of the community was not registered to vote, the highest percentage of any tribal community in Montana. Brittany Ironmaker, student body vice president of the Aaniiih Nakoda College, said that students are engaged in this election. The most, she said, from any tribal college. She said on election day 17 carpenter students, 22 basketball team members, 9 student officers, and 9 high school and middle school students will be out in the community to make sure everyone votes. Tribal member Clarena Brockie spoke about her winning candidacy for the Montana Legislature. She won the primary by only three votes. Now, she said, everyone in the community claims they were one of those three votes. (She is running unopposed in the general election next week). She said she is proof that every vote matters. Now pull back from Fort Belknap and think about these three votes in the context of the 2012 election. Indian country is not polled. So organizing at the community level, like what’s going on here, is not even noticed by the larger population. There are no reporters covering the entire Montana tour of Indian country – and even when a story does pop up, it’s only a local event. But next week when the votes are counted, if Indian country votes with a high percentage, then there will be a surprise. Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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