Power Brokers V: The Plains States Show the Strength of Native Women

Brian Daffron
September 05, 2013


It is to the Northern Plains and portions of the Southern Plains where “Power Brokers” next turns. The Great Plains—from the Kiowa and Comanche in the South to the Lakota, Cheyenne and Cree in the North—is not only known for some of the toughest battles between tribes and the United States government, but also for some of Indian country’s greatest holdings of natural resources. With 15 state legislature members representing six states, Montana holds the most with eight legislators. In addition, Montana can also say they’re the only state with a Native in statewide office—Denise Juneau (Mandan/Hidatsa), the Superintendent of Public Instruction.


Kansas is currently the home of at least four federally recognized tribes as well as Haskell Indian Nations University, where students from all tribes come to receive their education. Kansas currently has one Native legislator—Ponka-We Victors, who is known throughout the Internet for her stand against the forces of anti-immigration. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach lobbied the Kansas legislature for a bill that would disqualify undocumented immigrants from paying in-state tuition rates, the Huffington Post reported that Victors (Ponca/Tohono O’oodham) said to Kobach, “…when you mention illegal immigrant, I think of all of you.”

RELATED: Native Legislator Ponka-We Victors Turns Tables at Immigration Hearing in Kansas

RELATED: Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors Is a Political Warrior

Rep. Ponka-We Victors (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Tohono O’odham and Ponca

House District: 103

Years in Office: 2011-Present

Committees: Judiciary; Joint Committee of State-Tribal Relations; Agriculture and Natural Resources; Federal and State Affairs.

Key Legislation: Kansas Children’s Protection Act; elimination of rape and aggravated criminal sodomy statutes of limitations.


According to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, there are 11 federally recognized tribes within Minnesota’s borders, with bands of the Dakota and Anishinabe being among them. Out of the 134 members of the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ House of Representatives, there is one Native legislator—Rep. Susan Allen.

Rep. Susan Allen (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Rosebud Lakota

House District: 62B

Years in Office: 2011-Present

Committees: Vice-Chair, Civil Law; Energy Policy; Health and Human Services Finance; Health and Human Services Policy; Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs.

Key Legislation: Immunity for Underage possession or consumption of alcohol immunity for making of 911 calls; civil penalties on landlord violations; expansion of pre-adoptive and adoptive Indian child placement proceedings; civil marriage exemptions and protections; modifications to Minnesota Medical Practice Act; Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month designation; tribal agency employment eligibility for social work licensure; placement of plaque on Capitol grounds honoring Minnesota Native American veterans; expansion of medical assistance eligibility.


As mentioned above, Montana has the largest number of Native legislators in the Plains states outside of Oklahoma. With at least six tribal governments within the state, Montana has a total of eight legislators—three in the 50-member Senate and five in the 100-member House. With the added bonus of having Denise Juneau in statewide office, possibilities for more Natives in office can only grow as large as Montana's "Big Sky Country" nickname.

Denise Juneau (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Mandan/Hidatsa

Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Previous Experience: Director, Montana Office of Public Instruction Indian Education

Committees: Executive Board, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Key Initiatives: Bully Free Montana; Superintendent's Student Advisory Board; Graduation Matters Montana; Summer 6 Reading Challenge; raising of English Language Arts & Math standards; lowering of tobacco use among Montana teens; increase of fresh fruits and vegetables in Montana schools.

RELATED: What Could Have Been? Denise Juneau and the Native Political Machine

RELATED: Denise Juneau Says No to US Senate Run in Montana

Senator Shannon Augare (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Blackfeet Nation

Senate District: 8

Years in Office: 2010-Present

Previous Experience: Montana House of Representatives, 2007-2010; Blackfeet Nation Tribal Council, 2010-Present

Committees: Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation; Judiciary; Legislative Administration; Local Government.

Key Legislation: Revision of tax exemption laws regarding tribal recreational property; elimination of medical parolee health care cost report; elimination of attorney license tax expenditure report; revision of laws to temporarily exempt tribal fee trust land status; firefighter qualification revision.

Senator Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Crow Tribe

Senate District: 21

Years in Office: 2009-Present

Committees: Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation; Business, Labor and Economic Affairs; Education and Cultural Resources.

Key Legislation: Increased beneficiary dollars for non-Indians attending tribal colleges; establishment of Montana Indian Language Preservation pilot program; revision of laws to temporarily exempt tribal fee trust land status.

Senator Jonathan Windy Boy (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Chippewa-Cree

Senate District: 16

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Previous Experience: Montana House of Representatives, 2002-2008; Chippewa-Cree Tribal Council, 1999-Present

Committees: Education & Cultural Resources; Finance & Claims; Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education

Key Legislation: Establishment of Montana Indian Language Preservation pilot program; resolution to acknowledge Idle No More movement; revision of tribal use of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families maintenance of effort funds; interim study of ways to reduce childhood trauma.

Representative Clarena Brockie (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Gros Ventre

House District: 32

Years in Office: 2012-Present

Previous Experience: Dean of Students, Aaniiih Nakoda College

Committees: Education; Local Government; State Administration

Key Legislation: Allowing Montana Board of Regents to waive tuition and fees for qualified students.

Representative Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Blackfeet Nation

House District: 15

Years in Office: 2012-Present

Additional Experience: Current Vice-Chair, Blackfeet Nation

Committees: State Administration; Transportation

Key Legislation: No key legislation passed into law at present.

Representative Carolyn Pease-Lopez (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Crow Tribe

House District: 42

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Committees: Vice-Chair, Human Services; Agriculture; Judiciary; Legislative Administration

Key Legislation: Creation of independent office of child and family ombudsman; bill requiring state offices to document their consideration of guidelines in policies that involve tribes; exemption of certain tribally owned property from taxation; elimination of publishing policy committee.

Representative Rae Peppers (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Northern Cheyenne

House District: 41

Years in Office: 2012-Present

Committees: Agriculture; Business and Labor; Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications

Key Legislation: Providing of higher education scholarships to Purple Heart recipients.


Representative Lea Whitford (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Blackfeet Nation

House District: 16

Years in Office: 2012-Present

Committees: Appropriations; Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation

Key Legislation: Resolution to acknowledge Idle No More.

South Dakota

The state of South Dakota is home to nine tribal governments, all of them being either Lakota or Dakota. Overall, Native Americans in South Dakota make up 8.9 percent of the total population, with three Native people serving as legislators in the state capital of Pierre. Going back at least to the latter half of the 19th century, South Dakota has served as a litmus test for relations between tribes and the federal government. Because of this, South Dakota and its Native legislators should always be a state to watch.

Senator Jim Bradford (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Oglala Sioux Tribe

Senate District: 27

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Leadership: Minority Whip

Committees: Chair, State-Tribal Relations Committee; Health and Human Services; Judiciary.

Recent Key Legislation: Establishment of classroom innovation grant program; early learning and special education funding; creation of South Dakota Athletic Commission; establishment of secondary education purposes and goals; educational funding for children in residential treatment centers; release prohibition of medical waste; plugging of oil and gas wells; openness in electronic records databases; creation of Good Earth State Park; banning of wireless usage by minors while operating a motor vehicle.

Representative Troy Heinert (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Rosebud Sioux Tribe

House District: 26A

Years in Office: 2013

Committees: State-Tribal Relations; Health and Human Services; Local Government

Key Legislation: Wind Energy Tax Distribution; limited immunity for voluntary medical services; creation of critical needs scholarship program; euthanization of wildlife seriously injured in automobile accidents; authorize hunting of wolves under certain provisions; revision of Health Department restaurant inspection standards.

Representative Kevin Killer (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Oglala Sioux Tribe and Kiowa Tribe

House District: 27

Years in Office: 2008-Present

Committees: Education; Judiciary

Recent Key Legislation: Creation of cremation program for indigent deceased; establishment of Teach for America grant program within state Department of Education; mortgage loan originator exemptions; veteran distinction on driver’s licenses; commemoration of nine sovereign tribes in South Dakota; resolution urging federal government to recognize tribal ID cards; law allow arrests to be expunged from permanent records after dismissal of a criminal case.

North Dakota

The state of North Dakota has a smaller Native population than its neighbor state to the south. Its estimated 38,500 Natives consists of 5.5 percent of the overall population of North Dakota. The Native land base includes four reservations that encompass more than 1,408,000 acres. At present, North Dakota has one state senator within its legislative body.

Senator Richard Marcellais (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa

Senate District: 9

Years in Office: 2007-Present

Committees: Education; Government and Veterans Affairs

Recent Key Legislation: Funding for veterans exposed to Agent Orange; veterans’ postwar trust fund appropriation; youth suicide prevention; creation of mobile dental services grant.


Wyoming’s total population is 576,412 according to the 2012 U.S. Census. From that population, 2.6 percent are Native. The state’s only reservation, Wind River, is home to both the Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone tribes and encompasses a land base of an estimated 2.2 million acres. Wyoming’s only Native legislator, W. Patrick Goggles, is one of only eight Democrats in the 60-member Wyoming House of Representatives.

Representative W. Patrick Goggles (D)

Tribal Affiliation: Northern Arapaho

House District: 33

Years in Office: 2005-Present

Leadership Positions: Current Minority Floor Leader; former House Minority Whip

Committees: Chair, Select Committee on Tribal Relations; House Revenue Committee; Management Council; Legislative Effectiveness, National Council of State Legislators

Recent Key Legislation: Authorized taking of eagles under federal and state law; adjunct professor incentives; legislation on professional teacher board certifications; spice drug legislation; Cancer Control Act amendments; railroad crossings-on-track vehicle laws.


Sources: Irene Kawanabe, National Caucus of Native American State Legislators; bia.gov; kslegislature.org; Huffington Post; Montana Office of Public Instruction; juneauforkids.com; sos.state.mn.us; leg.state.mn.us; Montana State Legislature; South Dakota State Legislature; North Dakota State Legislature; Wyoming State Legislature; U.S. Census Bureau; openstates.org; votesmart.org; wellstone.org; Kathy Aplan, South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations