Tribal Members Elected to Montana Legislature

Jonathon Windy Boy (D) Representative , Chippewa Cree (photo courtesy of PowWow.com)

MONTANA—On a nation-wide basis, the Democrats prevailed, winning control of the Senate. Pending late vote counts, they might even capture control of the House of Representatives.

In Montana, however, the Republicans including many far-right voters continue to dominate the political landscape, both in the state and nationally.

US Congressman Ryan Zinke (R) won again as did Matt Rosendale (R).  There were no races for the Senate seats. Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R) continue in office.

However, about a dozen members of federally recognized tribes were elected to the Montana legislature.  There are 50 Senators and 100 Representatives in the Montana Legislature. Presently, it is highly dominated by Republicans. The Senate now has 16 Democrat members and 34 Republicans. The House has 32 Democrats and 68 Republicans.

“It is an uphill battle,” commented Sharon Peregoy, member of the Crow Tribe who has served in the Legislature for many terms, beginning in 2009.

Collectively, they will represent the approximately 67,600 Tribal members who live in Montana (6.3 percent of the State’s population, fifth highest in the nation according to the last U.S. Census count).

Twelve tribal members were on the State ballot on November 8, 2022.  The results follow:

  • Jonathon Windy Boy, (D) Representative, Chippewa Cree Rocky Boy’s reservation won by a landslide, unopposed after a twenty-year State legislative career, both in the House and the Senate; he also has served on the Tribal Council.
  • Jason Small, (R) Senator Northern Cheyenne will continue for another two years. He did not have to run as the 50 State Senators are elected for 4-year terms. Small is the sole Republican tribal member to serve in the MT Legislature.
  • One-term State Representative Rynalea Whiteman Pena, (D) former President of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe lost her second bid for State office to a conservative Republican
  • Representative Sharon Stewart Peregoy, (D) Crow won another term, bringing her public service record to 13 years, starting in 2009. She has served both as a Senator and Representative
  • Representative Tyson Running Wolf, (D) Blackfeet was re-elected.
  • Sean Morigeau, also an experienced legislator was re-elected from the Flathead Reservation to and will represent a largely non-Indian community
  • Donovan Hawk, (D) member of the Crow Tribe was easily re-elected to represent the city of Butte, MT, primarily non-Native but with a sizeable urban Indian constituency
  • Senator Frank Smith, (R) Assiniboine Sioux representing the Fort Peck reservation narrowly won re-election
  • Senator Susan Weber, (D) Blackfeet from Browning, MT also regained her seat for a second term
  • Senator Mike Fox, (D) Gros Ventre/Assiniboine also won back his seat.
  • Veteran Senator Marvin Weatherwax, (D) Blackfeet tribal member from Browning wound up in a very close race against a non-Indian contender, requiring a re-count but prevailed by a slim margin of 26 votes.

Scott McNeills, Director of the MT Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said, “That shows the impact that every vote counts. Just because you are in a district with a majority of Native voters, doesn’t mean you are entitled.”

 

McNeills also stated that a long-term goal of the MT Democratic Party has been to assist tribal members in gaining office to achieve parity. “We’ve made progress,” he noted “but there is a long way to go.”

A goal of the Montana State party has long been to enable more Natives to gain election to State offices, he said. “The gains have been steady since 1990, but more progress is needed to enable Native people to have parity.”

Windy Boy told Native Sun News Today:  “We must pay attention, campaign and get more young people involved. Though many don’t think about it, many of the State programs such as Food Stamps, Low-Energy Income Assistance, commodities are run through the State and, my interest which is funding for tribal language preservation. We must protect our interests.”

As a result of the November 8th Montana State mid-term election, the tribal members of Montana Legislature are already poised to work together on issues important to MT Tribal peoples.  They do this through the bipartisan Montana American Indian Caucus.

“People of common mind and interest, we work together on issues that benefit tribal people in Montana,” said Jason Small.  We ‘cross the aisle’ on matters such as language preservation; economic development funding, roads improvement and public safety”.

According to the Montana Legislative Services, tribal members represent about eight percent of the Montana Legislature. This percentage has steadily increased since 1990, when only six percent of the elected officials there were Native.

The Montana Legislature is often called a “citizens” legislature, meeting bi-annually from the months of January through April. Legislators receive a modest hourly rate of pay, must provide their own lodging, meals, transportation during the brief sessions. Members are only compensated for attending periodic committee meetings when the Legislature is not in session.

“Unlike the Tribal Council, it requires some financial sacrifice.” Windy Boy noted.” But it is important to our people.”

(Contact Clara Caufield at acheyennevoice@gmail.com)

 

 

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