HELENA, Mont. - State Democratic officials made history Sept. 27 when they elected the first American Indian to be vice chair of their party.
Rep. Carol Juneau, a third-term state lawmaker from Blackfeet Reservation capital of Browning, ran unopposed for the post at the party's annual convention. She won the seat unanimously, as did party Chairman Bob Ream, who sought re-election for his fourth stint as the Democrats' top state official.
Juneau, 58, is a Mandan-Hidatsa from North Dakota's Fort Berthold Reservation. She's a former teacher and administrator who was first elected to the Montana House in 1998. She also serves as president of the Montana Indian Education Association and was House minority caucus leader in the 2003 Legislature.
Juneau has sponsored an array of Indian education and other tribally related bills during her tenure in public office, including legislation passed in 1999 that directs the state to abide by its constitutional promise to recognize the distinct cultural heritage of Indians and to preserve their cultural integrity through education. Among many other achievements, she's also sponsored a successful bill to get rid of the name "squaw" on all state-controlled lands.
"I think it will be valuable to have better representation of American Indians at that level," Juneau said of her new appointment, adding that she'll continue to work to ensure the voices of Indians, non-Indians, women and the poor are heard.
Being party vice chair means Juneau will be a "super delegate" at the Democratic National Convention next year in Boston. She's already served as a regular delegate at two other conventions - in 1984 for Walter Mondale and in 2000 for Al Gore.
"I've always been an advocate for Indian people to be a part of the process and part of the leadership," she said.