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Making history

HELENA, Mont. – With a long list of distinguished endorsements and 37 percent of the primary vote in a four-way race in the state of Montana, Denise Juneau is the only American Indian on the Nov. 4 ballot running for a state office. And if elected state superintendent of public instruction, she will be the first American Indian elected to a statewide executive office, ever.

Juneau garnered 53,786 democratic votes winning 27 of 56 Montana counties in the primaries. She is currently in a three-way race for the seat against Republican Elaine Sollie Herman and Libertarian candidate Donald Eisenmenger.

Not only does Juneau have a distinguished educational career, she also has an exceptional work history. Graduating from Montana State University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a Rockefeller Brother’s Foundation Fellowship. At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she completed her master’s degree before beginning her teaching career in New Town, N.D., on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where she is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Returning home to Browning, she taught at her alma mater, Browning High School. From there, she went to work for the Office of Public Instruction hoping to impact education in a broader policy arena. Deciding to return to school, she attended and graduated from the University of Montana Law School and in 2004 became a state Supreme Court clerk for justices Jim Regnier and Brian Morris. She also worked briefly for a national law firm specializing in federal Indian law.

Juneau is a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, the Tlingit-Haida tribes of Alaska and the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin. “We do have 10 American Indian legislators in the state, which has been very helpful in providing leadership and a voice at the table at the state level, including my mother, Sen. Carol Juneau,” she said.

“What this race really comes down to is the difference in our approach to public education. I always tell people I am a firm believer in the power of public education because I know what education has helped me to do, what it has helped me to accomplish. Right now it seems the race is split along the lines of my beliefs and support of public education and my opponent’s [Sollie Herman] lack of it.”

On her opponent’s Web site, Juneau is referred to as her “young Indian opponent.” “We are telling people that even though she is promoting the idea that she is running against a young Indian, actually what the people of Montana will get if I am elected is the most qualified and experienced person for the job,” Juneau said.

She currently serves as the director of Indian education in Montana. Her office has the responsibility of overseeing and implementing the Indian Education for All initiative, which requires all public schools in the state to teach about Montana’s American Indians in a culturally appropriate manner. “We have been working with tribes, tribal educators and teacher groups to bring all those voices together to make sure that every student in the state has an understanding of American Indian history from an accurate, authentic and valid point of view.

“We are the only state in the country with a constitutional mandate such as this and the only one in the country currently receiving money from the Legislature to be able to carry it out. Our state is being pretty progressive about Indian education.”

Determined to make a difference and meet as many people as she can across Montana, she has put more than 60,000 miles on her vehicle in the past 18 months. “Being an administrator at the state level, I have learned about every aspect of the Office of Public Instruction, its personnel, policies, budgets and the legislative process advocating for the K – 12 education budget.

“I believe I can help Montana’s schools achieve educational goals and be even greater. Strong schools can create educational opportunities for Montana students to be highly competitive in the global economy. I also believe that the state must support teachers in their ongoing growth as professionals and that we must all work together to ensure Montana’s ideals of a quality education are included in statewide policy.”

To learn more, visit www.juneauforkids.com or www.montanademocrat.org. She can be reached by phone at (406) 422-5248 or by e-mail at teamjuneau@bresnan.net.