Montana Democrats seek more Natives in local elections

Aliyah Chavez

The state’s Democratic Party announced permanent leadership positions for Native people on Wednesday

Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

Montana’s Democratic Party is hoping to grow its ranks by encouraging more Democrats to run for local offices. The party will establish three permanent leadership positions for Native people dedicated to this mission, it announced at a news conference Wednesday.

The three Native leaders will serve on a steering committee along with seven other individuals whose task will be to guide the party’s Blue Bench Project.

This project aims to recruit local leaders who may want to run for a local office but may not have experience campaigning.

A hallmark of the project is offering training to candidates on election basics, building a campaign team and creating a public image.

When it comes to political participation, Montana Natives are already ahead of the game in some areas. As of 2016, they were registered to vote at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the state.

Last year, Native lawmakers made up 7 percent of the Montana Legislature, while a Census estimate for 2017 said Native people made up just 6.7 percent of the state’s total population.

Approximately 30 candidates have gone through the Montana’s Democratic Party’s program since it started in 2017. None of those candidates have been Native.

The party hopes the new leadership positions will result in more recruitment of Native people to the program.

“The seat dedicated to Native leaders on the Blue Bench steering committee will ensure the MDP is seeking out Native voices at the earliest stages of candidate recruitment,” Sandi Luckey, Executive Director of MDP, said at the press conference.

The party is currently working to identify who the Native leaders on the committee will be. Their decisions will be made by July.

The party believes it is the first to “prioritize Native voices in party building” through the establishment of permanent positions such as this.

“There’s a lot of great Native programs across the country, but they’re focused around hiring Native Americans. We’re focused around putting them at the table,” Luckey said.

Wednesday’s news conference also included the announcement of Reps. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland as the headline speakers of the Montana Democratic Party’s June convention.

“Both Sharice and Deb serve as shining examples of the values that the Montana Democratic Party strive to uphold, and their attendance underscores our commitment to place Native leaders at the forefront of our mission to ensure that voices across the state are heard loud and clear,” said the party’s treasurer, Donavon Hawk, Crow Nation.

Remarks were also made by Sapphire Carter, Chippewa-Cree Tribe, Montana Democratic Party Native program planning committee member and Alissa Snow, Aaniiih, director of the party’s Native Vote program.

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Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today's Phoenix Bureau. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

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