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Kolby KickingWoman

Ahead of the 2022 Midterm elections, the primary season is in full effect.

In Montana, more than 10 Native candidates are running for state legislative seats. The state is one of few in the nation where the percentage of Native representatives in the state legislature matches the Native population percentage in the state.

During the most recent legislative session, there were 12 Native members, or 8 percent of the legislative body. It was the highest number, both overall and percentage wise, since the information began being collected in 1989.

(Related: Conservative Indigenous candidates vie for congressional seats)

A number of the candidates running for state Senate and House seats are incumbents and running unopposed in their respective primaries. Democratic candidates include but are not limited to: Susan Webber, Blackfeet; Shane Morigeau, Salish and Kootenai; Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Crow; Tyson Runningwolf, Blackfeet; Jonathan Windy Boy, Chippewa Cree; and Rynalea Whiteman Pena, Northern Cheyenne.

Marvin Weatherwax Jr., Blackfeet, is running against two other Democratic candidates for his seat in District 15, Adrien Owen Wagner and Thedis Crowe. Weatherwax Jr. won his primary with 52 percent of the vote.

Frank Smith, Assiniboine and Sioux, is defending his seat against fellow Democratic challenger, Kaci Wallette. He also won his primary with 57 percent of the vote.

Barbara Bessette, Chippewa Cree, previously served in the state house of representatives from 2019 to 2021 is also back on the ballot. She is running unopposed in her primary as well.

K. Webb Galbreath, Blackfeet, is also running as a republican for Public Service Commissioner #1. Galbreath lost to fellow republican, Randy Pinocci.

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Speaking to the uniqueness of Montana and its Native legislators, Western Native Voice political director Keaton Sunchild, Chippewa Cree, said the organization is proud of all candidates that run for office on and off reservations but is always encouraging more to step up, run and use their voice.

“It's important for the next generation of Native leaders to see someone that looks like them or has a last name like there's, you know, on a big stage like state office or in the case of Skylar [Williams] running for Congress,” Sunchild said. “Potentially seeing somebody that looks, sounds and kind of acts like him on a national stage, that’s hugely important for them and something that candidates in Montana uniquely positioned to do.”

Traditionally, the overall voter turnout for midterm elections is not as high as it is in presidential election years. However, since stepping into his role as political director at Western Native Voice, Sunchild has made an effort to get Native voters in Montana and understand that midterm elections are just as if not more important than presidential elections.

“Most of the time, midterm level elections are the people that are actually making decisions that impact the day to day lives of Native Americans, especially the ones that are likely to go represent us in Helena,” he said.

According to the state’s election website, 37.75 percent of the registered voters voted in the primary election. 

This year, Montanans wanting to vote in the primary had to be registered with their county elections office by noon on June 6, according to changes to election laws passed by the 2021 Legislature. Some of the new election laws are being challenged in court.

Redistricting: Removing Native voices
Montana commission finalizes congressional district lines
Montana judge temporarily blocks new election laws
Montana voters must be registered day before primary

Unofficial results will start to be tallied and released at 8 p.m. MDT and updated through the night.

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