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Kolby KickingWoman 

MISSOULA, Montana — Entering the final stretch before Election Day, candidates are giving their final pitches to potential voters, looking to secure votes to help get them into office.

Tuesday night at the University of Montana, Western Native Voice hosted a debate for candidates in Montana’s 1st Congressional District focused on issues facing Native communities in the state.

After the latest census, Montana gained a congressional seat and the 1st Congressional District has also been called the “western congressional district.” There are two tribes within the boundaries, the Blackfeet Nation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes;

Only two of the three candidates — Democrat Monica Tranel and Libertarian John Lamb — showed up for the debate. Republican Ryan Zinke did not respond to the participation invitation by the date of the debate, according to Western Native Voice.

Issues covered included missing and murdered Indigenous people, healthcare, voting access, energy and more.

In her opening statement, Tranel thanked Lamb for showing up to the debate, noting that they have participated in one in every county in the district. Less than 10 people attended the event in person but it was also live-streamed.

“We think that it's our obligation to show up and meet you and answer your questions,” Tranel said. “We've done that because democracy depends on participation, this is representative democracy.”

Discussing healthcare, Lamb believes it is a form of civil rights although being a Libertarian he says it is a state issue and should be addressed and done properly within the state.

When asked specifically about a creative but practical solution to the opioid crisis disproportionately affecting Native people, Lamb said he would advocate for a reform of the criminal system over drugs.

“The war on drugs, per se, hasn't been working for the last 40 years. It's only been getting worse and more and more people in prison instead of actually getting honest (healthcare),” Lamb said. “So that's where I would start, is decriminalizing, not making criminals out of these people but getting their mental health where they actually need it and setting up facilities that can actually help them with these addictions.”

Tranel said if elected she would listen to and partner with tribes to help meet their needs. She noted that the Blackfeet Nation doesn’t have an addiction care center and that’s something that needs to change.

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She went on to say it’s important to respect the sovereignty of tribal nations and recognize the impact of intergenerational trauma.

“It's a complex issue, but I think starting with understanding and owning, and honoring the past, as painful as it's been, and recognizing that and then trying to figure out how we heal together,” she said.”I would like to be a partner in that with the tribes.”

Leading into the election, both candidates believe elections in the state are safe, secure and both trust the elections officials who have been doing the job for years.

Getting people to the polls is a whole other issue in and of itself. Tranel talked about increasing polling places on tribal lands and increasing mail routes.

“We want people voting,” Tranel said. “Some of the other things are just making sure that people understand that democracy works and it works for you, but you have to participate.”

Lamb said there are a lot of issues that need to be fixed but he is against voter ID, citing the large number of Amish people in the country who “don’t believe in a picture.”

“I know lots of young people that don't have ID, up into their early 20s even, so we have to quit eliminating one class of people,” Lamb said. “To me it is discrimination and we have to fix this issue other ways. I think our elections are great. We don't need voter ID, there's many ways to identify people.”

Over the course of the evening, both Tranel and Lamb talked about the importance of listening to Native people and if elected, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

“I think that the Native American people are a great people and they've been someone who hasn't been listened to by Congress and by the American government,” Lamb said. “Many treaties have been broken and we need someone in Congress that's really going to represent the Native American people and their voice and start truly protecting those sovereign rights.”

“This is how democracy works. We show up, we pay attention, we ask questions, and I look forward to being a partner to the tribes as we move forward,” Tranel said. “I think what is great about our country and about democracy, is that while we've gotten it wrong, many times terribly wrong and lots of harm has happened; we still come together and we know that we can do better. We can do better by each other and for each other.”

Western Native Voice will be hosting a debate for the Eastern District on Thursday, Oct. 27. Both debates are expected to be uploaded to the organization’s website or Facebook page before the election.

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