Native Americans in MT Seek Civic Engagement / Public News Service

Knowing where to start can seem daunting for people who want to get involved in their communities, and civic engagement can mean something different for the indigenous people of Montana.

Ronnie Jo Horse, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Western Native Voice, which works to involve more Montana natives in the election, said a motivating and empowering factor to involve people is to explain the relationship between tribes and the US government.

“Understand that American Indians or Alaska Natives are not another racial or ethnic group, but have a unique sovereign political status that is recognized in the U.S. Constitution, various Supreme Court decisions, executive orders , acts of Congress and other federal policies,” Horse said. .

Horse pointed out that people are also more likely to engage in elections when they understand Native American voting history. Native Americans were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924, then faced Jim Crow-era hurdles until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. About two-thirds of Native Americans voted in the 2020 election in Montana. The 2022 state primary election will be held on June 7.

Horse pointed out that people can start small if they want to be civically engaged. To have the biggest impact, she said in-person conversations were the most powerful. Horse noted that unfortunately the pandemic has disrupted his organization’s ability to work in this way, but they have expanded their digital footprint.

“We had a bigger reach with the younger generation,” Horse explained. “But it was difficult because of this lack of face-to-face interaction to get the message across.”

Horse added that it’s also important for elected leaders to understand Native American communities and some of the barriers they face, especially in voting. Issues like voting by mail are critical, for example, because mailboxes can be far away from voters living on reservations or in rural parts of the state, which can be a barrier to voter turnout.

Disclosure: Western Native Voice contributes to our fund for reporting on policy and budget priorities, civic engagement, education, and Native American issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Nohemi M. Moore