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Montana Retains Racial Parity In State Legislature

Montana Capitol dome, Helena.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol dome, Helena.

Following the election, ten Native Americans have won their races and will be serving in Montana’s legislature. This is fewer Indigenous representatives than last session.

Montana remains one of the few states whose legislature has racial parity, meaning the makeup of the legislature is proportional to the racial makeup of the state. Next year, members of the Montana American Indian Caucus will account for nearly seven percent of the state legislature, which, according to the 2010 Census, is almost exactly the same percentage of Native Americans living in Montana.

Jason Small, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member, is a Republican state senator from Busby and the chair of the Montana State-Tribal Relations Committee. Senator Small was one of six current Indigenous legislators reelected this week, along with four new legislators.

“The thing that I've come to understand and realize is that unless you’re actually from a reservation or you're living on one or you've lived on one, boy you don't have much of an idea on how it works. It’s its own entity onto itself," Small says.

Small says last session the Caucus passed legislation related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and secured funding for Indian Health Services among other work. He says in the next session, Montana’s American Indian Caucus will continue using their life experiences and understanding of Montana’s sovereign tribal nations to pass laws that benefit all of Montana.

"The primary concern everybody always has is to make sure we're moving forward, not stepping backwards on anything," he says.

Mike Fox, a Democrat, and Jason Small, a Republican, won their races for Montana Senate. For Montana House of Representatives, Republican Rhonda Knudsen along with Democrats Marvin Weatherwax Jr., Tyson Runningwolf, Frank Smith, Jonathan Windy Boy, Rynalea Whiteman Pena, Sharon Stewart-Peregoy and Donavan Hawk were all elected to public office.

Fifteen Native Americans were on the ballot this year, including Shane Morigeau, who lost his race for state auditor to Republican Troy Downing. Ten Indigenous candidates were elected and will serve in Montana’s American Indian Caucus, which will include two fewer members than last year.

Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America tribal affairs reporter.

Kaitlyn Nicholas covers tribal news in Montana.