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Redistricting proposal draws criticism over Native representation

In a map proposed by Republican Districting and Apportionment Commissioner Dan Stusek, two districts where Native Americans make up the majority of the population would be reconfigured into districts with a majority of white voters.
https://mtredistricting.gov
In a map proposed by Republican Districting and Apportionment Commissioner Dan Stusek, two districts where Native Americans make up the majority of the population would be reconfigured into districts with a majority of white voters.

The commission charged with redrawing Montana into 150 legislative districts is touring the state to gather public comment on maps drawn by Republicans and Democrats. During a stop in Pablo, some residents pushed back against proposals they say will dilute the Native vote.

A proposal to redraw legislative districts in a way that would change the racial makeup of two districts drew the most public comment at Monday’s hearing.

In a map proposed by Republican Districting and Apportionment Commissioner Dan Stusek, two districts where Native Americans make up the majority of the population would be reconfigured into districts with a majority of white voters. Stusek says he wants to provide Montanans with a variety of map options to consider that haven’t been offered in the past.

State Sen. Susan Webber, a Democrat from Browning, holds one of the seats up for consideration and spoke at the Pablo hearing. She said Native Americans, who make up more than 7% of the state’s population, have gained representation in the statehouse over the last decade.

“Now that we have a voice, that we can get things done — and to take that away, it would be horrible.”

Webber’s district includes the Blackfeet and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Under the Republican proposal, the latter reservation would be absorbed into another district.

About 20 residents told the commission there should continue to be the same level of Native representation at the Legislature.

Sandra Boham is president of Salish Kootenai College in Pablo.

“I think it is really important that that voice and that engagement in the political structure of this state not be hindered in any way," she says.

Democrats on the commission argue the proposed districts violate the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the dilution of a minority population’s voting power. Two people spoke in support of Stusek’s proposal, saying it offers the most compact and contiguous districts.

Montana leads the nation in Native American representation in its statehouse. Twelve Native Americans served as state lawmakers last legislative session in 2021.

The commission will hold its next public hearing in Crow Agency on Thursday. A final legislative district map will be adopted in December.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.