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Election news from Yellowstone Public Radio and its partners to help you make an informed decision at the polls.

Montana nonprofit offers transport, assistance to tribal voters ahead of midterm elections

Western Native Voice's Natanya O'Neill out in the field.
Courtesy Western Native Voice
Western Native Voice's Natanya O'Neill out in the field. The organization is part of a national effort to rally voters across Indian Country ahead of next month's midterm elections.

A Montana nonprofit that advocates for indigenous voting rights is partnering with seven other Native American rights organizations in other states as part of the 2022 Natives Vote campaign.

The collaboration is one of multiple that the non-partisan Western Native Voice is part of in its effort to rally voters across Indian Country in the weeks before next month’s midterm elections.

Western Native Voice field director Natanya O’Neill, who’s Northern Cheyenne, said transportation is one of the major voting barriers for Montana’s tribal Nations, and registering to vote can be a multi-hour trip for people in rural areas.

“Getting from Birney, Montana, you may you need to go all the way to Forsyth to register and get your ballot in,” said O’Neill. “That can potentially be a three-hour trip in and of itself.”

Data indicates that a lower percentage of Native American populations vote compared to other racial and ethnic groups. According to a report from the Interagency Steering Group on Native American Voting Rights, voter turnout among Native American populations is 13 percent lower than the national average and 17 percent lower than for white non-Hispanic voters.

O’Neill said the organization will do outreach in all Montana’s tribal communities before the November election, and the Flathead area has one of the larger voting percentages compared to the other tribal Nations in Montana.

“We try to fill in the gap for those lower turnout areas, so that we can try to just emphasize in those areas how critical it is that their voice is heard as well,” said O’Neill.

According to Western Native Voice, Indigenous voter turnout for the 2018 midterm elections show about two thirds of both the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation and the Fort Belknap Indian Community voted. The lowest turnout was the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy, located south of Havre in northcentral Montana, at a little less than half.

Among the nonprofit's other efforts, O’Neill said Western Native Voice is offering people rides, collecting ballots and collaborating with colleges to encourage voter registration and turnout. More information about voting and registering can be found on Western Native Voice’s website.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.