Long before settlers descended upon this place, Montana was home to Native American tribes who raised their families and built their communities on this land. Our history of the settlement is not one to be proud of, and we did not treat these peoples with the respect or fairness they deserved. We still have a long way to go to make up for what we took away so long ago.
Montana is now home to eight recognized tribes with over 55,000 enrolled members. These Tribal nations are rich in history and culture but are suffering from decisions they did not make and punishment they did not deserve. Violent crime and missing persons cases are plaguing too many of our Native American tribes and peoples in Montana. I want to tell you about more of the work I have done to try to ensure Montana is a place where all of our Native American residents can thrive and get ahead.
I want our Tribal Nations to have strong economies and plentiful economic opportunities. I have been a proven supporter of economic opportunities in Indian Country and will continue to do that as Attorney General. I am proud to have increased property tax exemption opportunities for land owned by an Indian Tribe, increased funding for State-Tribal economic development commissions, helped to increase Native American tourism by adding another Native American member to the Tourism Advisory Council, and made it easier for minority and Native American owned businesses to thrive. While we need to do more, I am proud to have stood with Native American Communities to take these steps to increase economic opportunity and prosperity for Native Americans living in Montana.
I know that education provides the pathway for everyone to have a better life, and Native American schools cannot be left behind. I am proud to have co-created the Montana National Education for Women’s Leadership Program three years ago, which provides free residential leadership training for college women and ensured 7 of the 20 participate spots would come from Tribal colleges and universities. I have also worked to increase payments to Tribal colleges so they can afford the same professors, student experiences, and campus support as any other higher educational institution can.
As a nurse, I keenly understand the multiple layers of health care issues facing the Native American population in Montana. I have promoted improved health care services, including mental health and addiction services for our Native American population. I also supported expanding Medicaid eligibility to provide more health care services to low-income Montanans and supported the law allowing for the Community Health Aide Program for Tribal facilities to begin. I also supported permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to assist with health care in Indian Country.
Having grown up in Montana and choosing to raise my family here, I greatly respect our Tribal Nations. I have been a proven supporter of Tribal sovereignty and a defender of laws promoting sovereignty as a legislator. I am proud to have supported and passed ratification of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water rights compact, passed a law to allocate wild buffalo licenses to tribes for traditional purposes and helped to reallocate funds related to the Blackfeet Tribe water compact. Most importantly, I helped pass a law that required the state to consider Tribal guiding principles when formulating or implementing policies or rules that have implication on tribes.
I spent approximately 6 years protecting children as a state and county prosecutor where I saw the ways the child protection system needed reform. I understand the need to protect Tribal sovereignty while also ensuring children are safe and protected under the law. I worked hard to make Montana’s laws work better for children. I passed the Bully Free Montana Act to stop child bullying at schools, reformed state law so that parents and guardians have more time to work with social workers before facing separation and made our child sexual abuse laws stronger and more transparent.
From reforming the criminal justice system, ensuring language preservation and doing more to help with missing persons cases, I know we have more to do and have been working hard to make the change we need. I am proud to have been working on these issues in the legislature, and I am now running for Attorney General because we need experienced statewide leadership that understands these problems and knows what we need to do to solve them.
As a nurse, prosecutor, domestic violence advocate and state legislator, I have been working with the Native American community for a long time, and I want to dedicate myself to making Montana a place where they have the same opportunities as everyone else does to get ahead and thrive. I am proud to have helped bring some change to this broken system, but know more can be done. I will do what needs to be done as Attorney General to make it happen. As part of this, I pledge to establish an official Office of Native American Affairs with representation from all Tribes and Tribal communities to build on the work the Attorney General’s office has been doing. I look forward to working with our Tribal Nations and making Montana a better place for everyone.