The specific tribal communities include Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy, Blackfeet, Flathead, and Little Shell-Chippewa. These are defined by the geographical borders for each reservation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, committees are not allowed to adopt any regulations or rules that would conflict with either the National Democratic Party or the Montana Democratic Party. Rules and regulations also can’t conflict with Montana law.
In a media statement, Donovan Hawk, treasurer of the Montana Democratic Party, expressed that this step isn’t just about “having a seat at the table” but about the ability to deliver results in regard to the economy, infrastructure, and health care. “Proportional representation for indigenous Montanans is another step toward making sure our communities have the representation they deserve in Helena and Washington, D.C.,” Hawk stated.
Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, a Democrat from Montana, told the Great Falls Tribune that he was excited to see this change because, historically, he feels Democrats have taken Native votes for granted. “If you take a look at the races, the Native vote swings election,” he told the outlet. “But we really haven’t had much communication or assistance from the Democratic Party. So the rule change is a good deal.” He added that it’s “about time.”
Mind you, it’s “about time” can be an ongoing sentiment when it comes down to systems of power centering and acknowledging Native voices. In the big picture, we know that Native folks in the United States continue to face systemic racism and discrimination, resulting in part from long-term colonialism and white supremacy. We know that many Native folks struggle to access clean water, struggle to vote, and are systemically left behind in the education system.
Fellow Montana Democrat Sen. Susan Webber told the Great Falls Tribune the rule change is a “great” move forward. Webber shared that it’s the first time she can remember that the party actively included Native tribes in decisions. “They’re acknowledging that we have a strong voice in elections,” she told the outlet. “It’s a really cool thing.”
The U.S. has an endless amount of work to do when it comes to marginalized groups in general, and Native folks, in particular, have long been ignored and shut down. Signs of progress are happening, slowly but surely, like recent efforts to give Native folks their stolen land back, though that’s an expensive, complicated legal process in itself.
Having Native folks in Congress, and especially in a presidential cabinet—like Rep. Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, serving as interior secretary—are huge steps that are worthy of celebration, too. But the nation ultimately needs to reckon with what is owed to people who continue to face disproportionate discrimination, violence, and oppression at just about every step of the way. In many ways colonialism is alive and well, and that fight simply can’t get lost in the progressive battle.