Policy Institute works to empower Native Americans to get involved
By Lailani Upham
lawyer and former CSKT tribal attorney, Pat Smith, who is a member of
the Assiniboine tribe, leads a discussion on "Indian Voting History and
Current Trends and the U.S. Census." Smith explained and showcased data
on the impact the Indian vote has had on the most recent elections.
(Lailani Upham photo)
ARLEE — The Policy Institute held a two-day leadership seminar
series on Indian Country issues last week at the Heart View Center
The event designed specifically for Native American
participants was a first attempt by the institute to focus on Indian
issues, politics and to engage and build relationships within Indian
country, says former Vice Chair of the Montana Public Service
Commission and founder of the Montana Human Rights Network and The
Policy Institute, Ken Toole.
The Policy Institute, based in Helena, describes itself as a
blend of authoritative research and hands-on political engagement in
efforts to create public policy centered on economic justice, fair
taxation, corporate accountability and environmental responsibility.
Presentations and discussions included themes regarding Indian
voting history and current trends, and bridging the urban and rural
divide of Natives in Montana.
The institute has a mission of
working toward changing public policy to mirror social justice values
by developing and advocating for policy initiatives. One task at hand
is providing leadership development training.
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau, opened the first discussion on “running for office.”
Next line up was Missoula lawyer, and former Confederated Salish
and Kootenai tribal attorney Pat Smith holding an interactive
discussion on “the future of Indian country in Montana.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau, addresses the
group on the dynamics of running for an elected position. Juneau
answered the question of "Why run?" She stated, "You have to believe in
the mission; and do it because you want to serve the community."
(Lailani Upham photo)
After a dinner break, Smith followed up the evening with a thorough presentation on “Indian voting history and current trends.”
Former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., held a discussion the
next day on “Native Americans and the U.S. Congress.” Williams
impressed on the minds and hearts of participants to uphold three
pillars of empowering tools in Indian country. “Education, economic
empowerment, and political strength” he stated.
Jason Smith, State Tribal Economic Development Program Manager,
was also one of the presenters and took the floor covering the
importance of state-tribal relations in economic development. Smith
also spoke on the vast effect voting in Indian country has on state and
federal programs for Indian tribes.
Williams urged participants to communicate to their tribes the
importance of political empowerment, and to draw voter attention to the
polls. “You got to scare the crap out them (politicians),” he pointed
out. “Turn out the vote and they’ll listen to you,” he added.
can put on a dance and invite them (political leaders) and they will go
back home and nothing happens. If you don’t vote, they pay no attention
to you,” he continued.
A question arose if Williams had seen a change in Congress
toward tribes in the past 20 years. He stated it was getting better in
the western half of the U.S. however tribes still remain invisible on
the eastern side. Williams credits the better relationship to voting in
Indian country. “Because Indians started to vote, they started paying
attention,” he said.
Williams addressed the participants with the value of tribal
schools and the significant efforts toward Indian graduation rates.
“When I graduated from college there were 60 college degrees given to
Indians...in the whole country! This past spring there were 360
doctorate degrees received by Indian students,” he stated. The
graduation rate for Native students improved in the last 20 years he
said. “No other ethnic group can compare to the growth rate,” he added.
“Be proud of the accomplishments and enormous gains; and get the word out. Vote.”
For more information on Indian Country leadership seminars, contact Molly Severtson, Executive Director, (406) 442-5506.