HELENA, Mont. – Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order last week establishing a state Office of American Indian Health, saying the current health care system in Indian Country limits access to preventative care and quality health care services and providers.
Bullock issued the directive with health officials and tribal leaders at the conclusion of the Montana Tribal Leaders’ Summit at the Capitol.
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s governor signed bills Wednesday aimed at encouraging schools to develop American Indian language immersion programs and preserving Indian languages.
Gov. Steve Bullock signed the bills at the Capitol, after a tribal prayer and song and after bill sponsors Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, and Rep. George Kipp, D-Heart Butte, presented Bullock with an eagle feather and braided sweetgrass in appreciation.
“Montana is leading the nation in the promotion and preservation of tribal languages,” Bullock said. “Tribal languages are more than just a collection of words and phrases tied together. They represent the culture and history of not only Native Americans in our state, but in fact, they represent the culture and history of our entire state.”
Windy Boy said what makes new laws unique is that the Legislature saw the importance and took action.
“They voted and passed this law, based on its own merits and that it is the right thing to do, not forced to do so by any court order,” he said referring to the Indian Education For All Act passed during the 1999 session after a court ruling.
The language immersion law sponsored by Windy Boy will provide $45,000 in the next two years for the creation of programs in schools with Indian student enrollment of at least 10 percent.
It’s enough money to allow roughly five school districts to be compensated for immersion programs with a certified specialist teaching 17 students in an Indian language for half the day, according to state legislative analyst Pad McCracken.
Currently no public schools offer Indian language immersion programs, but three private K-12 Native language immersion schools exist in the state. Office of Public Instruction Deputy Superintendent Dennis Parman said Wednesday that teachers holding the license needed to teach Indian language immersion classes already work in some of the 88 public schools that would be eligible for the programs.
“We’ve visited with some schools over the years that have had interest in starting some of these programs,” he said. “They just haven’t gone there. This provides the incentive to do it.”
Parman added the amount of money might not sound like much, but the programs would build on existing classrooms with a teacher and materials, which are already funded, and add immersion to it.
Kipp’s bill will extend the Montana Indian Language Preservation program, which was started in the 2013 legislative session after Windy Boy sponsored that bill. Under the measure, $1.5 million will go to support the efforts of Montana tribes to preserve Indian languages in the form of spoken, written word or sign language over the next two years. Some of the money will also assist in the preservation and curricular goals of Montana’s Indian Education for All Program.
“The Montana Indian Language Preservation Program has helped tribes pursue innovative approaches to ensuring these languages are passed on to future generations,” Kipp said of his measure. “Today’s signing will ensure that good work continues, and we are able build on the foundational efforts that are taking place across Montana.”
A new report from the Alliance for a Just Society, Indian People’s Action, and the Montana Organizing Project suggests that Native Americans may not have as much access to Montana’s health insurance exchange as they should. Approximately 6.5% of Montana’s population is comprised of Native Americans, with an estimated 1.7% of enrollees in the state’s health insurance exchange falling into this demographic. The report highlights barriers that exist in the state that may be preventing Native Americans from receiving medical care.
There are significant barriers blocking Native Americans from the coverage that they need
The report notes that access to insurance coverage does not guarantee quality medical care. According to the report, the delay in expanding the state’s Medicaid program has prevented many people from receiving the care that they need, as a significant portion of consumers cannot afford coverage offered through the state’s health insurance exchange. The report also notes that there has been a significant lack in outreach to Native American consumers, which means that these consumers are not being made aware of the services offered by the state’s insurance exchange.
Efforts are underway to improve access to health insurance
In the earliest days of the state’s insurance exchange, Native American organizations were not provided with grants from the federal government that would pay for insurance navigators. These navigators are meant to assist consumers in enrolling for health insurance coverage through a state exchange. The navigators also provide information concerning the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and can provide some insight on the availability of subsidies being offered by the federal government. Without navigators, Native communities were unable to access the information that these navigators were meant to provide. Now, however, certified application councilors are available to take on the role of navigators.
Expanded Medicaid system may be helpful
Montana is still planning to expand its Medicaid system, but this could take time. Implementing the expansion may ensure that more Native peoples have access to health insurance coverage, but outreach efforts will have to increase if the state wants to ensure that these people are even aware of the expansion. Without outreach, many Native consumers may not know that they are becoming eligible for health insurance through Medicaid.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A group of American Indians wants a court to preserve and eventually release an investigative file containing inappropriate emails sent by a federal judge, including a racist message involving President Barack Obama.
Two Indian advocacy groups from Montana and South Dakota and a member of the Crow tribe filed a petition in U.S. District Court in California asking for the file to be preserved as evidence.
The groups want to know if Chief District Judge Richard Cebull made biased decisions from the bench. Their next step will be to file a lawsuit seeking public release of the documents, plaintiffs’ attorney Lawrence Organ said Wednesday.
Cebull was investigated after forwarding a racist message involving Obama. A judicial review panel found he sent hundreds of emails from his federal account that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religions and others. He was publicly reprimanded and retired last year.
The investigation found no evidence of bias in his rulings. Organ said the only way to know that for sure is through the release of the emails.
“The fundamental principles of our entire legal system fall apart if a judge doesn’t come in with a neutral position,” Organ said. “If there are other decision makers involved, we’re not asking for their private email accounts. All we want to see are the emails accounts they used as government officials.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said its file on Cebull is confidential.
Plaintiffs in the case are South Dakota-based advocacy group Four Directions, Montana-based Indian People’s Action, and Sara Plains Feather, a member of southeastern Montana’s Crow Tribe.
Four Directions was involved in a voting rights lawsuit that sought to force several Montana counties to establish satellite voting districts on reservations. Cebull ruled against the Indian plaintiffs in that case, which was later settled after the 9th Circuit overturned his ruling.
Cebull himself and 10 others requested the misconduct investigation after The Great Falls Tribune reported the judge forwarded an email in February 2012 that included a joke about bestiality and Obama’s mother. Cebull apologized to Obama after the contents of that email were published.
The investigation looked at four years of Cebull’s personal correspondence sent from his official email account.
Cebull told the 9th Circuit panel that his “public shaming has been a life-altering experience.” Nominated by former President George W. Bush, he received his commission in 2001 and served as chief judge of the District of Montana from 2008 until 2013.
Named as defendants in the case were the office of 9th Circuit Executive Cathy Catterson and the Committee on Judicial Conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Ninth Circuit spokesman David Madden said he could not comment on the pending petition.
The plaintiffs attempted in May to directly petition the 9th Circuit. That was rejected by the court’s clerk, who said the petition needed to be filed first at the district court level.
HELENA – Indian plaintiffs who sued in federal court to force the Montana secretary of state and three rural counties to open satellite voting offices on remote reservations have settled the lawsuit out of court.
Under the agreement, the three counties agree to open satellite voting locations on three reservations and pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees in the amount of $75,000. In a separate agreement, the state agrees to pay an additional $25,000 in attorney fees, according to Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.
“I pledged to help assist the tribes and the counties to make this all work,” McCulloch said.
Both sides hailed the agreement as a win.
Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mark Wandering Medicine, along with 11 other Indian plaintiffs, in February 2013 sued McCulloch and county elections officials in Blaine, Rosebud and Big Horn counties, alleging the defendants violated portions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which “prohibit voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups.”
The plaintiffs argued their rights to equal access to voting were violated when McCulloch and county elections officials refused to set up satellite voting offices on remote Indian reservations in advance of the November 2012 presidential election.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the ACLU of Montana and the national ACLU Voting Rights Project filed court documents supporting the plaintiffs’ claims that tribal members living on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap Reservations are at a voting disadvantage compared to white voters in Rosebud, Blaine and Big Horn counties.
The plaintiffs argued that the only late-registration and early voting options available to them between the close of regular voting registration and Election Day is at county courthouses in the white population centers. In some cases those courthouses are more than 100 miles round-trip from where most tribal members live, making it difficult for many impoverished Indians to register late and vote after the regular registration deadline.
The case was set to go to trial June 30.
In a settlement agreement reached Tuesday, the counties agreed to open satellite county election offices beginning Oct. 7. Those offices will be open on the reservations two days a week for tribal members to register late and cast absentee ballots in person.
During those days the voting offices will not be open at their normal locations in the county seats.
Alex Rate, attorney for the Wandering Medicine plaintiffs, said the settlement agreement is a bit step toward the goal of achieving voting equality on the reservations.
“Given the history of discrimination against Montana’s first peoples, we believe that everyone should have equal access to the ballot box, and this agreement is a giant step towards reaching that goal,” Rate said. “Further, this agreement validates the central pillar of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act: that Indian voters must have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”
Bret Healy, a South Dakota-based Indian voting rights consultant with Four Directions, called the settlement a big victory for Indian voting rights but said the underlying technical issues that are preventing the state and counties from opening full-fledged satellite voting offices still need to be addressed.
“The final solution that we think is the appropriate one is to wrestle the technology obstacle to the ground so a satellite office is open five days a week as well as the county voting office,” Healy said.
The defendants argued that the plaintiffs’ demands for satellite voting offices were not allowed under Montana law, which requires each absentee ballot to be issued in sequential order using paper ballots that are prenumbered. The ballot number an absentee voter receives is determined by a complex, statewide computerized system that is not programmed to issue ballots from more than one location, the defendants said. Due to Montana law, as well as technical impossibilities with the statewide computer system, satellite offices were not an option, they argued.
“Because what the plaintiffs sued for was not something they could obtain, Blaine, Big Horn and Rosebud counties offered the plaintiffs an alternative,” said Sara Frankenstein, the attorney representing the counties in the litigation. “The three counties have offered to move their election offices for two days a week from its normal location in the county courthouse to a tribal facility on Indian reservations during the 30-day early voting period. The three counties are looking forward to working with their respective tribes on that issue, and are happy to address plaintiffs’ concerns with an alternative method that is actually legal and possible, and at the same time will cost the county very little to provide.”
Healy said the Secretary of State’s Office needs to work to address the technology hurdles in order to give tribal members on the reservations full equal voting opportunities.
“The bottom line is Native American voters on these reservations are going to go from zero days of equality and late registration and absentee balloting opportunities to at least a strong step forward,” Healy said.
McCulloch said counties will not be able to have two voting offices open simultaneously under current state law.
“The law would have to be changed and the Montana Votes system would have to be changed,” McCulloch said.
Healy said with this “inelegant fix” in place, Four Directions will work with other tribes across the state to request similar arrangements in their counties while at the same time continue to advocate for full satellite voting offices on the reservations.
“It simply defies belief that in this day and age we can’t have main voting office and satellite offices open and running five days a week,” Healy said. “The only reason that hasn’t happened is because nobody has rolled up their sleeves and tried to fix this.”
Walsh to hold hearing on the challenges to voting
Montana Sen. John Walsh on June 25 will chair a Senate Rules Committee hearing examining the hurdles voters in rural areas face due to long distances to polls, lack of easy access to mail voting and the lack of infrastructure. The committee will also hear about ways states have tried to make voting easier for people.
Walsh’s office said he organized the hearing in response to the concerns he heard from people across Montana, particularly in Indian Country.
The hearing title is “Election Administration: Examining How Early and Absentee Voting Can Benefit Citizens and Administrators.”
Witnesses at the hearing include:
• Rhonda Whiting, board chair for Western Native Voice, a Montana nonprofit that seeks to increase Native American voting and voting access, headquartered in Billings.
• Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.
• Larry Lomax, of Nevada, a former member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.
Helena, MT – Leaders of an American Indian tribe in Montana awaiting federal recognition say they are closer than ever to that goal.
The Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Council Chairman Gerald Gray spoke with Gov. Steve Bullock last week. Gray says recently proposed rule changes for recognizing American Indian tribes would put a nod from the U.S. government within their reach.
Federal officials say the proposed rule changes are in the midst of a months-long finalization process.
The landless tribe has been recognized by the state of Montana since 2000. With about 4,500 members loosely centered in Great Falls, federal recognition could bring the tribe land, along with housing and education assistance.
Gray, Bullock and others met as part of the annual Tribal Leaders Summit at the State Capitol in Helena.
“Where God Likes to Be” is a film that captures both the hope and the hardship of life on the reservation.
Filmed over the course of a single summer, “Where God Likes to Be” is a documentary filmed and produced by Nicolas and Anna Hudak. The movie premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula this past week, but its genesis stretches back 10 years ago to when the Hudaks found themselves stranded in Browning by a late winter snowstorm.
Growing up in Kalispell, Nicolas had heard all the stereotypes about Browning: The reservation was dangerous and the last place a white person would want to spend the night. But what he and his wife experienced was altogether different. They were greeted with generosity and hospitality.
“That changed my perspective on all those ideas that I had growing up,” Nicolas Hudak said of his stay in Browning. “Yes, there’s definitely a lot of hardships going on — as there has been for the last 100 years or more. It’s a pretty tough spot to make a living. But there are a lot of good people doing good stuff and just trying to get by.”
In 2009, the Hudaks returned to Browning to document the lives of three young people: Andi Running Wolf, graduating from Heart Butte High School and preparing to go to college at the University of Montana; Doug Fitzgerald, a Blackfeet cowboy from Babb working to support his young family; and Edward Tailfeathers, a young man from Browning debating whether to stay on the reservation or leave in search of greater opportunity elsewhere.
The stories of these three people could easily be transposed to nearly any community in the United States. Running Wolf struggles with homesickness and fitting in at college. Fitzgerald comments that becoming a husband and father came sooner than he was expecting. Tailfeathers worries about finding a job and passes the time singing in a band with his friends.
“Where God Likes to Be” emphasizes the similarities its three characters share with young people throughout the United States, viewed through the lens of life in a community where hope and opportunity are frequently in short supply.
“What’s important here in our film is the deep connection that people have,” Hudak said. “We didn’t set out to make a film about ‘the Indians.’ We were going to make a film about these young people growing up here and what’s important to them.”
However, each of the three characters is deeply aware that the choices they make have the potential to lead them away from the reservation. Each voices concerns about the risks of leaving, and possibly weakening their sense of identity as Blackfeet.
“Everyone I know is here. Everything I have had is here,” Tailfeathers says as he contemplates moving away from Browning. “It’s part of the connection of who you are.”
“Here we are at this cusp of change, and there are two ways this could go,” Hudak said of the decisions his characters face. “One is that everybody just becomes culturally homogenized and there’s really no difference between Blackfeet and anybody else. Or, they can try to hold on to what’s left. This is basically the last generation that has any kind of chance of saving those things that make the culture unique.”
“Then again, they are just American kids growing up in America,” he adds.
Within the first few scenes of “Where God Likes to Be” the viewer is introduced to the film’s fourth main character: the landscape of Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Hudak’s cinematography intersperses sweeping vistas of the Rocky Mountain Front with intimate glimpses of life in Browning and Heart Butte.
“Andi, Doug and Eddie are the heroes of the story, but certainly the landscape is the overseer of everything,” he said. “Part of the reason we wanted to make this film about the Blackfeet in particular is because that area is just so spectacular. There is just something so dramatic and so poetic about the way Browning looks in contrast with Glacier Park. I feel that beauty lies not just in fabulous sunsets, but also in those heavier human elements.”
“If we didn’t teach or learn all these old ways — religion, culture, language — then what are we?” Fitzgerald asks toward the end of the film. “Just a name. This will be a story in a book someone will pick up here and there. I always want to be. Be here. I want to be here where it started and never die, so that my kids will have a good place and be proud of where they’re from.”
Fitzgerald’s words could have just as easily been spoken by any of the young people featured in the film.
As a small budget film, “Where God Likes to Be” is not likely to show at a local multiplex cinema any time soon. To keep track of where the movie is playing, log on to the movie’s website at http://www.wheregodlikestobe.com.
Fast and furious — Indian relay racing is like no other horse racing and no other sport you’ve ever seen.
And it’s largely unknown to mainstream America.
A new documentary by MontanaPBS, “Indian Relay,” focuses on this unique and dangerous sport. Before the film premieres nationally in November, Helenans can get a free sneak preview 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Myrna Loy Center.
Filmed by Charles Dye, a Northwest Regional Emmy-award winner, it was written by Montana educator and poet M.L. Smoker, who is Assiniboine and Sioux.
You’ll see incredible and daring race film footage from a host of relay races in Indian Country and then the Indian Relay National Championships in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 2011.
Along the way, you travel with rider Myles Murray from Browning, Zack Rock and Kendall Old Horn of Crow Agency and Lance Tissisimit and Alonzo “Punkin” Coby, who are Shoshone-Bannock from Fort Hall, Idaho.
In this sport, riders race bareback at top gallop around a track. After one lap, barely slowing down, they switch horses by leaping down from one and onto another. After galloping around the track the second lap, the riders again leap onto a fresh horse and race to the finish line.
“These riders are very athletic and very fearless,” said Old Horn, who has been involved in Indian relay racing for 37 years.
“You could take any Indian relay rider and he could play with the best basketball and football players,” he said. “But you can’t take the best football or basketball player and put them in Indian relay. Professional jockeys wouldn’t touch Indian relay with a 10-foot stick. The degree and skill it takes to be an Indian relay rider is night and day from any other sport.”
With the sport comes a whole set of lingo — besides the rider, there’s a mugger who catches the rider’s horse when he dismounts, the set-up guy (or exchange holder) who holds the fresh mount, and then a back holder with the next fresh horse.
After the rider gallops off, the back holder passes the fresh horse to the set-up guy, while the mugger passes the horse he’s just caught to the back holder.
“There’s quite a bit of choreography that’s involved,” said Dye, the film’s director and producer. It takes a real trained team effort.
There’s also quite a bit of chaos and danger on the track throughout the race.
“It’s a unique and beautiful … sport,” said Dye. “It’s just amazing. Those thoroughbreds are huge. These guys are brave, and these horses are too. The horses are also athletes.”
Before he started making the film, Dye went to all the relay races in 2010.
“I wanted to see what it would look like with different camera angles,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to capture so many pieces.”
By the time his crew filmed the Indian Relay National Championship in Blackfoot, Idaho, in September 2011, they had 13 cameras running.
“The challenges were many,” Dye said. “The film is just one small bit of relay.”
One of the biggest challenges was after interviewing teams for months and filming them train and race in relays all over Indian Country, Dye had to edit it all down to a 1-hour film that primarily focuses on just three teams.
His interest in Indian relay was first piqued years ago, when he was filming the Montana PBS documentary, “Before There Were Parks,” which showed the views of Native people on the creation of Yellowstone and Glacier National parks. It aired at the time of Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
“My curiosity was building,” said Dye, who had been seeing photos in different homes showing various Indian relay races. “I couldn’t figure out the photos. It didn’t look like standard horse racing.”
When Aaron Pruitt, director of content at MontanaPBS, heard Dye first describe “this crazy, dangerous, exhilarating sport,” he was surprised.
“I’m a native Montanan,” said Pruitt, “and I’d never heard of this. We were thrilled to tell this contemporary and popular story.”
“They did a good job,” said Old Horn. “I think the film speaks for itself.”
“It’s a very short version of the story,” Old Horn added. “To see the full impact and how Indian relay affects Indian families and Indian Country, you’d have to do a whole series.”
He’s hoping the documentary draws more attention to the thrilling sport and attracts bigger crowds and sponsorships.
The free screening is sponsored by Montana Historical Society, Montana PBS and the Myrna Loy Center. Pruitt and Smoker and possibly some of the participants will attend the show.
“Indian Relay” makes its MontanaPBS Broadcast premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 31.
It’s also been selected by PBS’ five-time Emmy Award-winning series “Independent Lens,” and will premiere before national public television audiences on Nov. 18.
“It’s very prestigious for the film to have it selected by ‘Independent Lens,’” said Pruitt, who is also a co-producer for the film.
It was edited by Katie Lose Gilbertson and it was shot by Emmy-award winning cinematographers, Daniel Schmidt, Dawson Dunning and Rick Smith. Wayne Smith Jr., of the Blackfeet tribe, was an associate producer for the film.
Onlookers hooted, hollered and cheered as bison were coaxed off the trailer and went racing off onto the plain of the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. On Thursday, 34 genetically pure animals were set loose. It marks the first time in a century the animals have roamed the area.
“It’s a great day for Indians and Indian country,” Mark Azure, who heads the tribe’s bison program, told the Great Falls Tribune moments after the final two big bulls rumbled out of a trailer and trotted away onto the prairie. The bulls were kept in a trailer separate from the others.
The animals had traveled the 190 miles from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation where Fish, Wildlife and Parks had put 70 of them last year from Yellowstone National Park. Fort Peck already had a herd of some 200 animals, but the Yellowstone bison are the only remaining genetically pure and free ranging wild bison in the United States, the same animals that covered the western plains 200 years ago and numbered in the millions.
The intention was to move half of the Yellowstone bison to Fort Belknap, but the move was stalled by legal actions. Until the Montana Supreme Court finally ruled that it was legal earlier this summer, paving the way for the bison’s return.
“The fact that we’re assisting in preserving the genetically pure buffalo out of Yellowstone is significant—the fact that we’re ensuring the long-term survival of the species,” Mike Fox, tribal councilman, said in a Great Falls Tribune video report about the bison release. “But, on the cultural side… they took care of us and now it’s time for us to take care of them.”
The bison were released into a 1,000-acre pasture with an 8-foot fence, reported the Tribune, and just one of the animals was not released due to an injury.
Before being released all the animals were tested and found to be disease-free.
Fox told the Tribune that Fort Belknap will manage a herd and use it as seed stock for other places looking to reintroduce bison.
The release meant a lot to those gathered to watch. There was a pipe ceremony to welcome the bison back.
Fox told the Tribune the last few bison disappeared from Fort Belknap around 1910. “It’s a homecoming for the animals.”
Indians and Democrats have joined forces in being disappointed that Denise Juneau, current Montana State Superintendent of Public Instruction, has decided against running for U.S. Senate.
Juneau, a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, announced August 5 that now is not the right time for her to seek higher office.
“It is not very often that you are presented with an opportunity to change what Congressional representation looks like in our state,” Juneau said in a statement posted on her Facebook page. “It is the kind of opportunity that warrants serious consideration.
“After much deliberation, I have decided not to seek the U.S. House or Senate seats in 2014. I sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support and encouragement I have received from people all across Montana and the country. It has been very humbling to be considered for such a leadership role representing our great state; however, my decision not to run for Congress is the right one for me at this time.
“I love serving as the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Montana and am proud of the progress I have made over the last four years.”
Some Juneau supporters, wanting to see an unabashed American Indian woman get elected to the U.S. Congress, thought the time was ripe now. They will have to wait and see if she will run for higher office in the future.
“An Indian woman in Congress would bring an invaluable perspective to D.C.,” said Holly Cook Macarro, a tribal lobbyist with Ietan Consulting. “To get there, we need more Native women in the electoral political pipeline: running for school boards, city council, county supervisors, state legislatures, and active in their local political infrastructure. We seem to see a lot of Indian candidates who want to immediately make a run for Congress without having held previous elected office, but we need to earn it and lay down the groundwork, just like everyone else.”
It’s easy to see what would have made Juneau an attractive contender in a state with a considerable tribal constituency. She was the first American Indian woman elected to statewide executive office in Montana when she won her current position in 2008, and she has been one of a small number of successful Native Americans nationwide to win elected office on the state level. In other words, she knows how to win, and she has already built a pathway of support.
If Juneau, who was raised on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the state, would have run, many votes and campaign finance donations would have been likely from the 12 state- and federally-recognized tribes in Montana. Her support for education and youth initiatives has also made her attractive beyond Indian country over her past four years in office.
National Democrats have been eyeing Juneau for a possible run for Senate since Democrat Max Baucus announced his retirement this spring. His decision leaves a seat open in the Senate that has been spoken for since the 1970s, and few Democrats in the conservative-leaning state have signaled a desire to try to replace him.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, and state Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen have also recently announced their decisions not to run on the Democratic ticket. Lt. Gov. John Walsh is reportedly still considering.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines is likely to run, according to local media.
After Schweitzer – whom many political observers considered the Democratic frontrunner – announced in July that he was not running, Juneau seriously considered it, telling the local press that she felt “obligated to think about it,” and saying that she had queried her friends and family on whether she should.
Some supporters told her behind the scenes that it was going to be a difficult race to win, and they predicted she would spend most of her time fundraising, rather than focusing on the issues.
After her close election in 2008, where she prevailed by just 2,231 votes, it was probably wise to sit this one out, building support for the future, according to some informal advisers.
“While disappointing to the many of us who supported a run, it is not a total surprise to see Denise stay out of the Montana Senate race,” Cook Macarro added. “Montana is a tough state for Democrats, and our victories there have been hard won over the years.”
Even though Juneau decided against running for now, Democrats note that her star is still on the rise, which can only help in the future. They note that she was tapped by the Democratic National Committee to give a speech about education at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and she was well received in that effort.
“Teachers are sometimes the only ones who tell our children they can go from an Indian reservation to the Ivy League, from the home of a struggling single mom to the White House,” Juneau said in one widely quoted part of that speech.
Her mom, Carol Juneau, helped pave the way for her daughter in politics, having served as a member of the Montana House of Representatives from 1998 through 2007, and then serving as a Democratic Party member of the Montana Senate since 2007.
The elder Juneau told Indian Country Today in 2008 that she wants more women – especially American Indian women – to succeed in U.S. politics.
“My daughter is running this year,” Carol Juneau told ICT in 2008, before her daughter won her current post. “I am very proud of her. She’s going to do great things.”