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Group Looks to Get Out Native American Vote in Montana

Native Americans make up about 6.5 percent of Montana's population. (EWULibraries/flickr)
Native Americans make up about 6.5 percent of Montana's population. (EWULibraries/flickr)
September 6, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. – With two months left before Election Day, one group is encouraging Montana's Native American population to register to vote.

The social justice group Western Native Voice is organizing for the upcoming election, often traveling long distances across the Treasure State.

But Alissa Snow, the group's state field director, says a bigger hurdle to getting the Native American population to vote is apathy.

She says Native American voters have a general distrust of government.

"We get complacent,” she admits. “We don't realize that we are capable of making change and the first step to that sometimes is by voting for our legislators and getting people in there that understand our issues and can fight for our communities."

Native Americans make up about 6.5 percent of Montana's 1 million residents.

The deadline to register by mail in Montana is Oct. 18. Voters can register the day of the election at the polls.

Snow says Native American communities are focused on issues such as housing, child care and drug addiction, and that her organization wants to make the connection between these issues and local elections.

She also says, despite the apathy, there is evidence in the recent past that the Native American population in Montana can make its voice heard.

In 2015, Western Native Voice, native organizations and tribal leaders were integral in getting Medicaid expansion passed in the Montana Legislature.

"We organized heavily around that, and we organized the Native communities,” Snow relates. “We brought people in from all over the state to testify in favor of the health act, which passed in the state Legislature, and that impacted 20,000 Native Americans in Montana. So that was huge for us."

State officials estimate nearly 60,000 Montanans are eligible for the Medicaid expansion, which went into effect this year.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT