Governor Steve Bullock today released the following statement encouraging Montanans to recognize the past and current contributions indigenous people have made to the state.
“Today, we celebrate and respect both the historical and current contributions indigenous people have made to the state of Montana. We must also recognize and pay homage to the indigenous communities and culture that have been damaged or lost throughout history. Today is an opportunity to learn from our past, tell an accurate story about the experiences and resiliency of indigenous people in Montana, and rededicate ourselves to education and justice.”
During the 2019 session, Governor Bullock’s administration testified in support of legislation sponsored by Rep. Shane Morigeau to observe Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day. The legislation died in the process before reaching Governor Bullock’s desk.
While the legislation did not pass, Governor Bullock joined the largest American Indian Caucus in the state’s legislative history to sign a series of bills into law to benefit Tribal Nations and American Indian communities.
Enacted legislation included five bills to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. The bipartisan package of legislation brought families of victims and advocates to the Capitol to testify in support of the bills sponsored by Rep. Rae Peppers and Senators Frank Smith and Jason Small.
Medicaid expansion was reauthorized, carried by Sen. Small in the Senate, which provides healthcare coverage for 15,000 American Indians in Montana. Additionally, Medicaid expansion allows the Indian Health Service to offer preventative services, rather than just life or limb care.
Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy carried legislation to establish the Community Health Aide Program, which will train local indigenous people to provide basic medial, behavioral, and dental care services. The program will increase access to health care services on reservation communities in Montana.
Other successful legislation includes:
- Permanently displaying the flags of the eight Tribal Nations on the State Capitol grounds, sponsored by Rep. Marvin Weatherwax;
- Providing Montana Tribal Colleges with first-ever resources to increase access to the HiSet exam;
- Extending the Montana Indian Language Preservation Program, sponsored by Rep. Windy Boy;
- Paying tribute to extraordinary Native Americans through the dedication of highway signs, sponsored by Rep. Jade Bahr, Rep. Marvin Weatherwax, and Rep. Bridget Smith:
- Louis Charles Charlo, who raised two U.S. flags in the battle of Iwo Jima and later gave his life trying to rescue a fellow soldier.
- Minnie Spotted-Wolf, of the Blackfeet Reservation, was the first Native American woman to enlist and serve in the Marine Corps
- Dolly Smith Akers, who broke the glass ceiling as the first Native American woman elected to the Montana Legislature.
In 2015, Governor Bullock issued a proclamation to recognize November 5th as Elouise Cobell Day, paying honor to the Native American leader who sought to right a century of wrong doing and inspired a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others.
This summer, the governor collaborated with the Ft. Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes to release 55 sacred and culturally important buffalo back to the tribes.