Mark Azure: Tribal bison opponent seeks higher office in Montana

A bison from the herd on the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana. Photo by Bronc Speak Thunder / Facebook

A Tribal Reaction to Greg Gianforte and Lesley Robinson
By Mark Azure
President, Fort Belknap Tribal Council
ftbelknap.org

As the President of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Tribal Council, I was elected to represent over 8,000 tribal members of the Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes. I share concerns with tribal communities across Montana about how bison are managed and relocated to our lands.



To Native people, bison are not a disease-carrying burden on our communities, as some have tired to label them in the past. To us, bison are sacred to our people and with spiritual and historical significance to our cultural heritage.

For this reason, I stood with many of my Native brothers and sisters in opposing Senate Bill 284 last year, a bill that county commissioners attempted to force through the legislature with zero input from tribal communities. We were ignored, avoided, and never reached out to for input on this legislation.



Although the bill passed, we were fortunate to have Governor Steve Bullock (D) listen to our concerns and veto the bill. In his veto message, Bullock said: "Tribal governments are sovereign nations, with broad authority over the lands and wildlife within their boundaries. Any comparison to county governments, which are political subdivisions of the state, misses the mark."

This is the second time Bullock vetoed such a dangerous bill. He understands that tribal governments are sovereign nations and bison are an important part of our heritage. I joined many tribal communities in thanking the governor for his veto of this bill.


President Mark Azure, left, and Vice President George Horse Capture Jr. of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana. Photo from Facebook

However while I thought the fight was over, I recently learned I was very wrong. The lead proponent of this harmful bill, Lesley Robinson, recently joined Greg Gianforte as his running mate to be Governor of Montana. I was shocked to hear this. The leader of the fight to take bison rights away from the tribal communities was now positioning herself to have more power in state government.



Let's consider this for a moment. The person who led the charge of this bill, the person who ignored our concerns and avoided reaching out to tribal nations, would be in Helena calling the shots. We can't let this happen.

Lesley Robinson and the Greg Gianforte ticket do not represent the interests of the tribal communities, or our way of life. That much is clear.

With this in mind, I want to remind Greg Gianforte and Lesley Robinson that the Native community votes, and we are paying attention. Your positions on the issues will not only rally us to support Governor Bullock this election, but it will motivate us to do everything we can do make sure your anti-Native American views never make their way into our state capitol.

Mark Azure serves as president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana. He was elected to a four-year term in 2013 and previously served as director of the tribe's Fish and Wildlife Department and Buffalo Program, where he worked to restore bison to tribal lands.

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